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When Derek Skeeba realized his emotions were wasted, when he saw, with crystalline lucidity, that his love was a futile endeavor, he decided to funnel his energies into a more productive compulsion-He would put the sinews of his salacious appetites to work at the squeeze play, he would use the muscle of his heart to quash the heartbeat of others, he would raze the swelling inside himself as tall as a monolith and let its shadow fall over the sickening city around him like the shadow of an ancient hartebeest. Derek Skeeba would torture the troglodytes whose mediocrity had caused him to yearn for someone better than them.
He would start by making friends. Her friends. Or, maybe, just one.
"Sometimes I stay too long/Sometimes I would
Sometimes it frightens me/Sometimes it would
Sometimes I'm all alone/And wish that I could."-The Motels
"She and every she/Is doomed to be your idea of her
She and every she/Is doomed to be your idea of her."-Marilyn Manson
A 300 lb. Biker posing as a psychic once told me, of the relationship I sought clairvoyant advice on, that it was an exercise in "backdoor modality." I didn't think much of this at the time, since his personal readings took place at a coffee shop nestled in the putrid heart of a white trash Long Island ghetto-burbia, and he only charged $10 per reading (so how good could he really be?). And, anyway, I thought I was basically humoring him, being that my solicitation of his wisdom was something I was put up to by my fellow baristas at The Greazee Spoon; it wasn't my idea and hardly the sort of thing I had any faith in. But stock in the trade or no, his words had stuck with me, haunting my normally hyper-literate mind long after the relationship on which I had begged his counsel had completely disintegrated.
The so-called "cerebral mystic" with the Harley Davidson vest and the Steven Tyler scarf had nothing from which to intuit the nature of my problem beside the nebulous details I gave him. Granted, we had only been broken up for two days when I met him, so the emotional wound and the resulting desperation may have been evidently fresh in my bloodshot blues. And that desperation would have been underscored by my running after him when I was in the middle of preparing a customer's raspberry panini as he was exiting for the evening with his decorative Shamanic handkerchief neatly folded in his gargantuan hands. But he spoke with a sensitivity and sincerity that I wouldn't have expected from a brusque Hell's Angels flunky or a Ninety-Nine Cent Store charlatan, for that matter. So, quite possibly, there was some truth to what he was telling me.
The words weren't carefully chosen, despite his apparent empathy, so it could have been a generic term he used on every Rube that crossed his path, with the advance knowledge that the average middle-class troglodyte would have no concept of its meaning. It was certainly an appropriately vague and cunningly intellectual-sounding phrase. Still, I entered into this low-rent transaction a hardened skeptic and left a mushy tool. The whole way home I blubbered on the backstreets of Babylon Township, trying to steel myself for the possibility that my love was doomed.
Then I drank off five Budweiser tall boys and forgot all about the fat huckster with the V-shaped goatee. Denial of his gift returned, just as denial that our relationship was toxic remained, and a minimum of six consecutive break-ups and six consecutive make-ups followed, before Gemma finally called it quits and drove away with my heart and my credit line in her ashtray. In the ensuing year and a half after my encounter with the soothsayer of backdoor modality, she and I had spent countless nights in luxuriant jacuzzi suites at neighborhood motels and racked up bills on everything from custom tailored fedoras and ill-fitting fishnet lingerie to hundreds of ounces of low-grade marijuana and truckloads of cheap pilsner. And, by the time the final straw rolled around, we had already been thrown out of clubs by burly bouncers for excessive displays of hostility, lost innumerable friends to our public scuffles and abandoned a lesbian drug dealer who may or may not have fucked Gemma while I was away and who, in the end, we were in debt to for more than $850.
You look so pretty
when you cry.
Don't wanna hit you
but the only thing,
between our love is
(1) a bloody nose
(2) a busted lip
(3) a blackened eye-Marilyn Manson
It's 3:45 am now and I emerge from one of my night terrors, the kind that leave me with deep scratches all over my back and chest, and my brain is seized by the fear of backdoor modality and what it must mean in relation to my sub-par existence. It was these unsightly perforations, the ridged gashes and pink, raised up slash marks on the torso that had lead to our break-up two days before I met the fat-headed stranger. Gemma had discovered them on the small of my back while she was routinely popping white heads and yanking in-grown hairs-one of her many idiosyncratic compulsions-and when I had no explanation for how they had proliferated she insisted that I had fucked another bitch and drove away from the strip mall parking lot in a state of stoic resignation, leaving me to thumb my way home five towns away.
