I'm returning to my beloved alma mater of Syracuse tomorrow because a class at the prestigious Newhouse school actually has THE CHEAT SHEET on its syllabus. Do you believe that shit? Yeah, I don't either. You actually have to read my curse-filled short stories in order to get a diploma. What a world.
In honor of that, I thought I'd give out another story from the collection. I mean, if students have to study it, you normal folks might as well get it for free. It's called...
Larry Clarence sat across the table from Shannon Doe. Doe wasn't really her last name, but Larry dealt with a lot of women whose last names he never learned, so, just like an autopsist at the morgue, when he didn't know a last name he'd throw a tag with "Doe" on their toe until he learned otherwise. Then again, Clarence, the surname he'd given Shannon Doe, wasn't his last name either.
Clarence and Doe sat in a dark romantic restaurant on the Upper West Side surrounded by other couples of a similar age. Larry was fifty-two, distinguished and classy looking, Shannon assumed he was a businessman with a closet full of nice suits in a nearby Columbus Avenue high-rise. He had inferred as much. Shannon was a forty-five-year-old divorcee who lived across town on the Upper East Side. They'd first met in the middle at Central Park's Boathouse, where Larry stood waiting for his grown daughter while Shannon read on a nearby bench. Larry mentioned that day that he had a father/daughter outing at least once a month.
“You really think you're done having kids?”
Older people on first dates are typically more forward than younger people, asking questions more probing than those asked by a generation still trying to find their way in the world.
Larry closed his eyes and smiled.
“Look at me, Shannon.”
“Look at you what? I'm sure you're still...virile.”
Around them the rest of the pairings in the quiet restaurant were clearly long-time wedded couples out on a date night. Shoveling food into their mouths and not really speaking to each other, just excited to be away from the kids for a few hours.
“You're doing pretty well on this first date here, Shannon,” Larry joked, “maybe you'll get to find out about my...virility.”
Shannon giggled. It felt good to flirt. Men her age never flirted any more, they just expected a crass economic exchange. They ask out, I accept, they pay for food, I eat the food, I tell them about my life, they listen and act interested, if I wanted another meal I may have sex with them. But this felt good. Different.
“Perhaps. But not on a first date. Never on a first date.”
Shannon always said that line but who was she kidding, she would definitely sleep with Larry if he continued acting normal enough and didn't turn into some psychopath like a lot of hot shot Manhattan businessmen out there.
She admired his placid restraint. All men acted like they didn't care when she mentioned she wouldn't have sex with them any time soon, but she could always see the seething hiding behind their eyes. The number crunching in their head. "I paid $500 for this prix fixe? I could have had a hooker threesome for a lot less and still watched the Knicks game."
“So...you got any pics of your kids? Mike and Jessie was it?”
“What do I look like? Some proud papa so in awe of his two amazing kids' abilities, achievements, and successes that I carry around five-hundred photos of them in my wallet?”
Larry laughed as he pulled out his phone.
“I keep those five-hundred pictures on my phone!”
Shannon laughed. She really liked Larry. He was smooth and cool, not sleazy in the least. How could a guy so in love with his children possibly be?
He started shuffling through the pictures.
“There's Mike and Jessie when we went ice skating in Central Park last year, and there's Mike winning an award at his job, Jessie with her sorority sisters...”
Jessie sat on a stool across from Keith in a Soho wine bar.
“Is your brother looking forward to meeting me?”
“You know how it is. I'm sure Mike will feel a little awkward.”
“Mike's not one of those big brothers who's gonna want to kick my ass since I touch his sister?”
Jessie playfully punched Keith in the shoulder.
“I'll kick your ass if you ever stop touching his sister.”
“Any how, baby, does my brother look like much of a tough guy?”
Jessie held up her phone and showed a picture of her and Mike in matching Christmas sweaters.
“No, I guess he doesn't, babe.”
Mike sat at a table with Katie, both sipping on margaritas.
“I must admit, Mike, I'm kinda nervous.”
