The Love Life of a Travelling Bookseller's Dog
Jason pulled into the short gravel driveway of his rented tarpaper bungalow along the Perkiomen stream. He’d taken an almost full van load of old books to the flea market near New Hope and only sold a dozen or so. His attempts to secure phone numbers from female visitors to the market also met with discouraging results. He’d made a half- baked attempt at looking half decent didn’t seem to help. Perhaps his beard was too bushy or his teeth not white enough. At first he hoped to meet up with a nice looking “intellectual” woman, but by early afternoon he was willing to accept just about any woman, even one with a serious mental illness or full-blown alcoholic. But it wasn’t in the cards.
At one point an older woman walked past and remarked on how nice his book display looked and expressed her wish to buy a nice book if she had the money.
"Pick one out," Jason told her.
"But I don't have any money," the woman replied.
"It's ok, I'll just overcharge the next customer. Come on, go ahead and pick one out."
"Oh, that's awfully nice of you." She spent the next half hour looking through the books while relating her life story to Jason. It was no more interesting than the previous fifty life stories he'd heard from various customers. He couldn't understand why people were predisposed to tell him these things simply because he sold old books, or was it his beard that made them think of Freud or possibly Jesus. About four o'clock he packed up the station wagon and headed south on Rt 202 towards home.
The traffic was heavy and it took him over an hour to get to his modest shack and some cold beers with his name on them. He cracked one open and sunk down into an old upholstered rocker on the moss covered back porch overlooking the Perkiomen. However humble, it was, for the moment, his castle. It was here that he was king, just himself, his beer, and a few croaking frogs from the stream.
After a few beers and half a pound of beer nuts Jason began thinking about women again. Here he was 34 years old with no prospects even on the horizon. He was way past being picky, or even selective. Hell, any old nut job will do. He found himself wishing he’d gotten the number from the older woman at the market who bored him with her life story. Fact is, he reflected, there are worse things than being bored. Having your teeth pulled by a dentist was worse, for instance.
An hour and a half later found Jason entering the Flonase Saloon hoping to meet a crazy woman, someone almost as crazy as himself. His hair was too long for the place which catered to professionals on their way up. It was crowded and every ones' clothes were pressed and selected with care. Aristotle had just a short hour ago removed his own faded threads from the oven after washing them in the creek by his house
He didn't fit in but no one seemed to notice, all preoccupied with harmless half truths. If weren't for his desire for a woman, Jason wou1d have left.
He took a sip of his Beck's beer. It tasted about the same as the piss he drank at home. Only reason he ordered it was to appear a trifle more civilized. What a bunch of bullshit, he thought, trying to be something I'm not, but the bullshit might serve his purpose. And the truth was, he wasn’t completely uncivilized
On the barstool next to him was a lithe blonde in a grey business suit. She had a very clean profile; strong jaw line, straight nose, high cheekbones, and full lips which would he hoped might later be used to explore his body . Should he say something? His head began to throb. What should he say? Something clever? Something profound? What was it a friend had once told him; the good lines sound rehearsed and the bad lines, spontaneous as they may be, just sound stupid
Hi, he heard himself say, or thought he did.
It seemed a long time before she turned her head towards him and spoke an indifferent greeting. He felt like crawling under a table. The gaze from her aqua eyes was withering.
Try being funny, he thought, and said: "do your parents know that you're in this dreadful place, a place where the sun never shines?"
Her face was expressionless. "I like it here," she said flatly.
Jason wanted to go home right then and there. What's the point in this, he thought, and of all the women in here I had to pick her. She's way too normal for me. I have to find someone with a few screws loose.
But against his better judgement he said: "You could try being friendly, " he joshed her and then stupidly said:
"I don't, you know, have a yeast infection or anything." He realized immediately of course that men don't get yeast infections. Men get crabs. Christ, he thought, now she'll picture me with crabs. Why did I let those words out of my mouth.
He was hoping that she would at least smile; She didn't.