I would realize, much later, in one of those massively inebriated moments of epiphany that precede the awesome depression of pre-blackout drunkenness, that this was a pattern with Gemma. Indeed, it was an emotional hi-jacking and one that she used as a lacquer to blanket over her own innate culpability; in declaring a break-up and hurling accusations of unfaithfulness she was blindfolding her partner from her own extra-monogamous exploits and transgressions and stealing the thunder from the partner she assumed would break up with her upon learning of her own, more factual misdeeds.
We both had a lot of learning to do, me about these manipulations of the relationship's moral trajectory, and her about the liberally and even unreasonably forgiving nature of her boyfriend. Not long thereafter we had one of those young blotto arguments stemming from binge drinking, after leaving a motel forty-five minutes beyond check-out time. It was 12:48 at night and we had paid for a three-hour rate in this shit-hole motor lodge off Montauk Highway (Catch phrase: "Montauk-The End"). The mission was to spice up our lackluster bond by engaging in a dirty porn movie milieu where we could role-play the white trash alkie wife beater and his toothless subservient crack whore old lady. The irony of this act, which cast us in parts that hardly showed range from our day-to-day, was lost on us at the time.
Gemma was on her knees before me, cock in mouth, staring up at me with hungry glazed eyes and I was struggling to pop one off on her gums but suffering from performance anxiety as the numbers of the digital clock on the bedside table flipped over. As always she had waited too long to get "in the mood," and by the time she was sufficiently smashed and ready to lash my member with her tongue, the Punjabis were knocking on the door and calling the room phone incessantly. Our limit was up, but she refused to leave until she had yielded more than pre-cum. It wasn't forth...coming.
They gave us an extra five minutes to clear out the room and threatened to call the cops if we took any longer. Gemma was irate and began slapping me in my chest and scratching at my face like a stupid cat as I buckled my belt and collected her myriad of roach clips and breath sprays from the bureau. I was able to redirect her fury toward the motel management when they resisted giving us back our five dollar key deposit, but once we made our way on to Montauk Highway, with five dollars in hand, and found that her car wouldn't start, she spent the last of our money on another 12-pack at a nearby gas station and went ballistic at my suggestion of cutting her off.
She wasn't drunk, she exclaimed as she stumbled backwards and landed on her ass against a chain link fence. When I pitched two cans of suds into on-coming traffic she screamed like someone had raped her mother and flung one of her flip-flops at me. Minutes later, as she poured beer on her breasts and I banged my forehead into the asphalt out of sheer aggravation, the squad car pulled up and two tickets were promptly drawn up for "open container." Never mind the domestic disturbance. I think, even with their badges and side arms, they didn't want to intervene in the argument itself or where it would likely escalate to, thus they left the tool in the tattered wife beater with the effluence-drenched forehead and the barefoot girl with the dirty sole to their own devices.
Three days before we were due to go before a judge Gemma disappeared. Her family and friends seemed to think I had done something to her, but no missing persons report was ever filed. As it turned out mon ami had a history of running away from her problems, even if she could never outrun the biggest one of all-herself. When she arrived in the hallway of the courthouse, with bags under her eyes and some other dude's semen dried to a flaky crust on her unwashed lapel, it came out that the panic from all parties was for naught; hey, why can't we look the other way; she had simply been fucking one of her many willing ex-boyfriends, all of them essentially the same guy-scruffy neo-Hippie douchebags with soul patches and ponytails and a deep-seated love for death metal and cartoons, who live in trailer parks and swap lady friends like they swap spit when sharing a bong; every one of them a self-proclaimed scholar (usually of toking etiquette or advanced RPGs) and the whole lot quote-unquote romantics whose concept of love is culled from their infatuation with The Princess Bride. In short, Toys R Us kids and tools of the highest (or lowest) order.