“Don't be, honey. My dad's a big softy. Yeah, he'll make a lame joke or two, but nothing worse than that. And, I bet you'll be best friends with Jessie before the meal is through. All women love Jessie.”
Just then the waiter escorted Larry and Jessie to the table. Mike excitedly stood, shaking Larry's hand and kissing Jessie on the cheek.
“Glad you could come, sis.”
Katie was elated to see Mike had such a nice-looking family. It's hard being a single girl in such a tough city and stumbling upon a guy with a close-knit family made her feel at ease.
“It's great to meet you two. Mike's told me so much about the both of you, even though we've only been dating a few weeks.”
Larry smiled mischievously at Mike.
“Oh, he has, has he?”
“He has, sir.”
“I'm sure, Katie, he's neglected to mention I tell the funniest jokes this side of Jackie Mason. You ever hear the one about the bullfighter in the china shop?”
Katie instinctively reached down and squeezed Mike's hand. She could definitely see herself being part of this nice family one day.
Mike was the first to arrive at the Russian Vodka Room in Midtown where they held their meetings on the first Saturday of every month. He took his preferred seat in the back corner of the dark bar and pulled a blank check from his wallet. He couldn't believe he was still having to write checks in the year 2010. When would everyday people be able to swipe their credit cards amongst each other? Writing checks was such a pain and this check was a real pain—some $245 paid personally to Larry Darrow.
“Vodka neat, Sergei. I got some economic pain to numb.”
Just then Larry Clarence Darrow entered the bar.
“First one here, eh Mikey? Give me a vodka neat, too, Sergei, and a plate of gravlax.”
Larry sat down across from Mike just as he signed Mike Euclid to his check and slid it across the table to Larry.
“Nice work, Lar'. I appreciate it and you nailed it. But ordering two apps was kinda sleazy, you can't deny that.”
“I was hungry!”
“Fair enough. But I'll get you back on Thursday night.”
“Be my guest.”
Just then several more entered the back room, pretty much all men in the 25-40 age range, but also Jessica "Jessie" Jones who sat down next to Mike, pounding fists with him in a mocking way.
“'We are family, talkin' bout my brotha and me...'”
“What are you so happy about, Sister Sledge? You're smiling like you just lost your virginity.”
“Yup, for about the 1000th time, Mikey. I'm just so absent-minded with it!”
Larry snorted and Mike smiled wryly.
Then, Terry Jordan, the founder and head of their little networking organization entered the back room, closing the door behind him.
“OK, hello, welcome everyone to this month's meeting. Of course, I don't need to check today's minutes to know our first order of business is finishing up last month's still-open topics.”
Mike grumbled under his breath, whispering to Jessie.
“Do you believe this tool? Has to follow Robert's Rules of fucking Order for every meeting? I didn't join this club to sit in student council meetings on Saturdays. I could be watching the Knicks.”
Jessie glared at Mike as Terry read from a legal pad.
“I wanted to start out with salutes for some particularly good work. Let's give it up for Carney Davis who played his first son last week.”
Everyone politely applauded as Carney cockily waved.
“I also want to give it up for Mark Raines and Shelly Stein who convinced their dates that they weren't just twins, but identical twins. Very impressive.”
Heartier applause as both Mark and Shelly nodded, neither looking like the other in the least.
“And lastly, I have to salute our elder statesman Larry Darrow, who later tonight will be handling his first ever role as grandpa.”
Even louder applause. Larry threw his hands up at everyone: “Oh, stop it.”
An hour later the meeting was over, their assignments for the week distributed, and some final orders of extracurricular business now being handled. In one corner of the room, Carney took pictures of Mark and Shelly with their arms around an older man, Dave Wendt. Tony Mulligan and Jeff Dunvy sat in a booth toasting beers as numerous pictures were snapped. And Terry patted some talcum powder into Larry's hair, making it look grayer and him older.