"Can I buy you a drink?" he asked. It was the oldest of lines but it must work, Jaspm reasoned, because after so many many years it was still widely used.
"I don't know," the woman spoke with alarming coldness, "Can you afford to?"
"Oh yes," he answered breezily, "I have plenty of money. Don't be put-off by my outfit. I do own a suit but I loaned it to my dog tonight. He's going out with one hot bitch. ^
He probably looks good in it," the girl said, taking a cautious sip of her drink.
She's not stupid, Jason thought, at the same time kind of wishing she were.
"Yes, well," he sputtered, trying to recover, "the truth is that I'm really not into clothes that much. . . "
"I would have never guessed. . ."
"No. ..no, not into clothes at all, because, you see, I'm a philosopher."
Yes, that's how I make my living, by philosophizing. My father told me I wouldn't be able to do it but he was wrong. Not only can I do it, but I'm damn good at it."
"'That's interesting." She yawned. Her teeth were very straight and white. Her mouth looked nice and pink. Later on he could make out with her on the floor of his living room. Of course he'd first have to pick up all the empty domestic beer cans.
"It is interesting. . ." he said.
"So what are you doing here?
"If you mean why am I here, well, it's because I'm not somewhere else."
"That's profound, , , she said.
Jason laughed. He was happy. He was getting somewhere with the woman. The fact she was talking to him was proof of it
"Actually I'm here because my dog wanted me out of the house so he could be alone with his hot date. "
"Why don't you just tell me why you're really here," the woman asked pointedly.
"Well, I suppose I'm here for the same reason everyone else...
"To pick up somebody and screw them." It was a stone cold statement of fact. He wasn't ready for it.
"Well, Jason fumbled for words , "Yes, I guess, I mean.."
He was happy, excited, and a bit worried, having expected the game to continue in the usual roundabout fashion.
..You want to get in my pants," the girl accused.
.'Well, eventually. . ."
"You're an animal," the woman shouted. Heads turned and the din of conversation momentarily ceased.
Oh no, now she's seeing me as some sort of disgusting beast.
Jason's head felt like a swollen blood-filled bag. The vacuous face of the bartender appeared before them. He looked like Hitler warmed over.
"Is this character bothering you, Karen?" he asked.
Christ, this is it, Jason thought, the bloody final scene. He felt beneath his armpit to see if the gun was there. It was. He'd never used it before, but first time for everything.
"No," Karen said, "It's all right. He's not really bothering me,"
Her answer surprised him. But what did it mean ? Maybe she'd had more to drink than he thought. In any case, it seemed to be a good sign, but there were still a thousand ways the evening could go south. Still countless ways he might crash and burn.
"Are you sure he's not bothering you?" the bartender repeated much to Jason's displeasure. His trigger finger was starting to itch.
"It's ok, just bring ne another drink."
Bartender went off to fill the order and Karen turned to Jason; "So. . . you're a philosopher."
Jason didnt respond. His face was still burning hot with anger at the bartender and his mind occupied with novel ways of inflicting pain on the jerk.
"So what do you do? Teach philosophy?"
Bartender appeared with Karen's drink. Jason motioned for him to take the money from his pile of soggy currency. Eyes locked momentarily in senseless hatred. The bartender was one of those people that Jason instinctively despised.
"Do you teach?'. Karen repeated.
Jason turned towards her. "No, I don't do that. People call me up on the phone and ask questions for which there is no answer. I take their credit-card number and tell them I'II call back. I have to verify the card and write up the charge. Then I call back with my answer.
"But if there is no answer how do you answer that?"
"I always think of something."
"And you make a living that way? By just being a philosopher?
The question annoyed him. The idea of making a living annoyed him. Anyone could do that, everyone in the bar. What did it prove? "Yes," he replied wearily, "I make a living doing what I do." He was starting to feel faint and pale from the pollution in the place, the constant droning noise, hum of mechanistic conversation, the oppressive cloud of acrid smoke; all so dreadfully boring and dense with toxcisity
Can I tell you the absolute truth?" he asked the woman who wasn't truly beautiful but her large bright eyes reminded him of a pet raccoon he once had.