What did he mean by "backdoor modality?" What was meant to be implied in this two word configuration? "Modality" has many definitions, among them "an attribute or circumstance that denotes mode or manner." Was he saying that my transparent desperation to save the relationship was a hopeless circumstance? Or did he mean to reproach me for bad manners in bringing this up to him when he had already closed up shop for the night? "Modality" is also, simply, another word for "mode" which, in its longer form is considered to be "the classification of propositions according to whether they are contingently true or false, possible, impossible, or necessary." Perhaps he meant that the relationship was clearly a shitty one (hence the "backdoor") and was in no way necessary to my functioning as a contented being. In this his psychic powers would have failed him.
Maybe it was all a generalization about lousy unions and he was suggesting that, in having to consult with him on this proposition of whether the relationship could work out, I was falsifying our true destiny. In all likelihood it was more elementary than even this; the dude wanted to hamscray and he had to tell me something if I wasn't going to block his exit.
Venetian Shores is just a stone's throw from Looney Tunes in neighboring West Bab, and shares its wealth of bizarre and bleak memories. This is where me and the high school sweetie, an auburn-haired innocent who camouflaged her inherent goodness in uniform punk rock safety pins and bondage pants that hugged her shapely Jewish Princess ass, walked arm-in-arm down the shoreline and discovered Hebrew headstones protruding from the water, each of them emblazoned with stars of David and names like "Feldman" and "Goldberg." The town told us they were from a Wellwood memorial service that had an agreement with the Village of Lindenhurst whereby they could off-load erroneous tombstones in the Long Island Sound if a name was spelled wrong, but it was total bosh and we knew it-the names were spelled perfectly, the chiseled stars were chiseled with the utmost care and detail, and Lindenhurst was, after all, a town founded by American Nazi Party sympathizers.
They'll never be/Good to you, bad to you
They'll never be/Anything, anything at all.
I've lived here for most of my adult life and I can say, with authority, that the Village has never done anything good for its citizenship, unless you count their collection of exorbitant tax dollars for the purpose of "beautification" (,i.e.: hiring four to five high-salaried nepotism-benefiting nincompoops in Day-Glo public works vests to impede traffic as they plant and water vibrant flowers and paint all the curbs a bright yellow not unlike their work clothes). But it's the Hell I call home and it's where I spent or misspent most of my teenage and twenty-something years.
Aside from installing speed bumps every fifteen feet in what can only be some kind of complicit arrangement with local body shops to drive up the numbers of residents requiring new axles and drive trains, Lindenhurst has been good for one thing: Building a Tiki bar off the beach. Venetian Shores has, in the last few years, become a guaranteed economic stimulus package for the fat cats in charge of the town "trust," and the cottage industry seems to come from getting Long Islanders to travel, from far and wide, to get drunk on a beach where you used to get an OCLD ticket just for having a single can of suds in your cooler.
But before they installed this little watering hole, before Venetian Shores became a sort of miniature playground/carnival ride/dive bar, it used to be a raggedy little strip of sand looking out on a sad gray vista of patina-laden factory catacombs. It was back then that Gemma and I frequented the place for our summer dunks and drunken fucks, where we would bob in the greenish abyss, crotch-locked in raw estrus, and suck on each other like the vampires we were. The Cat-Lick gal may have loved me with all her heart, but her natural born prudishness was a strong contrast to the natural Tornado Bait mobile home freakishness of my Gemma.
A BJ at the beach, her on her knees before me, her chest thrust against my shins with each recession of a wave. Clamping up, head thrown back in my glory as the beach-comber combs the shoreline in front of us, he massaging the grains, she massaging the glans, feet pressed over my ears as beads of sweat drop into her open mouth, glossing her parted lips, bleaching her overbite, and me heading for a home run as I heave. These are the pleasant memories, terrifying because of the alacrity with which they can be recalled. I forget the smell of her hair. I forget what it really felt like to be human. The videotapes are all I have left of her. The music is all that gets me through.
I'm not in love/But I'm gonna fuck you/Till somebody better/Comes along.
