Five Cent Redemption
Palacios used to drive this rusted-out Taurus through the alleys, and I’d get out and grab cans and bottles from people’s recycling. Mostly it was cans. Usually beer. Sometimes the top layer would be all broken glass, and once I found dog shit or raccoon shit or human shit, and we thought maybe the guy heard us the last time and wanted to get a little revenge. That day was hot. Humid enough to fuck up your vision. Palacios and I had our shirts off, and he handed me a box of those Clorox wipes and started cracking jokes about women he never got to screw. He put his hand on my shoulder. It felt like gravel after a tornado, or else some kind of massive Iowa rain. I don’t know why, but I was laughing my ass off and pretending to touch the steering wheel, to wipe shit all over the front seat. He said if I ever wanted to get hitched, the thing to do was hide the ring in one of these bins on this block right here. Get it down deep, he said. Get it down real good. And then she’ll start digging, and maybe she’ll be committed, or maybe you’ll have half a chance when you decide you want to change your mind.
Summer Dance Party
Must have been around maybe last July or so, and me and McQuaid crash this party over in Clear Lake. Bunch of college kids. Everyone’s dressed like dead celebrities. Elvis is there. Tom Petty too. John Wayne looks all clean and like a banker in training, and we get him dosed up real good on this corn mash we sometimes make in my garage, and by the time eleven o’clock rolls around the asshole can barely walk. Can hardly stand up. So we get him in the back of the truck, and he’s puking practically the whole way out to this cornfield back behind some dentist office McQuaid went to as a kid, and nobody’s there. Place is fucking deserted. It’s gotta be ninety degrees even though it’s past midnight, and the bugs are going crazy around the headlights, and we drag out him out of the parking lot and plant him a few rows deep. We put his cowboy hat over his face. Cover him up with dirt. We stick a couple ears down his pants and toss one up by his teeth in case he gets hungry, and then when he’s passed out just real clear and good McQuaid grabs his shoes and socks, and we hightail it on back to the interstate. Just lit out straight for home. We figure if he’s got any little bit of Duke in him at all then he’ll make out just fine, and, wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what he does. We hear about it sometime later. Who knows if it’s true. But what happens is some hygienist finds him the next morning, and she says he must have about a hundred and fifty mosquito bites and is red and scratched and flaking pretty much all up and down everywhere, and she wants to call the cops, but he shrugs her off and then gets a ride home from some old high school buddy. His stepdad, maybe. Point is, he’s alright and no harm done, and me and McQuaid still see him around town sometimes, at Buddy’s over in Mason City, or else maybe the Fareway, and word is he dropped out of school. Came back home. He doesn’t recognize us, I don’t think, or at least he never acts like he does, and me and McQuaid wouldn’t give two shits anyway, but we do get real silent for a minute or so when he walks by just as sort of like a tribute, and then we go back to buying liquor. Start talking about football.
“Vikes are really gonna fuck up that Rodgers on Sunday, ain’t they?” he’ll say, and I’ll nod. We’ll laugh. Bottles will rattle around and echo from somewhere, and damn right, I’ll say, even though we both know it’ll be the same story all over again, and he’ll probably carve up our defense real good. Carve us like we’re pumpkins. Or else one of them big old Christmas hams.
Do No Harm
There’s this kid. College kid. Nineteen or twenty, something like that, and nobody knows how many years exactly, but the bottom line is he can’t drink. Not legally, anyway, though you can bet he’s tossed a few back now and then, and it’s these cans of Pabst he likes to drain in four big gulps and then throw way on out into the Missouri River, or maybe it’s the Cedar on account of they say he goes to UNI, and what does it matter anyway seeing as they both end up in the same place. Maybe it’s one of these nights he comes up with the idea, all cold and wasted and on some dock or near an old railyard or abandoned slaughterhouse, or maybe it’s at one of them winter dance parties they have once a year and just off campus, and everyone’s dressed like dead rock stars, and he wants to go as Jimi Hendrix but then picks Jim Morrison at the last minute instead and spends the whole night leaning up against a wall in some moldy basement. People are playing flip cup. Listening to EDM. And he’s sitting there rocking back and forth and probably pretty fucked up, and all of a sudden he’s thinking no way in hell do I want to have kids. Not now. Not ever. And who knows where this comes from, and it’s probably one of them serotonin rushes or déjà vu, past-life flashbacks, and he doesn’t do anything about it right then because, well, what can he do, but the point is the idea sticks. Starts showing up in his dreams. Symbolically, of course. With the teeth falling out and the lizards carrying off his member and then feeding it to some snake lets you watch it bulge the whole way down, and there’s all sorts of crazy shit like that, and so that summer he finds a urologist back home in Sioux City. Says he wants a vasectomy. The old snip, snip, snipperoni-roo, and the nurse gives him the evil eye. Scoffs in his face and out loud, and he tries to tell her he’s 35 and blessed with one of them baby faces, but, of course, she can see the goddamn chart, and there’s the DOB right there, and she tells him the doc’ll be in shortly and then slams the door on her way out, which doesn’t bother him too much. Not really. He figures she’s just jealous is what she is, and the doc doesn’t look much older than him, and they talk about football and Russell Crowe, and it’s real nice until the guy says, Sorry, son, I can’t fucking do it, and so, wait, says the kid. What do you mean? And the doctor tells him this whole story is just made for local media, and he don’t trust his nurse, and this place is one of them early-career postings, you understand, and that goes for journalists too, and this is fucking catnip, kid. It’s clickbait. Because this here’s Woodbury County. This here’s the Iowa 4th. And just what kind of meal do you think they’ll make out of some doc fresh from Iowa City, and maybe the second thing he does is sterilize some teenager, some juvenile, they’ll say, and we know the truth, and you’re within your rights, and maybe at this point the doc says that he actually wishes he had the convictions of this kid, but that don’t change the facts and the hassle. The risk. It’s just too much, he says, and this is where I got to draw the line.
