It all starts with a crack. Just when you think you’re swimming through life without a care in the world, beams of refracted light bathing your very being in an expressionistic blur of slow-motion weightlessness, bam! Everything is a concentrated rush of pain and blood shattering a nerve path straight to the core of your brain. And all I did was eat a pita chip.
“So then, you’re the type of person who, when he says that he has dreams about all of his teeth falling out of his head,” Jessica plucks an eyebrow of sympathy, “he really has teeth falling out of his head.”
The fact is I’ve spent the better part of my adult life cultivating a sort of reverse archaeology in the back of my mouth. A childhood sweet tooth gave way to a post-college sweet nose, resulting in a rather impressive habit of jaw grinding and sharpened molar knives gouging my tongue. When the dentist periodically pries open my face, I’m always the first to nudge him near the crotch area and blurt out something resembling “Stonehenge!” although, realistically, it probably sounds more like a Down Syndrome-ish “OK!” given the absence of available consonants in a forced-open mouth. And while I maintain some sense of incisor dignity – minus that slight snaggle on tooth No. 6 – the breaking of another bone is enough to send me into a British trailer-park shame spiral. I brush! Honest!
“Let’s go see Jaws,” I floss with irony, having just swallowed four pieces of sushi like giant pills.
“OK, but only until we see the shark,” Jessica flashes her pearly whites.
Everybody has their private shame, mind you. Jessica’s cat Sonic is diabetic and requires insulin shots daily, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her (the cat, not Jessica). I try to imagine Sonic and I are both operating with that same dragging Roosevelt leg, trudging our way through life and keeping up appearances. And even though, as Jessica gives her pet the poke prior to our departure, I heartlessly suggest an alarm clock that blares the “Shoot ’em up!” line from Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s “Love Missile F1-11” every time Sonic needs a hit, I know that I’m just one “thistle” or “thespian” away from another tongue crucifixion myself. Besides, some people wet themselves, even in a brown way. We just laugh – or in Sonic’s case, purr – to get through these awful circumstances.
And then we go to a bar. Redlight Redlight – surely a derivation of the Latin verb for “Stop! Stop! – is hosting its summer of movie nights, and tonight boasts a summery beach theme with blood included. Climbing up the rickety stairs, I can already hear the unmistakable swishing, the girlish giggle, the boobies and soon after, the crack of bones as what was once a drunk beach-town whore is turned into bloody shark prey worthy of smashing up against a buoy. My life, I quickly decide, could be worse.
And then the soundtrack music – that frightening progression of “da-na, da-na, DA-NA-DA-NA-DA-NA” building into a manic, tightening crescendo – starts to fill my head. But why? Surely there is nothing for me to fear here, except maybe pretzels or peanuts. Something must be amiss.
Oh, no! I can’t feel my legs! I’m being pulled under, thrashed and bashed about in a darkening pool of red! It’s a monster! It’s … it’s … it’s Jeffrey Billman, and he’s drunk. Apparently I’ve wandered into his native watering hole with only Jessica to act as a tooth-proof life raft. I am doomed.
“What are you doing here? You don’t drink beer!” Billman’s fins cut across my eyes in a loud fashion. “Do you?”
“Uh, no … not really,” I stammer as everybody turns to watch me bleed.
“Look at this guy! Does this guy look like he drinks beer to you?” comes more unnecessary extroversion.
I close my eyes and imagine that if you cut Billman open from his neck to just above his pubic bone, the milky white substance that poured out probably wouldn’t contain mullet, shoes or seaweed, although it probably would emit at least one crushed beer can. Jessica, meanwhile, does nothing.
“I’m like the bad friend,” she back-paddles. “I’m the one who throws her hand up over her face and turns the other way while you’re chewed to bits. Sorry!”
Slightly daunted, we grab our own beers and head over to a quiet table away from Billman’s beer-bar feeding frenzy. From our vantage point, we can see the ’70s Amity nightmare playing out its life lesson: floppy-hatted tan moms racing toward either skin or lung cancer, their children running the opposite direction to the welcoming crashes of ocean waves, unaware of the terror that lurks beneath. It’s all very important, but not as important as the realization that we never thought that hair – foppishly feathered with extreme left-side parts – would come back on boys. Boys like Billman, even.
Our conversation drifts in and out of Mean Girls observations of the New England summer variety – the fading popularity of Phoebe Cates-type round faces, the shark-like presence of muscle boys in the presence of easy-prey, second-tier Rollins girls, Vampire Weekend – and keeps up a quiet hum as things get inevitably worse for Roy Scheider. The manic soundtrack progression weaves its way into and out of bleats from Billman in the background, and people die. A lot.
“I think that this is the part of this shenanigans display where we take our exit,” I “th” and “x” one too many times.
“Brown-bag pumpernickel what?” Jessica bends her comprehension ear.
“Nothing, ow!” I crumble, as the shame takes its pain to my brain, firstname.lastname@example.org