These memories flood back like uninvited house guests hauling buckets of sulfurous farts. I can smell the stale resonances of our inebriated exploits, almost taste the iron of Gemma's blood on the dune-side rocks where she slipped on seaweed and got a gash on her delicate ankle and I can see myself running, bare foot, through the CVS Pharmacy that used to be across the highway from the Shores, bloodshot blues wide as an inviting love canal, bedhead shocked up and torn-and-tattered wife beater caked in muddy wet granules, as I raced around the store tearing open boxes of gauze and Band-Aids for my incapacitated lover. Marilyn was on the radio, no doubt, since Gemma and I had an unwritten covenant that said three of my Mechanical Animals songs for every five emo jams she subjected me to.
I said I'd never come back to these Shores, that the pain would be too great or, still worse, that I wouldn't remember anything of the blackout drunk in whose arms I cavorted here. But I remembered more than I would've expected of wet brain.
The decision to return was a spontaneous one, a spur-of-the-moment choice to kick off a rare three-day weekend away from my ball-grinding brain-numbing safety-scoffing labor gig in Brownsville, Brooklyn. It wasn't particularly hot out yet since it's been nothing but charcoal clouds and tempestuous rain for two more or less unabated weeks of bad weather, but Budweiser just released their new tall can of "Margarita" and Venetian is the place to road-test a new brew.
Relaxation was what I was after, a tiny taste of the repose that everyone soaks up in Suffolk County at the start of the summer. Peaceful oasis. A fucking myth. I went back expecting the ineffable quality of the shores that everyone laps up like so much rock star semen, but I found none of that. Instead what I was filled with was nostalgic melancholy.
As a teenager, when others were obsessing over Holden Caulfield and his bogus Peter Pan act in the pages of Catcher in the Rye, I was reading Marilyn Manson's The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell, preparing myself for the pitfalls of being famous in a decadent industry. Back then I expected I'd be in one of three hardly distinct places by the time I was in my mid-twenties-on the Best Seller book shelves, on a stage somewhere in the Bowery, or in an early grave.
None of this came to pass, most probably because of all the time I wasted sniffing H and dry-heaving when I could've been getting a good job or going to college with that cute little girl in the bondage pants who used to write "I Heart You" a thousand times on loose-leaf papers and sneak 'em into the ass pocket of my faded jeans before I'd leave her bedroom (She wasn't Gemma, but she loved me). Or it could be that I just didn't know how to play the game and refused to learn; when I was given the unique opportunity to freelance for the local newspapers at only sixteen years of age, I quit after only three months of shaking hands with shady town trustees and showing up to interview high school basketball stars in a black leather trench coat stained in a cocktail of 40-ounce Budweiser and dried blood.
"It's not living if it doesn't hurt, Derek." That's what Gemma told me when she asked me to cut her. We were both bombed out on painkillers and Pabsts' Blue Ribbon and she was sitting Indian style in front of me, wearing my boxer shorts with the large elastic waist band rolled up so they wouldn't fall off her when she'd stand. She'd been crying so hard earlier that one of her contact lenses had fallen out and dried to the hard wood floor so that to look at her was like looking at a work-in-progress-one Day-Glo purple orb and the other an impossibly black rabbit hole, a vortex leading to a void leading to the core of a chick who never should have been permitted to breathe.
Doom logic always worked on me when I was pissed like three sheets to the wind, so I took the blade and began using her inner thigh like tracing paper for some vague sketch of vapors rising off a graveyard and, in no time, the blood-lust rose inside me, my mouth watering. Hunching over her, I burrowed my face into her crevice and lapped up the crimson with a craving worthy of a Hirudinea-slithering around on my side like a segmented worm, slurping up her warm juices was just about the most at home I could ever feel, connecting like puzzle pieces with my primal self.
When she'd gone, once she had abandoned her primal self for the purpose of marrying her first love and atoning for giving it up to his best friend back when they were babies, I was left with no way to quench the blood-lust borne of our union. I no longer had a willing cutting board or curvaceous co-conspirator with which to explore the strangulation game. I was homeless. I had no soul and no home.
When you lose your soul the body becomes nothing but flesh and bone, but the brain keeps burning. The flames lick the chest and sting the eyes, but there is no relief. Sperm into a million sleeves of tissue paper but it will not abate. The only solution is the squeeze play.