Larry Darrow had been a white collar con man and had spent two decades bilking naive venture capitalists—oh, those exist—out of their money based on various made-up entrepreneurial ideas. That was why Larry could never give out his last name. If you Googled him, you would quickly and easily find a laundry list of charges which had found him in minimum security prison from the ages of 45-49. Honestly, Larry wasn't a bad guy. He was smart and ambitious but grew up in circumstances that never allowed him to take a normal path to career success. Oddly enough, "con man" is not a job for the lazy and for his entire adult life until he got busted, Larry was working non-stop. If he'd had the childhood and connections to have gone to college and gotten a legitimate job at age twenty-two, he would have worked far less hours and made far more money. He had always been a smooth talker and two decades of his career made him even smoother, but he'd never had the time or know-how to meet any women and thus hadn't had much sex in his life and had never had a relationship. Leaving jail, he decided that was the most important thing in the world to him. But no classy New York lady was going to date an unemployed former felon with no career or family or friends. Luckily, Larry met Terry one day at the Central Park softball fields and Terry told him about the club.
Jessie Jones had a tough childhood in Iowa after her parents died in a fluky car accident when she was four. She was the only one to survive the accident but was now forced to live in foster home after foster home for the rest of her childhood. She had no real family, her foster families only liked her because she made them around $1500 extra a month in stipends, and she obviously had no friends and was frequently bullied in school because of her shoddy clothes and learning disabilities. By twelfth grade though she had become the classic movie stereotype and the poor, gawky girl had become a real beauty. She moved to New York on her eighteenth birthday to pursue a modeling career but her hips were a little too wide, her face a little too asymmetrical, and she hated the lifestyle—she had gone eighteen years without much food on her plate and wanted to finally change that. She earned money waitressing at a cruddy little bar on Chambers Street, had no friends, only drunken Wall Streeters trying to hit on her, and she was very lonely. Terry flirted with her one day as she walked through the South Street Seaport, thinking her a tourist, and, in a later conversation, though he'd claimed his club was purely male, he encouraged her to join.
Mike Euclid had been raised by highly religious parents who shipped him off to an all-boys seminary boarding school at age eight because they thought he had become a bad child (he was caught chewing gum in his second grade class). It was at the Ozarks Divinity School where Mike learned to talk and listen to people so well, good skills for a would-be priest to have. But as Mike got older, he became more self-aware and curious. He wasn't sure if religion was or was not for him, but just like the Amish rumspringa, he wanted to know what else was going on in the world. He wanted to actually have an interaction with someone he didn't have to call Sister. At age seventeen, he snuck off the school compound and with part of the mere $500 he had saved from odd jobs got a Greyhound to New York City, the only American city he had really ever heard of and only in novels. There, he spent his next $200 on Hell's Kitchen prostitutes. He didn't have sex with them, he didn't even really know what sex was yet, or how to have it, he was just so excited to talk to girls. Quite rapidly, Mike integrated into society and, within a year, no longer felt like a boy raised by Catholic wolves. Always fresh-faced and handsome, Mike was even able to start attracting women by his early twenties, tourists usually who were very interested in taking a “real New Yorker” back to their Times Square hotel room for a romp. But Mike was really a sweet, moral kid at heart, and what he really wanted, now that he was nearing thirty, was his first girlfriend. Girlfriends were hard to attract, though, when you had no family and friends. He was the first one to reply when Terry posted an intriguing ad on Craigslist back in 2007.
When applying for a new job, the final few lines of one's resume are usually devoted to references—those certain people in your life who can tell a would-be employer that you're the right man for the job. The references in your actual life are a little different. A person can say things like that they are smart or funny or caring or loyal, but why would any one take another person's word at face value? That's why we all use shortcuts and get personal information from a person's references—their parents, siblings, friends. You know, that whole “company you keep” thing? These references carry a ton of weight. It's much more believable when one's sister says he's a nice guy than when the guy says it himself. That's how Terry's little group got started.
If one, and only one, person believes something, they're either an iconoclast or crazy. Two people and you've got an idea worth listening too. Three and some traction is forming and soon, even if the original idea is a lie, if enough people respect it and believe it, then it might as well be true. How could Mike not be a nice guy if all these people from his life claimed he was?
