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Sixteen years ago, having rounded first, second and third base with Karen, a pretty and doe-eyed first-rate shopper, on this, our fourth date, the two of us cozily curled under Land’s End imported flannel sheets, my body a quill tipped feather between her shivering thighs, she of Pathmark Beauty Gel and ShopRite cocoa butter tresses, rose up, violently turned and twisted, “Ooohed” and “Ahhhed,” dropped back, eye lids all aflutter, then whispered, “So, how do you make your money?”
Stunned, I lifted palm to upturned chin and, resigned to penetrating insights, rather than vice versa, said, “I steal it.”
“You do what?” she said, through Bradley’s thirty percent discount Estee Lauder Lip Moist with protein, kelp and ginkgo biloba. “You don’t really mean that . . . do you?” Her Mary Kay Sugar Hill mascara profiled by Amway’s All Weather Eyebrow Liner and Forehead Smudge Deluxe. I had a fondness for Kmart girls and she knew it.
“I’m a thief,” I said. “A crook, a sharp, a confidence man. For a price, a terrible price, I tell people things they need to hear.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said, clicking her tongue to the roof of her mouth. In the semi-dark, her whitened teeth, bleached in Tijuana by a disbarred American dentist, glistened.
“And besides, that’s not fair,” she pouted, “Telling people things.”
“Maybe not,” I said, admiring her heaving bosom, sequin saddled in a Frederick’s of Hollywood steamy Show-and-Tell nightie. “Where do I get my money? It arrives on the same day of the week of each new month, and not by random chance, mind you, or luck, or synchronicity as the Jungian’s might say, no, not that, but by Direct Deposit.
“And my pay days are spent with complete strangers. We sit or stand, stoop or straighten, walk and talk, I cajole, seduce, inflame, heal, rub sticks together if need be, offer chess games ten pawns up to my one rook; I give bad advice, or good, depending on my mood, the lunar tides, the time of day, or night, the weather. Young or old, happy or lost, wise or silly, I ripple with a sad enlightened melancholy pleasure. I tell them things they need to hear . . . I tell them . . . ”
“Are you crazy?” she said. “Do you have emotional problems? I . . . I don’t want any trouble.” Her crinkled brow caused the fine furry powder of Maybeline’s discontinued Honey Dusk and Musk to settle quaintly between us.
“I suppose so,” I said, giving a tender pinch to her Jack La Lane $49.95 Super Special Introductory Offer round and firm buttocks.
“Well . . . ” she said. “But you do have money? You do like to get and spend?”
“Can’t we talk about that later?” I said. “I want to remember this night. Look at you: Alberto VO5-spritzed, Clinique Hair Drizzle, Home Depot cuticles; you’re absolutely stunning.
“C’mon, what do you need to hear? That the world is round; the oceans deep; the sky forever blue? Listen sweetie, I’ll be straight up: There are bad things in the world, real bad, it’s not all just pretty paper. I like Sears Best and Kmart, eight hundred numbers, free catalogs, coupons for Froot Loops or disposable tweezers; anything to take my mind off war.”
“Were you?” she asked, head tilted upward, a Joan of Arc of consumer sorrow, a hint of Jean Nate Warehouse Number 6 gracing the nape of her neck.
“Yes,” I said, “As a matter of fact I was. That’s how I get my money. War makes you crazy. I take a half-dozen round blue tablets each morning and four white triangles each night. Otherwise I’ll have nightmares and crying spells, I’ll see things in the dark, jump at the drop of a pin, otherwise . . .”
“Shhhh,” she said. “Kiss me, or all we’ll do is talk.”
And after the kiss, long and deep and peppermint sweet, that’s exactly what we did.