"Go ahead." she invited.
He wasn't sure if she was ready for this. Either it would advance his position or terminate the game.
" It all boils down to finding that fuck to end all fucks, that heat to drown all the fires, the love which will placate the pounding heart, and an exquisite sweetness to neutralize one's rage against the indifferent gods and the sour bullshit of everyday life."
Karen said nothing. She regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then leaned towards him and placed a hand gently on his shoulder. He felt his skin burning. She drew him towards her. Her lips parted slightly. "That was truly lovely," she whispered, her mouth just an inch or so from his own.
A maniac heart roamed in his chest. A point in time had been reached. No turning back. He felt fine hairs brushing across his forehead. A hand grasped the back of his neck. He felt her lips touch his, so soft, so incredibly hot, so charged.
There was no way to tell how long the kiss lasted. Time itself perished in the smoke of the moment. The usual background was all there: fragments of grey noise, meaningless jagged phrases punctuated by hollow laughter, idiot gossip, alcohol-fueled camaraderie, an atonal symphony of clinking glass and rattling ice-cubes.
I must have said the right thing, Jason thought as their lips slowly disengaged.
"Oh boyyy," the woman sighed, "You really are one profound kisser." He searched the steam-bath of his brain for something to say.
''You really are a philosopher," she said, squeezing his hand.
''Yes,'' he managed to say, although at the moment he felt like a worldclass fool, albeit a happy one. He caught sight of the bartender standing near them but no longer detested the man.
"Tell me more," Karen spoke eagerly, "Tell me something about yourself.”
Jasom reflected for a moment on what he should say. Hell, he reasoned, it doesn't matter. At this point she'll be happy with anything. He told her, 'Yes, well, I'm a philosopher. I live in a shack in the country with my one-eyed dog whose name is Plautus. I own a ten year old van, a fishing rod, some oak furniture, copper pipes, electrical fixtures, hardware, and a refrigerator with nothing in it but an outdated jar of mustard. I also own two dead television sets and a broken radio…”
Yes, but are you? he thought, not really caring at this point, so intoxicated with the spirit of the moment;In fact a stark raving madwoman would have been just fine. He pressed on with his monologue "I love to live the recklessly contemplative life of a daredevil hermit, gorge myself on French 'haute cusine' and throw up on German scholars, especially Hegel. In the dead of winter I like to steal tank-trucks loaded with gasoline and drive them backwards at 100 miles an hour down mountain roads while drunk on Morgan David wine and singing shockingly obscene songs of my own invown invention .... "
"I'll bet you do," Karen said, reaching over to unbutton his flowery hanky-tonk shirt. Her smile was as wicked as anything he’d ever seen or read about
"Dont get me started," he said as her soft hands explored his chest, "unless ... "
"Unless you're crazy enough. Are you crazy?" He remembered what a friend had once told him, something like crazy on the street. Crazy in the sack.
She leaned way over and buried her face in his chest. "Is that what you really want? A crazy woman?"
He felt her tongue on his collar bone. "Oh yes, that's just what I want"
"Then that's what I am., she said.
She drew back a little and gazed adoringly into his eyes: ''Well, some of my friends tell me I am."
Jason nodded approvingly, knowing that she was really well within the range of "normal" but on occasion , with the aid of liquor, would act out some buried neurosis. It was o.k. He had no long-range plans. Just 1iving for midnight.
"You don't believe me?" she asked. "Oh yes." he assured her.
A dark fire danced in her eyes. "Oh I'll show you, just you wait and see." She reached out to encircle him with her arms and encountered his holstered .38 special. "What's that?" she asked, drawing back. Jason experienced a momentary sinking feeling. The gun might be a deal breaker.
"It's a gun," he explained as casually as possible. "A Smith and Wesson revolver to be exact."
"A gun?" she asked wide-eyed. "Is it loaded?"