Terry realized this. Terry was that weird breed that neither wanted a girlfriend nor a one-night stand. Oh, don't get me wrong, he had no problem with one-night stands, but they were a lot of work to consistently acquire. He'd much rather acquire committed companions and sexual partners for brief three, four, six month periods. This wasn't easy if you were a guy like Terry without any family or friends. After a few dates the girls would always get curious, if not downright creeped out—“There's no one else in your life? You have no friends?!”—and this would send up a massive red flag and soon the relationship would be over.
Keeping a girl in his life was easy for a few weeks when he was flying solo and lying up a storm, but at some point Terry would have to let the girl delve deeper into things. That's how Terry's little group, unofficially known as “The References,” got started. A group of like-minded people who, for whatever reason, didn't have genuine references in their lives, and who needed these phony ones to help them in whatever they were trying to accomplish. Terry and Larry and Jessie and Mike were essentially players in a repertory company, playing whatever parts were needed that week.
Every Saturday after their meetings, Mike and Jessie would go to some plastic paddy pub around the corner to drink beers, watch sports, and try to pick up tourists. They never discussed anything of consequence. Knew really nothing about each other other than surface stuff. They were pretty much only warm body company. Neither Mike nor Jessie had a single friend in this world and one couldn't even really tack on “aside from each other” because they weren't really friends either. They simply didn't know how to be a friend to another person. If a conversation ever occurred between them, it was usually to discuss strategies of their lied lives.
“Abraham Lincoln said, 'No man has a good enough memory to be an effective liar,'” Mike noted.
“Tell me about it.”
“That's why I started keeping track of all mine in this.”
Mike removed a tiny Moleskine notebook from his jacket pocket and Jessie eagerly snatched it, quickly thumbing through. While Jessie snickered at some of the entries, Mike eyed a tourist en route to the ladies room.
“Lemme guess: Albuquerque?”
The tourist turned, confused.
“Are you from Albuquerque?”
“Close enough. One state over.”
“You sure know your geography.” She curiously glanced at Jessie still thumbing through the Moleskine.
“Oh, don't worry about her—that's my sister.”
The girl slightly nodded and tried to hide a grin as she broke off and got back on task toward the ladies room. She would inevitably return to speak to Mike. Tourists were always impressed by Mike's ability to guess where they were from. It wasn't that hard. Every state was close to countless other states so if you just picked a semi-obscure city in the region you'd be “close enough.” And, figuring out the region was just a matter of knowing accents and styles of that region. Like this tourist, who had a solid (real) tan, washed out blond hair, and wore the kind of pastels only assholes from the Four Corners region wear.
Jessie handed the Moleskine back to Mike.
“Not for me. I never worry about getting caught. I can wing it for four or five months before any man gets suspicious. By then, I'm over the relationship any way and onto something new. Though, I will admit I've been considering taking improv classes at UCB to help get me quicker on my feet.”
“Typically, I'd agree with you but I think I'm actually starting to like Katie. I don't want it to end.”
“It has to end. When you're attracting people to your life through lies, once the lies come to the surface, the relationship has to end.”
Mike looked seriously at Jessie, in almost a pathetic way.
“What would be the harm in pretending we're siblings for the rest of time?”
Mike and Katie arrived first to the East Village Thai place, then Jessie and Keith.
Katie had liked Jessie so much that she thought it would be fun to double-date with her.
If Mike and/or Jessie were normal people they would have probably thought it a tad weird to go on a romantic double-date with a sibling—even though they weren't really siblings—but instead, Mike was simply pissed that Jessie had played her part so well that Katie had wanted to actually be friends with her. Jessie hadn't tried to play her part any better than competently, but now she was kind of touched that Katie had specifically asked to see her again. Jessie had never had a friend, especially a female friend, and the possibility of Katie being her first excited her.
But she didn't tell Mike that.
Mike was still fuming that he would have to continue his lie and surely make it even more complex, just to continue dating the first girl he had ever thought he might truly love.
