No, you’re not some kind of whack job who gets his kicks by scaring women.
The last thing you want to do is frighten Jenny Maples. Actually you don’t know what you want from her—probably nothing. You’ve got a thing for her is all. Some kind of obsession. You’ve been following her around for about a year and a half now. In the restraining order they called it stalking.
“Alls he was doing was sitting in his car smoking a cigarette,” your old man says, holding his steak with his fork and hacking at it with the knife. The steak the old lady cooked is tough.
“A marijuana cigarette,” your old lady says, sipping coffee. “Smoking pot is against the law.” She works six days a week at Wal-Mart. When she’s not working she’s usually sleeping. She chain smokes Virginia Slims.
“They didn’t get him for the pot; they got him for following the girl around,” the old man says.
“He needs to stay away from that girl,” the old lady says.
“Oh, he’ll stay away from that girl alright; won’t you Hump?” the old man says. When you don’t speak up right away the old man kicks your chair so hard it almost knocks the potatoes off your fork.
Your name is Humphry but everyone calls you Hump. The story is they named you after your old man’s life-long hero Humphry Bogart. You wonder why in the hell they didn’t name you Bogy.
The grill room at the Country Club is where you know Jenny Maples from. You worked there busing tables and washing dishes. The members are a bunch of snobs but Jenny is different. She’s friendly to you. She smiles at you and says hi when she sees you. She has lunch there at least three times a week with her mother. You always bring her something special, something that she didn’t order—a piece of cheesecake or a dish of ice cream—although waiting tables isn’t your job. It’s kind of like a gift to her for being nice to you. She likes it at first. She asks you your name. “I’m Bogy,” you say. “Bogy?” she says with a little smile, “Bogy what?” The mother looks at you with displeasure. One of the rules is you’re not supposed to fraternize with the members. “Bogy Potter,” you say. After you’ve done this a few times Jenny asks you to please stop. You don’t stop and they fire you.
Your old lady has barely spoken to your old man since he ran over Beau in the driveway. She’ll never forgive him for that.
Beau was the old lady’s Pit Bull, her baby. She pampered the hell out of him. He liked to sleep curled up in the driveway and one day the old man backed out without looking. He felt bad about it. The old lady was pissed as all hell and still hasn’t gotten over it. On her birthday the old man goes down to the pound and gets her a replacement—another Pit. The old man names the new Pit Oscar. They’ve got a real talent for names these people.
Meanwhile money is becoming a problem. The old man was laid off from the Buick in the spring. The layoffs have gone longer than usual and the old man’s unemployment insurance is running out. The only other source of money these days is what the old lady makes at Wal-Mart. While she’s busting her butt at Wal-Mart the old man spends his days down at Art’s bar drinking up what’s left of her paycheck.
It takes thirty minutes for you to drive across town to the Glen Hollow Country Club where Jenny Maples lives.
You’re never sure what you’re going to do when you get there. Today since Jenny’s house is empty there’s no need to speed past. Instead you pull into the Country Club parking lot and light up one of the numbers you rolled before leaving the house. It’s early evening and so quiet you can hear the grass growing. The sprinklers are twirling water across the practice green. When you open the car window to let the smoke out the smell of wet freshly cut grass spills in. You know for a fact there’s no one home at Jenny’s house. You saw this announcement in yesterday’s Journal:
The Maples and Armstrong families who are spending July and August vacationing in Italy are proud to announce the engagement of Jenny Maples to Cole Armstrong. A June wedding is planned.
The sports page used to be the first thing you looked at when the newspaper came. Now you dig through the paper for the society page like a dog digging for a bone.
They’re very rich the Maples. It seems like there’s always some charitable event at the Country Club that Jenny and her family is involved in. There’s Jenny posing for the camera at a Cancer Society event; there’s Jenny and her stern looking mother at the March of Dimes dinner.
Last Christmas, with nothing else to do, you sit until your toes are frozen watching the dark, empty house. There’s an announcement in the Journal that the Maples and Armstrong’s are spending the holidays in Acapulco. Jenny’s house is visible through the trees on the far side of the second fairway. It’s more visible in winter when the trees are bare. Then it’s like a Christmas card, with the golf course and yards all drifted over and the tree branches piled up with snow.
You’re so stoned you think you’re hallucinating when all of a sudden the parking lot is filled with cop cars, lights fluttering and radios crackling. They make you lie face down in the snow with your hands behind your head while they cuff you and read you your rights. Then they stuff you in the back of a cop car and drive you over to the police station. They accuse you of all kinds of things: they say you drive by her house a million times a day, and park in the Glen Hollow Country Club parking lot for hours casing the house. It’s all more or less true. You confess to them finally that you’ve got a thing for her.
“What kind of thing?”
“I don’t know what kind of thing.”
“What do you want from her?”
“I don’t know—nothing I guess.”
“Are you angry with her because the Country Club fired you?”
“Are you in love with her?”
“I’ve just got a thing for her is all. I can’t explain it more than that.”
“She’s engaged to be married you know?”