So I sought her out in the only way I could think to reach her without shaking her up or sending the spouse on the war path-I created a dummy account on a social networking site and sent a request to her profile. She friended me within hours and we began to trade messages, her telling me how she missed the sex, me telling her how I'd longed for the pain, the pain she had planted in me.
"You're confused," she said. "You can't inherit masochism."
"No," I corrected her. "I haven't. I inherited your sadism."
She didn't know what I was talking about, having forgotten the hurt she had inspired when she cheated on her husband-to-be with me the previous New Years Eve after our first three months apart and how we had fucked like praying mantises, our pleasure glands twirled around each other, and the song I had sung for her before the bastard showed up.
I'd slit my wrists/To wear your kiss/To wrap around convulsions/If we could wear each others skin/I'd learn some jet propulsion/What's inside me/What's inside you/You're fucking bots/We're crazy too/Watch me throw away my fix/Just so we can play some tricks/Call up perverts/Prank them good/'Cause we're so misunderstood/Bite me back/And please draw blood/'Cause scars are always fun/Let's clamp together/When we're done/Let's play on the playground/Let's sing our shaky song/Let's play/'Cause we are saved/When two minds think like one/Let's play on the playground/Let's sing our shaky song/Let's play/'Cause we are saved/When two minds think like one.
And though her eyes overflowed at the tragic beauty of my original lyrics, and though our first days of time together had yielded the great gift of two minds thinking like one, one massive meat-brain running, telekinetic, from one terrifying degenerate to the other, she ran up my driveway to his waiting car and crooked her head at his questions, as if to say, "Don't you know me better than that?" To his, "Did you have sex with him?" her puppy dog eyes and pursed lips said, "Come on now, you know I only love you. You're the king of my pain now. Only you hold my leash."
I was broken just as I had been when I first met her, just as I was when we met and I thought I'd found someone slightly more shattered than myself to care for, someone I could fix for tricks...but the only tricks were hers-the missed calls, the lost weekends, the laconic drives into dark enclaves without explanation for where she'd been, with whom and for what reason, and then the blind expectations when I'd find her out. Of course I should accept her fucking her ex and of course I shouldn't be mad that, long after we'd reconciled, the dude was still on her social networking profile, still selling her weed and wondering if I wanted to pick up.
When she decided to break it off I had asked her if it had anything to do with a lack of sexual satisfaction and she just fixed me with that familiar lazy gaze she'd generate whenever someone said something profoundly stupid. "If our problems stemmed from sex we wouldn't have any problems."
Now sex was my biggest problem. More than trying to forget her face or ignore the pangs of home sickness, wishing I was back in our claustrophobic apartment, in each others arms, I had an acute thirst for the thrill of choking her, of standing on her windpipe and digging my big toe into her chin, watching her suck the tip with the salivating eagerness of a dog trying to please its owner. More than the pool parties or ping-pong games, more than the hugging and kissing I had thought to be the cornerstone of warmth in a relationship, I seethed at the memories of her spasmodic torso, the writhing belly and contracting neck muscles I could picture vividly vibrating like an extension of my own sweat-drenched tumescence.
"She ruined me for all other women," I once told my brother as he drove up and down Montauk Highway, cruising for chicks and trying to cheer me up.
It was true. There had been others, but they were all fish. They stunk worse than steaming salamanders left to dry on a hot plate. When I'd cut off their oxygen with the heel of my right foot and bring my left arch down on their tummies they'd tear up and hyperventilate without a hint of moisture forming in the maw of their laps. When they'd try to appease me with a few flicks of their sandpaper tongues across my lacerated scrotum, no twinge of arousal was forthcoming. I was as dead between the legs as Gemma had been during one of our dirge-like blackout fuck-a-thons.
Only one thing got me hard any more and it was the thought of Gemma preserved for me in perpetuity. To this end I had purchased mason jars full of sawdust and heavy black thread, with many sharp needles for the threading and tinctures for the thrashing. But before I could spirit her away from her new marital bedroom, a message to her social profile bounced back to me with an automated note marred by typos. "Soshul proffile name not Rengognizd," it read. The high school squeeze had forced her to take it down or, maybe, she decided to indulge in the cliché her hateful cunt of a mother had always spouted at drunken suppers: "There comes a time in an adult's life when they must lay to rest all childish things."