The initial dinner conversation actually focused more on the dynamic between Keith and Mike, who were finally meeting for the first time. Keith had joked that he had been nervous to meet Mike but now he seemed like a real cool guy—“Do you like college football?”—and Keith had loved that picture of the two siblings wearing geeky turtlenecks with snowmen and reindeer on them. Mike only marginally recalled posing for that particular picture with Jessie even though it had occurred just a month ago on a sweltering June day totally inappropriate for turtleneck sweaters.
While Keith yakked Mike's ear off about his thoughts on the wishbone making a comeback in the Big Ten—Mike actually didn't like college football—Katie and Jessie used their side of the table for girl talk which Mike struggled to monitor. He didn't like that. He especially didn't like how Katie and Jessie were instantly acting like the best of friends. And Mike'd had enough when, after one too many bottles of Singha, Katie had tried to make a funny joke after Jessie ordered a Happy Family platter, noting: “Just think, Jessie, we could all be a happy family one day!”
Keith chuckled and Jessie smiled and Mike exploded.
“No we couldn't, Katie! You know why? Because Jessie and I aren't even family! I barely know her! She's nothing more than a fucking actor in my life!”
After Mike had calmed down and carefully explained to a stunned Katie and Keith what was actually going on—Mike thinking this honesty would finally free him to have a happy life with Katie—and after Katie had stormed out, throwing the remaining Singha in Mike's face, and Keith had called Jessie a “lying bitch” and left, too, and after the dust had settled and the kindly manager had formally asked Mike and Jessie to leave The Holy Elephant, and after Jessie had apologized to Mike, but not specifically, and Mike had apologized to Jessie, but not specifically, the two references went down the street to d.b.a. to have a pint and lick their wounds.
“I'm sorry for torpedoing your relationship with Keith.”
“You torpedoed your own, too. Any how, men are kind of pathetic, Keith will soon realize he's lost out on a lot of future sex and come crawling back to me, regardless of the fucked up person he just found out I am.”
“You're probably right.”
“I'm sorry for trying to make Katie my friend. I've never had a friend before.”
“I'm your friend, Jessie.”
“No, you're not. You just admitted as much in the restaurant. You were right. You're nothing more than my reference.”
“No, I'm your friend.”
“Then what's my middle name? What part of town do I live in? Where was I born?”
“What's your middle name? What part of town do you live in? Where were you born, Jessie?”
Jessie smiled softly.
“Janice. Murray Hill. Iowa City.”
“Jack. Hell's Kitchen. Memphis. Do you think we can be real friends? No longer brother and sister? No longer office mates? No longer cousins or whatever else we've been? No longer references?”
Jessie thought about it then kissed Mike on the cheek.
“Tell me, Mike, are your parents still alive? Do you have any brothers or sisters? What do you do for a living? Who are you, Mike? Tell me who you are.”
© 2010 Goldfarb
If you enjoyed that, please feel free to link to it, Tweet it, post it on Facebook, and e-mail it to your friends.
I think you'll love the rest of the collection too, all stories about the sexes, sex, and sexiness in New York, which features these ten other tales:
"The Ambiguous Woman" -- A man struggles to figure out exactly what a woman is thinking while on a date with her.
"The Boyfriend Trials" -- A fed-up thirty-year-old woman has a most interesting methodology in searching for the perfect partner.
"Health" -- Arthur Lampkin is the sex-ed teacher at a Staten Island high school whose life is a living hell of comical sex-ed tools, oversexed teenagers, and an undersexed home life.
"The Feminist" -- Kelly Meyers is the only male professor at an all-girls college.
"Comedic Romance" -- Love in real life never happens like it does in Hollywood rom-coms.
"He Proposed" -- The day a woman gets proposed to is the most exciting day of her life. And, she can't wait to tell you all about it.
"Born. Again" -- What happens when a sexually promiscuous New York atheist spends a weekend with a chaste Midwestern Christian?
"Gross Humans" -- If you knew what most couples did behind closed doors, you'd be repulsed.
"Ain't Nothing Like a New York Romance" -- There can't possibly be a better place to fall in love than New York City. Can there?
"The Cheat Sheet" - [plot redacted]
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Cheers and enjoy! And, if you're a professor, hey, why don't you teach my shit at your college too?