portion of Matt Baker artwork

Matt Baker

It was not the greatest of days. My wife’s twenty-year high school reunion. Walking up to the North Lakes Country Club, she jerked on my hand, bringing me to a halt.

“Remember, I slept with a lot of guys in high school and I mean a lot. So there will probably be quite a few people who’ll be happy to see me. It may be uncomfortable for you.”

“That’s just great, Connie.” I stood there debating whether to just wait in the car.

“But I’ve changed, you know that. I’m not like that anymore.”

“People don’t change,” I said. “They just modify things, make little tweaks, tiny adjustments. We don’t change. That’s the greatest fallacy in the history of mankind. The truth is people don’t change.”

“Well, I have.”

“Uh huh,” I said, walking up to the front door, deciding to drop it.

We’ve been married eight years. Long enough to have a five-year-old girl and long enough to not really enjoy each other’s company any longer. I laughed at my predicament: me and my ex-slut wife attending her high school reunion fully aware of her hopes of running into her former backseat fuck buddies.

I turned around. She’d fallen behind. “You coming?”

“Are you going to behave?” she asked. A couple walked past us and went inside.

“Of course. I know how important this is for you.”

“Thank you.” She started up toward me.

* * *

The first person she ran into was some asthmatic guy who found everything hilarious. “Wow, ha-ha, it’s, ha-ha, Connie, ha-ha, Miller …” But he couldn’t continue, he took two puffs off his L-shaped inhaler and waved us off. I told her I remember when we used to turn those upside down, drop a piece of tin foil in the mouthpiece, pop a half dozen holes with the end of a pin and have ourselves a handy little marijuana pipe. Connie wasn’t impressed.

“No weed stories, OK, Doobie Dude? In fact, no stories at all. Just zip it tonight.”

I felt crushed and stood there without convictions, beliefs, or even the faint satisfaction of being alive.

When a guy wearing his old football jersey informed me that they used to call my wife Connie the Hottie, I told him nowadays I called her Itchy Tits because she’s always scratching the hell out of them.

When I was asked what I did for a living I said I was a psychic. Everyone was awed by this revelation. A woman asked, “How do you use your gift?”

I said, “Basically it works like this. If I get an erection, look out! That means a tornado is on its way. Last year I predicted thirteen tornados and the mishandling of the Iraq War.”

One woman, who had a drag-along husband with her, spoke at great length with my wife and informed me that they had a small boy. I stepped up to the plate. “Want my advice? Don’t have a boy. But in your case it’s too late so here’s something to write on a sticky note and plant on your forehead: If an organization, newsletter or building has the word “boy” in it, that’s a bright-lettered advertisement for man-boy lovers and other pedophilic deviants. Boys Club, Boys Scout, National Institute of the Boy, Methodist Boys Club, Boy Oh Boy, all of them—watch the fuck out. Seriously.”

“Excuse me? You are unbelievably inappropriate and rude.”

“Hey!” I threw my hands in the air. “I didn’t see a foul.” I turned to Connie. “Did you?” Then I pointed to the asthmatic. “Wheezy, you see a foul?” “Who are you?” the woman said.

“Just a guy with a little advice from me to you. I’m full of guidance and beautiful sunrise sentiments. I’m a walking Hallmark card, full of pick-me-ups, cheer-you-ups and there to remind you that your loved one has gone on to a better place, wherever the hell that is.”

Before Connie could smack me I darted off toward the bar where semi-retired grandfathers in tuxedo shirts and black bow ties stood with their hands folded over their pricks.

“Get one of those little plastic cups and fill it halfway with vodka then spit in it for me.”

“Spit in it?”

“That’s right Miracle Ear, you heard me. Spit in it.”

He poured a generic brand into the plastic cocktail cup then looked up at me. “Spit in it?”

“That’s right, Captain, My Captain.”

He did and I took the glass over to Connie. “Here, sweetie. Vodka straight up.”

She thanked me and took a long drink.

“I’m so sorry for being a prick.”

“You can’t help it,” she said.

“Right. Because I am a prick, right?”

“That’s my sweetheart.”

* * *

I walked around the room, starting conversations with random 1989 graduates from North Lakes High School. I went up to a group of four guys and said, “Hey, prick teases, remember me? You guys were right. I am a fag. Big-time gay man right here. Gosh. It’s so great to see you guys again. You all look so good. I just want to squeeze all of you.”

I approached other men and said, “See that over there,” pointing to my wife. “Wow-ee. Remember her?”

And most did remember her, very intimately. One guy named Brock said, “Hell, yeah, I nailed her like every day after school our sophomore year.” He went on to say that he hoped maybe if he was lucky, later on tonight he’d get himself a hit of the old stuff, “you know for old time’s sake,” he said, high-fiving me. I wished him luck and didn’t doubt his chances.

Occasionally someone interrupted and said, “Who are you again?”