"Of course. What good's an unloaded gun?"
She seemed more curious than alarmed. "Why are you wearing a gun?"
He was relieved to see her smile. "Can I see it?" she asked.
He paused for a moment.
"Please ... "
Sure, why not, he thought, removed the weapon from its holster and passed it over to her. For a moment she cradled it in her hand and then let it drop into her purse. He frowned. Wasn't it bad luck to let a woman carry your gun? He'd heard that somewhere.
“You don’t mind, do you?”, she asked.
Part of him did. “It’s ok, if you want …”
"I'll give it back later. I just want to feel what it's like to carry one around.” She smiled as if she had his balls in her purse.
Jason finished his beer.”You want to stay here or go somewhere else…”.
''Let's go do something we'll regret.," she said pointedly, gulped down the remainder of her drink, and stood up
Jason eased himself off the barstool, took her hand, and lead her through the crowded bar. She kissed him when they reached the door, and again when he helped her climb into his van. God, he thought as he walked around the van, this is just fantastic. Can't fucking believe it's happening, just like I hoped. He climbed in. Karen leaned across the space between the seats and engaged him in a scorching lip lock. Her hand roved up and down his thigh as their tongues wrestled. An erection bloomed in his pants. His body was breaking with desire, his head tossed about in a thundering wave of lust. She was moaning down his throat, the sound of her heart’s frantic hunger. He felt like he was falling, and rolling, bumping against things, tumbling down a hill. His hands were on her breasts, on her hard ass, on her wet crotch. He wished he had more hands.
Jason had no idea how long it lasted. He was a man in a dream, the best of all possible dreams, and when he slowly woke up he found himself on the floor of the van with Karen on top of him, her face buried in his chest. He was damp with sweat. Wet hair lay plastered to his head. "Oh God ... " he sighed and squeezed her. No words, just an immense feeling, transcending anything. He was on the very verge of saying the "L"word.
"Come on, Karen said as she got up, take me back to your place."
His place was a mess. The average land fill was cleaner. Would she be put off? "Ok, but I have to warn you ... "
She helped him to his feet. "I know. Don't worry, I'm aware of how single guys live. You're all slobs."
We're not talking Just slob, he thought, we're talking about unhealthy, germ-ridden, flagrantly unsanitary unfit for human habitation
"Close your eyes when we go in," he told her.
They headed out of the parking lot onto the highway. Jason drove with one hand; the other one rested on Karen's thigh. He felt good. He was born for nights like this. Another half hour, he thought, and we'll be back at my place, back in the sack, completely naked, skin to skin. Oh JESUS. . . .. Oh thank you lordy. Thank you Jesus. Thank you for tonight. 'Thank you for sending me an this angel tonight. Maybe she's not crazy but she'll do just fine ... just fine.
"Can we stop here?" Karen asked as they approached a 7-11 store.
"We sure can." Jason answered, and wheeled the van onto the lot.She probably wants some chips or slimjims, he figured.
Karen leaned overand kissed him roughly with cool hard lips. Dark shards of light radiated from her huge eyes. They seemed a bit more like the eyes of a wolf than a racoon.
They got out of the van and went into the store. There was a heavy, tired looking hag of a woman planted in front of the snack food rack. Behind the counter were a couple of scrawny teenagers engaged in conversation. They both had pimples and spoke in woefully ignorant tones about the piece they'd ostensibly "had" last night.
''The only action you guys got, Karen spoke as she passed by the counter, was from that salami in the neat case which you stuck up each others ass.
Jason was surprised by the comment. That was pretty radical, he thought. The two clerks didn't know how to react. They looked at each other and laughed nervously. Karen went back to the coolers and grabbed a bottle of Pepsi. She began shaking it vigorously as she walked towards the counterr again. The teenagers regarded her with curiosity. The carbonated beverage was ready to explode. Karen unscrewed the cap and pointed the bottle, forcing the pressurized soda to spray wildly into the two surprised faces. Immediately they were drenched.
