Lisa Carver and Nerve.com, Inc.
Note: In 1987 when I was eighteen years old, I moved to Philadelphia and got to know my first black people. Like most liberals I was of the opinion that all people are the same. But Daryl the busboy (I was a waitress) grew up in Athens, Georgia, and he wasn’t the least bit like a white person. He didn’t care about my music, my art, my books or the things I talked about. I learned that what I had formerly thought of as books were in fact white people books, and that there are other kinds. It seems really obvious now “Oh, yeah, there are different cultures. And?” but when you grow up isolated in one culture and then suddenly you are brushing against others, it feels like the whole world is opening up and you want to be everything or at least get as much of it as you can inside you. What struck me most was how the busboys were so fluid in their physicality. I was wild, but in a jerky, busting-out-of-my-intellectual-reserve-with-force way. I had no control. Daryl, on the other hand, was smooth and slow.
October 31, 1987
Tonight Daryl was singing to the radio, and he poked a hard finger between two of my ribs from behind and sang in my ear: “I’d like to get to know you better.” I said, “Get your hands off me unless your face wants to get to know my fist.” But really I wanted to say, “Okay!” We yell at each other all the time, and I don’t know how to start talking to him. He stands slightly slumped, with his belly thrust forward. His tongue sticks out a little, his chest is concave and his feet are big and wide. His birthday is November tenth. Every day he asks me to go to the movies with him. Every day I say, “No!” and laugh. But I want him to take me to that dark theater! Creep one hand around my shoulder and wrap the other around my knee, fingers crawling up my thigh very slowly so that maybe I won’t notice, warmer and warmer. His hands fascinate me. There is a shelf of dishes above and below the sink, so all I can see of him through the gap are his hips and belly, and those hands always moving, plunging the wire pads two at a time into the glasses to the beat of the music.
I dropped the syrup bottle today so that Daryl would have to clean it up with me. It broke all over the place, making everyone and everything sticky (Daryl, my crotch, my leg), but the bosses yelled at Daryl (they always take the white person’s side). I explained that it was my fault and he was helping me, and that made them yell at him more. So now Daryl is mad at me.
Of course, there’s still my boyfriend, Chris. And there’s Jean-Louis over in France, who I want to marry, and there’s the boy at the record store dyed black hair with blond roots, greenish-white sickly face, emaciated limbs coming out of a doubled-up backbone, hunched and gross just the way I like my men! But I feel so uneasy about this whole kitchen situation, I find it hard to concentrate on my other love interests. The boss brothers are Indian, and they’re very dark. Rachel and I think they yell at the black guys in the kitchen and call them “niggers” so that no one will mistake them (the bosses) for black. I think they’re mad because Rachel and I hang out with the kitchen guys. Maybe I should not talk to Daryl so much, because that makes his life harder. But on the other hand I want what I want.
Daryl rubbed up against me as he passed me in the tight hallway next to the bathroom, that filthy weasel. “Oh excuse me for brushing too close to you,” he said. I didn’t say anything, I just waited until he came back out and then I said, “Okay, let’s go.” He plays a video game on the way home from work every day, he told me, and took me there. He fed two crisp dollar bills into the machine; eight quarters spit out and he snaked four into my pants pocket. His game is in a dark, tight little corner. We both smelled of work sweat, other people’s food, smoke.
“Here,” he said, and handed me his newspaper. He made me hold it rather than put it on the floor. Oh, I felt like his girl! Each time he didn’t need two hands for the game, one of them would distractedly run along my ass.
“Why don’t you walk me home now?” I said. We pushed head-first through the cold wind. At my door, I said, “So Daryl, do you have a girlfriend?”
“Do I have a girlfriend?!” Flapping arms, rolling eyes. “If I had a girlfriend, would I be taking you to the arcade?”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“You sly dog! I know you have a girlfriend. Tommy told me.”
“No, really, I don’t!”
“Well I do have a boyfriend. He’s waiting for me inside right now.”
“Well what am I doing here on your front step? He’s gonna beat the shit out of me! I better beat it!”
“Yeah, I guess you better. But he’s so drugged-out he probably wouldn’t even notice you.” (It’s true. Chris is on some new medication and it makes him lethargic.)
“Drugged-out! Jesus, I’m leaving right now! But can I have a kiss first?”
I opened the door, feeling a little guilty and was greeted by a jerking-off Chris! Masturbating to my Big Bust video catalog! I stuck my tongue out at him and ran after Daryl. We went back to the arcade and into the bathroom and he said to me, “There’s something I’ve been wondering uh, how you feel about our, uh, differences in cultural backgrounds.”
I said, “Well, I’ve known you’re black from the minute I met you. And I noticed that I’m white a long time before that.”
But I was distracted from defending myself and my open-mindedness by something so unusual, so . . . inconvenient. Who could have possibly guessed that hidden within that short, skinny body lurked something I couldn’t even cover with two hands and a mouth. And I have a big mouth. And big hands. Daryl laughed, kind of embarrassed, like even he is still surprised when it rears up from between his bowlegs.
2000 postscript: I got a call a couple of days later from Daryl’s girlfriend. I could barely understand a word that girl said, but I knew she was talking about hurting me in ways I didn’t even know existed! That ended my romance with Daryl, along with the fact I got married a couple months later. I still think of . . . it . . . sometimes. Every year or two I put my two hands into loose fists, one on top of the other, and hold them up to my open mouth and think about how there was still a good two inches coming out down at the bottom of my hands.
Lisa Carver and Nerve.com, Inc.