I’d say, “Prom committee? Hello? How can you forget this face?” “Oh, yeah,” they’d say and then instruct me to get a name badge from the sign-in table at the front. That was the rules.

* * *

Then the music got a little louder and more people were dancing and everyone was on their second or third drink. Connie danced with a bunch of different people, guys and girls. I stood off to the side after I got tired of talking to people. I drank my Diet Coke out of one of those little plastic cups they use on airplanes.

It was Saturday night and I was already dreading going back to work on Monday. The dull ache in my chest worsened when thinking about the end of the month print jobs on deck. Catalogs, monthly periodicals, flyers, advertisements, direct mail pieces. And the delays and asshole clients who couldn’t get me their proofs in time and fighting to get past due money and haggling over costs or invariably getting into it over using the wrong kind of paper stock. Mistakes happen. We all make them. But we live for the thrill of pouncing on others when they mess up.

I’d thought about changing directions. Thought about doing something wild and exciting and extravagant. My grandfather did. He left my grandmother and went to Europe to become a painter. No one ever heard from him again. That’s how you do it. My hero.

Connie would find herself a new husband in no time, she still looks that good. And our daughter, we’re not that close. She wouldn’t miss me. Maybe at first, but after a few months with a new dad and a new house and a new school, it’d be smooth sailing again. Besides, these kids nowadays don’t need mothers and fathers anymore; they need text messages, paparazzi-shot celebrity magazines, and Web pages where they can post revealing pictures of themselves. And they need everything—whatever it is—non-stop. There is no rest for this generation. This generation is going for it. They’re extreme. They’re cutting edge and technologically savvy and fat and not so bright at math and they start getting drunk in the fourth grade and start stroking and pole-dipping each other in the fifth grade. I can’t wait until being a parent is nothing more than supplying my half of the genetic code. Screw this nurture, learning and modeling behavior crap. It’s all in the genes. It’s already determined. I think if you could look behind this world of ours you’d see a giant wind-up knob on its last rotation or probably more likely some asshole with a joystick in his hand playing us all.

I watch those nature shows and think about moving into a tall grass hut and filming cheetahs but I don’t know anything about photography. I think about going into the Amazon forests and studying insects and identifying exotic flowers. Or jumping off a Carnival cruise ship with a volleyball in my hand and swimming to the nearest island and calling it my new home. I can eat insects and tear the skin off rodents. Shit, I tear the breading off Chicken McNuggets and eat the goop Taco Bell squirts inside its “wraps.” Wrap is right; they wrap that crud up so you can’t see what you’re eating. You’re not eating what you see on the television. What you see in those commercials is not food. It’s plastic and silly putty and highly toxic lead-based paint. I bet you could sell turds at a drive-thru window as long as you had commercials with hip-hopping, head-spinning pre-teens air-humping around throwing turds at one another.

I think those people have the life; the ones tricking people into buying crap. What I got, I don’t know what you’d call it but it’s definitely not a life.

* * *

Connie is polished in perspiration and takes several deep breaths, calming herself. She smiles. “You want to dance?”

“No, you go ahead. I’m OK.”

“Come on. You used to dance with me.”

“You look like you’re doing fine out there without me.”

She turns around, looks at the dance floor. “Don’t be a party pooper.”

“I’m not.” I take a sip from my cup.

Then someone calls her name and she turns and waves and runs back into the pile of bodies swirling on the dance floor.

My twenty-year reunion is next year. But we’d have to fly to Kansas City and get a rental car and hotel rooms and use vacation time and it’s just not worth it. Connie says she wants to go if for no other reason than to see where I grew up. I tell her it’s just like Sacramento except everyone has Missouri or Kansas on their license plates. When people say, “There are two Kansas Citys, right?” I say, “No, actually there are three. One in Kansas, one in Missouri and one in Delaware.” And they always say, “I did not know that. Which one are you from?”

“The one in Delaware.”

* * *

There’s a commotion at the bar. One of the old guys has fallen over. I rush over to get a good spot from which to observe the ensuing spectacle. I even have to fight off a few people, giving them a thunderous thrust with my hips, like a hockey player up against the boards trying to defend the puck. Connie’s down on her knees, unbuttoning the guy’s tuxedo shirt. She’s such a natural. “Stand back, please,” she says. “Give him some room to breathe.”

“He’s got plenty of air to breathe,” I said. “Ma’am is he going to make it?”

She looks up at me. “Will you get down here and help me.”

So I do. “What do you want me to do?”

She leans over, listening for something. She touches his arms, his face. She informs everyone that he’s breathing.

“Great,” I said, getting up. “My work is done here.” And I clear out.

* * *

Three women approach me. I sip my Diet Coke. My sipping is purely theatrics, something to do. “Hi, we were wondering something,” the tallest and prettiest one says.

“Yeah?” I sip again.