"Shit man ... " one of them whined, ''whad yous do that for?"
"Because you're a lousy little creep," Karen snarled as she winged the bottle at the guy's face. It crack-bounced off his nose. Hands flew up to the face; blood trickled out of nostrils. Jason felt his heart start to thud noisily. "Hey, let's keep things cool.", he told Karen.
She turned and regarded him with cold angry eyes: ''What's the matter with you? You wanted someone crazy, didn't you? 1his is what crazy people do."
The other clerk was backing away frcm the counter. Karen spied him sneaking out the back, behind the cold-cut case. She rushed around and kicked him in the groin with all her strength which, given his dramatic reaction, must have been considerable. He doubled over and sagged groaning to the floor.
Jesus Christ, Jason thought, this is turning into a fucking horror show. Better leave now, a small voice was telling him. He looked over to where he'd last seen Karen. She wasn't in view. The store was bathed in nightmarish fluorescence. The fat female customer had put back her selection and was backing towards the door. He thought he could hear the distant night-wail of sirens. Don't need this shit, he thought, dont need it at all. There was a movement at the edge of his visual field; Karen slowly standing up, half visible; her legs and the prostrate clerk hidden from his view by the freezer case. Then his mind recoiled into itself. There was a gun in her hand. His gun.
She was taking aim. Oh Christ almighty. His mind was screaming, the sound wedged in his chest like an iron spike. He tried to let it out, but it was like forcing ones self to vomit when one didnt have to vomit. Get the hell out, his voice was yelling. He turned and lunged towards the door, knocking over the fat woman on his way. Behind him a gun went off. His heart was beating itself up. Another shot. His legs were going soft. The van looked light years away.
Just keep running; don't look back, he coached himself, forcing all of his resources into his legs which seemed to be trembling like phone wires in a gale. Another shot, followed by the clatter of broken glass. By the time he reached the van a blow-torch was spewing flame into his lungs. He climbed into the van. Karen was pushing open the door to the store. She was yelling something. Jason plunged the key into the ignition. Oh God, he prayed, please start ... please. The engine coughed to life. Karen raised the gun and aimed it at him
As he threw the vehicle into reverse the gun barrel flared. A hole appeared in his windshield. The van careened backwards out of the parking lot. Karen threw the empty revolver towards him and started screaming: "You phony, you fucking phony son of a bitch ... " The rest of her parting words were lost by the whine of the engine as Jaspm mashed down hard on th gas pedal and roared off down the highway into the night. His heart was racing.
His mind was racing faster, trying to force an apparently illogical string of events into some kind of order. But nothing seemed to compute. The philosopher had no answers. He gripped the steering wheel and tried to force the gas pedal through the floor. Once he got back to his home in the woods he had no intention of leaving again, not ever.
Jason breathed an incredibly heavy sigh as he turned the van into his driveway and eased it up next to his humble home. He killed the engine and sat for a moment, letting the silence bathe and caress him. Then he climbed out and walked over to the front door. The excited squealing of his dog could be heard behind it. "It's all right; I'm home.", he said, more to himself than to his pet who rushed to greet him when the door was open. He was still trying to catch his breath and stop his racing mind. Over his shoulder he looked to see if by some deranged miracle his date had followed him on a broom, but the wooded lot was quiet except for cricket sounds, and his dog's wagging tail was creating a strong breeze.
Aristotle bent and hugged his pet, feeling a wave of emotion engulf him. Tears were upon his cheeks. Such a wonderful creation was a dog, so full of love and affection with not a mean bone in his body, and Jason hugged his companion for what seemed a very long time and in fact was a very long time.
He stood up, breathed a heavy sigh, and walked back to the bedroom. He’d have a few drinks and go to sleep eventually. Some day perhaps he’d just might make some sense out of it all, though better minds than his had repeatedly failed.
“You were a good boy tonight?, he said to his dog.
The tail wagged. The eyes spoke the truth.
Of course he was a good boy. Would Jason have wanted it any other way?