The kid don’t take too kindly to this, of course, but what’s he gonna do? Hire a lawyer? And he don’t have the first clue how that would look or where he’d even go, and so he does what anyone his age would and goes home and writes up some social media diatribe and drinks himself to sleep, and by the next morning the feed’s gone crazy. Haywire. It’s trending nationally, and maybe two days later whole busloads of protestors are already coming on in from 80 or 90 and up or down 29 depending, and then there’s US 75 and 20 too, and these folks, they come in all different kinds of stripes, and some of them are calling the kid an environmental hero, and others are all about men’s rights, and they got signs that say “Guy’s body, Guy’s choice,” and some of these guys are named Guy, and, years later, one of them will write this deeply philosophical manifesto about the history of women withholding sex in order to maintain or reverse relational power dynamics, and this kid here was just the ticket, he’ll write, was a figure of damn near religious significance, and whole armies of young men getting secret vasectomies is the only way to take back control, the only way to restore the patriarchy, and the whole thing will feel florid and alive despite being functionally incoherent, and the end result will be that this little treatise becomes both an underground bestseller and also the symbolic representation of a certain strain of taboo politics, and all that isn’t even mentioning the Evangelicals, who show up at this kid’s door first and with these real committed faces talking up how every potential life is a little piece of God’s miracle work, and a whole host of them don’t even have to drive too far neither, and the Catholics get there pretty fucking soon after, practically right on their heels, and they’re even more militant, and that means there’s news trucks outside this kid’s window by day three noon, and they ain’t from KTIV, that’s for sure. They got big red letters on ‘em. Fancy cameras. The reporters got on these tight skirts and Italian blazers, and this kid’s parents are telling him he’s got to go make some kind of statement, got to get the whole thing all under control somehow, and so he steps out onto his front lawn in some Golden Gopher bathrobe used to belong to his old man back in his undergrad days, and the thing’s loud enough to wake the dead, assuming the media trucks and the protestors haven’t rattled them on up already, and he says this decision ain’t got nothing to do with politics, and what it is is all personal and private, and I never intended to start no big to-do, and, oh, of course that shuts everyone right up, doesn’t it? Really shames the fuckers. Especially when the kid does in fact have one of them freshly telegenic baby faces and those wide-set eyes that are all-fire kind and innocent, and he’s an absolute ratings monster, isn’t he, and these women start writing him letters that are like real, real suggestive, and all sorts of young men everywhere are saying he’s a revolutionary, a goddamn inspiration, and they’re sending photos of themselves just after their own vasectomies, and these kids are younger than him even, and people start getting the procedure on their 18th birthdays, and the whole thing becomes its own little ritual in New York and Vancouver and London, and it gets everywhere. It goes fucking global. He’s this prairie farm town celebrity, and the only problem is he still can’t find a provider, still can’t get one himself, or, then again, maybe he can, and there are offers coming in all the time and every day, and some of them are even sending contracts and saying they’ll pay him, that they’ll put him on TV as some kind of square-jawed Messiah for modern-times men’s health, except the problem is that now he ain’t even sure he wants it. Is it was supposed to be about breaking the mold, and now it’ll only look crass and/or commercial, and maybe the truth is that the really rebellious thing would be to become functionally celibate, at least as far as other people are concerned, and to just spill all them little packets of DNA down toilet pipes and into tube socks and tissues in some velvet basement stocked with a 3-D, virtual-reality Blu-ray player just especially made for projecting curvy, bouncing women with names like Laramie and Cheyenne onto this real high-end OLED monitor, and yeah, he figures, that’s the next natural step. That’s what he really wants. And for a second he feels a little sad or almost guilty because there’s this creeping realization like this is something he probably should’ve known from the first. It’s something he wishes he’d understood all along.