All true pleasures hinge upon the providence of anticipation. I had foreseen the possibility of Gemma's profile coming down as I had asked her to do when I found her talking to an ex while we were together. So I had prepared for it in the only way I could, by making friends with her friends. I would get Gemma's attention and I would capture her pain. I would create a Top Ten, every one of them fated to be dead...dead enough to fuck.
In the winter of our second year as a couple, Gemma and I had warmed ourselves by unloading our estrus on a deer pelt before a small pile of firewood stoked atop a metal trash can lid in the living room of our one-bedroom apartment and promising each other that, when summer rolled around, we'd rent ourselves a cabin in Upstate, New York. She had pressed her skull against my breast and recited poetic descriptions of a place called Mount Temper where estuaries ran tempestuously past bales of marijuana and where Hippies had converted a silo into the "world's largest kaleidoscope." I was in love with a brochure and my brochure was in love with someone else's idea of a dream getaway.
We never saw the world's largest kaleidoscope, never slept on the lazy meadows of Mount Temper, and Gemma later claimed she had never heard of it when shit-faced and looking for a fight.
The lodge was even quieter than one would think when I walked in with a gym bag full of duct tape and plastic wrap slung over my shoulder and slapped two hundred dollar bills down on the marble counter top. Considering the pin drop nature of the joint I was slightly rattled by thoughts of my new friend fighting through her gag and screaming out for motel management to hear, but this did not come to pass. The ketamine had done its job and Amanda, the saucy redhead with whom Gemma had worked at her neighborhood printing press, was squinting at the insides of her eyelids, nice and zen-like, when I opened the rear passenger door and brushed aside the woolen tarp.
I was doing it. I was finally making something of myself. Carrying Amanda to the room meant I had work ethic and proved, once and for all, that it was possible to be happy with my job.
"There's a forest fire/Burning bright/Spreading quickly towards/our last rites/Nowhere to run/Pointless to hide/Just lay there and scream/Pretending to try."-Alkaline Trio
I remembered the sound that would escape her open mouth when I'd wring every ounce from my biceps, when the pink dermis would rise up to just around the tops of my thumbs, when the spit would spill into foamy white potholes in the corners of my face and her eyes would roll back so alabaster is what my own eyes could taste. I could see all too vividly the C-section scar and the stubbled blotches of her crotch riddled with gooseflesh as my pelvis pulverized hers and could almost smell the aroma of salt and sin co-mingling from our estrus as I crept toward Amanda's bedside and spun her across the translucent plasticene comforter.
"You'll sleep well in this, my dear." She did not answer, restrained as her vocal cords were with the imposing clasp of the C-clamp from my portable tool box. "You'll freeze hell and shit, you queer." She did not hear me as her eustachian tubes pounded with the throbbing of fear.
"And as you rest in repose you can know she's been told that any friend of hers is a friend of mine and love will return with the pain in due time."
I punched the default feature on the social networking profile and watched as Amanda's picture replaced the grayish outline of my only other friend, "No Pic Available." I didn't need that ghost no more. I had my lethargic lady friend and soon Gemma would get jealous and come looking for us both.
At the East branch of the Delaware I gently lowered her in as my skater shoes sunk in the suds and the sand. I remembered a poem I once wrote about Gemma. It went something like, "A BJ at the beach, you on your knees before me, your chest thrust against my shins with each recession of a wave. Clamping up, head thrown back in my glory as the beach-comber combs the shoreline in front of us, he massaging the grains, you massaging the glans, feet pressed over my ears as beads of sweat drop into your open mouth, glossing your parted lips, bleaching your overbite, and me heading for a home run as I heave.
"I forget your everything, everything except everything, because I still love you and love is like the pain that never goes away. So I consecrate this feeling by returning to the beach."
I committed that poem to the back of a fortune cookie, like the one I could picture the three-hundred pound biker passing off on a rube, and I tied it in a ribbon in Amanda's hair. As she drifted down the Delaware with a strand of duct tape flapping in her hair I studied her face and understood, for the first time, why Gemma had always secretly resented her little fire-crotched friend from the neighborhood printing press...she looked almost identical to Gemma except younger and prettier and still somehow innocent at twenty-five. And her desperate moans of anguish were more believable.