“She’s afraid of you. Is that what you want? Do you want to scare her?”
“Do you have any plans to hurt her?”
“No, I’d never hurt her.”
“You can’t just follow people around and scare them.”
“It’s sick. Do you hear me?”
You tell them your dream is to be in the Delta Force. Actually this idea just pops into your head when you are sitting in the back of the cop car. You seen a movie about the Delta Force or read something about it but you don’t really know what it is. You just like the sound of it—Delta Force.
In the end they don’t charge you with anything, not even the pot. They do take out a restraining order. It’s for stalking and forbids you to have any contact with her by phone or in person or come within 100 yards of her house or the Glen Hollow Country Club.
No restraining order or anything anyone says or does will ever make you stop. Sadly, it’s now beyond your control.
At home you smoke weed all day and think about Jenny. You sell stuff to your shady writer cousin—who’s also your supplier—to get the weed: your bike, your baseball glove, your ice skates, your goalie pads, some rings, and your collection of baseball cards, your clothes, your stereo. Pretty soon you’ll sell your car. You won’t need it anyways in the Delta Force. You sit in the dark in the basement all day smoking weed. Now you’re about out of weed again and there’s nothing left to sell except your car. You’re thinking of Jenny. You’re always thinking of Jenny.
Your car is a Pontiac Trans Am, 8 cylinders, 340 HP; it has Corvette chrome wheels and three inch exhaust pipes. You’ve had it up to 120 on a straightaway.
It was a pile of junk when you bought it but little by little you fixed it up. Cranking it up is a way to take out your frustrations. You go for a drive in the country. You’re high. You crank it up all the way and feel like you’re being sucked through a pneumatic tube. Your peripheral vision’s a blur. A few hundred feet ahead a minivan backs onto the highway. You get close enough to see the faces of the kids in the back seat. It’s too late to stop. There’s a pickup truck coming in the opposite direction. Going around the minivan full of kids doesn’t seem to be an option but you have no choice. Without touching the breaks you veer to the left, blow past the station wagon and pass the pickup on the opposite shoulder. Tires squeal. Horns blare. The Trans Am skids sideways spitting gravel and raising a cloud of dust out of which it emerges, skidding back into the right lane just in time to miss an oncoming UPS truck. The whole thing doesn’t take five seconds but it takes an hour for you’re your heart to stop pounding.
Things are getting out of control.
The Army recruiter’s office is in a shopping center. You show up clean and sober bright and early on a Monday morning and timidly tell the recruiter, Sgt. Washington, you want to enlist in the Delta Force. Great, he says. Only you can’t just enlist in the Delta Force; there’s a whole long list of requirements. The thing to do he says is join the Army first. Once you’ve signed on the dotted line you take the physical and the aptitude tests and if you score high enough you’ve got a shot at getting into one of the elite outfits. But first you’ve got to go through Basic Combat Training and then Advanced Individual Training and then you go to Infantry School. If you meet all the requirements you can apply for the Delta Force. He asks: ‘Do you think you’ve got what it takes?’ You say you think you do but just to humor him. Fat fucking chance is what you’re really thinking after he’s described all the requirements. But you sign on the dotted line anyway because what else are you going to do?
You’re scheduled to process in thirty days if you don’t change your mind in the meantime. “Do you mind pissing for me,” Sgt. Washington asks. It sounds a little perverted. “I need you to piss into a cup. Drug test. You’ll find a cup in the men’s room.”
You never thought about a drug test. Sgt. Washington takes the cup with your urine into the back room and comes back a few minutes later and sits at his desk staring at you. “You pissed hot,” he says. “What all do you use?” Just weed, you tell him. “This was an unofficial drug test,” Sgt. Washington says. “It’s just between the two of us. I’d hate to think we’re wasting our time here. You piss hot during your physical they’ll send you home. Lay off the weed. You feel me?”
It’s the weed that makes life worth living.
You still drive by Jenny’s house ten times a day but the experience of yearning for Jenny feels empty without the weed. When you’re high there’s an almost spiritual intensity to the suffering. Your misery is a secret pleasure. You love wallowing in the anguish and grief the way when you were a kid you loved wallowing in mud. But when you’re sober the suffering is real. It’s real pain—like a toothache. You keep asking yourself ‘why do I sit here looking at her empty house?’ Yes, it’s your way of staying in contact with her but it’s not real contact. You might as well stay home and try to contact her by Ouija board. At least you’d save the gas money.
You know for a fact that a 1994 Pontiac Trans Am in mint condition is worth at least $8,000.
When a couple of guys come to look at the Trans Am Oscar goes nuts barking and growling, strings of drool hanging from his chin. You’re asking $8,000. You’ve priced it to sell.
The buyer test drives the car and then him and his buddy sit in the living room with you, the old man, and Oscar negotiating. The guy offers you $7,250. You say you’ll take $8,000. The guy comes up to $7,500. You say $8,000. The guy says $7,750. He says it’s his last offer. You say $8,000. “Is this what you call negotiating,” he says to you. He moans and bitches and gestures in frustration at his buddy and then asks if you’ll take a personal check. You say no you’ll take a cashier’s check. Oscar is snarling and slobbering. The old man is holding onto him by the collar.