“Well, we know you predict tornados and political things but Tammy here just lost her mother and we didn’t know if you could maybe see her mother or talk to her mother and let her mother know that she’s OK.”

I eyed them seriously. Tammy, the shortest one, had red hair and didn’t smile. The one talking and her companion looked like lifelong best friends.

“OK, let me see.” I closed my eyes for fifteen, twenty seconds, long enough to make them uncomfortable. Then I opened them and stared at a spot right above their heads, and concentrated on it as if I were indeed peering through some kind of invisible portal that connected me to the beyond. I’d gauged Tammy’s age to be late thirties like most of the people there. I said, “Oh, OK. Oh, wow. This … her death was unexpected. It was a surprise. A shock.”

“Oh my god!” Tammy said, covering her face. “She always had a fear of driving in the rain,” she said.

I pretended not to hear and quickly said, “It was a horrific car accident,” I said, “I can see it. She’s showing me. It’s awful. Water, water, everywhere.” Tammy sobbed.

The tall woman said, “Can you see her mom?”

“Oh, yes. She has red hair and a beautiful, stunning smile. Yes, she’s smiling at me.”

“Momma!” Tammy wailed.

“She’s right here, Tammy. She’s … hold on. I lost it. No, wait. She’s waving at you. She says she’s OK and that heaven is delicious and sweet like ice cream and she’s saying that you’re putting too much salt in your beef stroganoff … and about the accident she says the car’s steering broke. It wouldn’t steer …”

The silent woman crossed her arms and said, “What kind of car was it?”

“I can’t tell.”

“Look harder.”

Then I dropped my gaze and saw Tammy and the tall one looking at me. “Yeah, what kind of car was she driving?” Their skepticism had me cornered. “An older car.” I waited for some feedback. Nothing. “A Buick?”

Tammy said, “My mom drove a Honda.”

“You didn’t let me finish! There was a Buick involved in the accident. It’s all a messy montage of images, sometimes it’s hard to make sense of it. This is tiring me out. I need a break.”

I sipped my Diet Coke and rubbed the back of my neck.

“I think you’re a phony psychic,” the tall woman said.

I nodded my head in a gesture that assured her she was entitled to her opinion. I walked away.

* * *

Connie joined me at the table I was sitting at. There were thirty or forty such tables, each with six chairs and a white cloth hanging over the sides. I had been watching the dancing and carousing from a distance; from a table near the only door in the ballroom, the only way in and out and I’d been trying to think about things but everything felt impossible for some reason. “Can you do me a huge favor?” she said, fanning herself with her hand.

“What’s that? Give you permission to go to a sleepover with Brock?”

“No,” she smiled and leaned over and gave me a playful punch, “Wonder Prick.”

I laughed. “Wonder Prick?”

“Yeah. Word is you’re a psychic? The dick psychic.”

“Oh, that,” I said, seriously. “Yes. It’s a gift.”

She didn’t say anything else. She seemed too tired to keep the comedic banter going. “We’ll leave in a little bit,” she said, taking a drink from her cup. I didn’t know if it was the same cup I’d gotten for her or if she’d already downed it and was working on her second or third. She could stomach booze pretty well.

She said, “I just want to take in as much as I can. I doubt I’ll ever see most of these people again.”

“Why would you want to see them again? Seems like a pretty sorry bunch.”

“It’s a reunion. It’s what you do.”

I tapped my fingers on the table, scooted the chair out a little and crossed my legs comfortably. I said, “So what’s the deal with the ugly chick over there in the goofy red dress. Tell me about her. I bet everyone hated her. I bet you all treated her like shit. If I were her I wouldn’t have shown up for something like this.”

She shook her head. “You’re not going to ever behave, are you? You’re just going to always be a prick, huh?”

I flinched. “Who, me?”

“So will you do me a huge favor?”

“I probably owe you one,” I said, uncrossing my legs, then crossing them again.

“Can you drive the old guy to the hospital and drop him off.”

“What the hell? Is he dead or something?”

“No, no. He’s having chest pains and I think a doctor needs to look him over.”

“Have you heard about these women who bleach their assholes?”


“You have?”

“You want me to bleach mine?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Will you take him?”

“Where is he?”

“Outside by our car. Brock’s with him.”

“Is this a play to get you some alone time with the Brock’s cock?”

She laughs and leans in for another playful punch but I block and counter with an overhand left and wrap it around her neck and snuggle her up next to me and kiss her on top of her head. I let go and she’s smiling like I hadn’t seen in months, maybe years, and we look at each other longer than we usually do.

It didn’t surprise me that Ellen (Parker, FRiGG ed.) liked this story. I knew she’d identify with the slutty character, like I did, since we both slept with a lot of people in high school and I mean a lot. That’s actually how I got the idea for the story. A few years ago Ellen and I were talking about what sluts we were in high school and how awful a reunion would be for our spouses. Of course I’m kidding!

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