The old man drives his car up to the Wells Fargo on the corner and you drive the Trans Am for the last time. You meet the guy there and he gives you a cashier’s check for $8,000 and you give him the title to your car. Seeing him driving away in the Trans Am hurts; you almost cry, but $8,000 is a nice chunk of change and the old man sits there looking at the check and drooling like Oscar does when you show him a bone. Finally you’ve got weed money but you can’t smoke, not if you want to get into the Delta Force. “What are you going to do with it?” the old man asks.
You sign the back of the check and hand it to him. What will you need money for in the Delta Force? “I’ll pay you back,” he says but you know he never will.
Parting is such sweet sorrow.
It’s your last weekend of civilian life. You borrow the old man’s car and drive over to your drug dealer writer cousin’s house but not to buy weed this time. You follow him down to the basement where he has his pot and his scales stashed away behind the furnace. When you tell him you don’t want to buy weed he looks at you like ‘what the hell are you here for then?’ You explain the situation.
“Delta Force?” he says. “I didn’t even think that was real. I thought it was like some Sylvester Stallone bullshit.”
You assure him that it is real and that you’ll be inducted into the Army on Monday. “Wow, you do realize you could get killed. You know what pisses me off?” he says. “It’s when they’re talking on the news about some poor bastard that got blown away in Iraq or some godforsaken place and they say ‘he gave his life for his country.’ No one gives their life for their country.”
You halfway agree with him on this. Going into the Delta Force has nothing to do with your country. You never gave the country a thought. You have nothing against the country but you’re not all that patriotic either—come to think of it. You just need to get away from things to preserve your sanity is all. If you get killed it will be pretty inaccurate for them to say that you gave your life for your country.
All the while he’s raving he’s rolling joints. The front of his bathrobe is open and his junk his hanging out which makes you a little uncomfortable. Come to think of it every time you visit him to buy weed he’s wearing the same bathrobe. You wonder where he gets off sitting around all day in a bathrobe. “You want to smoke,” he asks.
“It’s on me. A going away present.”
You explain that you’ve got to piss for a drug test on Monday and that you can’t have drugs in your blood. He sighs and sits back on the couch with his hands joined behind his head. He looks frustrated. “I don’t envy you Humphry?” he says.
He envies you even less when you explain your reason for being there. “Tell me if I have this right,” he says. “You want me to write a love note for you to some chick that accused you of stalking her and got your dumb ass thrown in jail.”
“You’re a writer aren’t you,” you say. He shakes his head and then goes around the basement opening and closing drawers looking for a pen and paper. He scribbles something on the paper and hands it to you:
Good night, good night parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say goodnight till it be the morrow.
You read it and scratch your head. “It’s Shakespeare,” he explains. “Romeo and Juliet.”
You wonder out loud as to whether she’ll have any idea what you’re talking about. “You said she’s a college girl,” your cousin says. “Certainly she’s read Shakespeare.”
You’ve been down this lonesome road before
You’ve made this pilgrimage so many times you could do it with your eyes closed. As you turn onto Country Club Drive it’s almost dark and there across the fairway is the Maple’s house all lit up like a ship at sea. The Maples are back from their travels. Afraid that they’ll spot your car and call the cops, you panic and are about to speed past the house when it hits you—they’re on the lookout for the Trans Am, not the old man’s ramshackle Buick. So you pull up in front of the house and stop.
You’ve never done this before. It’s exciting. Your heartbeat quickens. You’ve debated how to deliver the Shakespeare note to Jenny. You’d planned on mailing it to her but a new idea pops into your head. ‘No guts no glory’ you hear yourself saying. The Delta Force is not for the meek or the faint of heart. It’s for the bold and the brave. You notice a rose bush in the yard next to Jenny’s house. You get out of the car leaving the car door ajar lest anyone hear its closing thump. You walk across Jenny’s neighbor’s yard feeling the eyes of all living things on you. It’s as if every blade of grass has eyes and they’re all trained on you. You’re tingling with the self-consciousness of life; every nerve end is firing. You’re alive. This must be what it’s like on a mission with the Delta Force.
You walk across the neighbor’s yard to the rose bush and pluck a single red rose. Then you cross Jenny’s yard and walk up the steps to the porch. This is the closest you’ve ever been to her essence. You reach out and touch the solid black door that stands between you and the world of Jenny Maples. The doorbell glows. What if you pressed it and waited for the door to open and then handed the rose and note to whoever opened it? What’s the worst that could happen?
You’d be hunted down like an animal and thrown into jail. That’s what would happen. No Delta Force. You reject that idea. Instead you fold the Shakespeare note, set it down on the porch, and lay the red rose over it. “Adieu sweet Jenny,” you say. “Adieu.” Then you walk back to your old man’s rusty Buick. Halfway down the block the muffler comes loose and drags under the car sparking and clanking as if to rudely remind you of who you are and where you might be going.