Storyglossia Issue 28, May 2008.

Funny Face

by Greg Bardsley

 

Okay, so I made a funny face at the guy. Hell, I made funny faces at customers all the time—when they weren't looking. What else are you supposed to do when you're stuck behind a U-Haul counter eight hours a day and moron after moron waltzes in clutching those stupid rental contracts, and you're thinking, Fucking kill me now?

The way it usually happens is, the customer comes in all huffy and puffy, usually right before some major stressball move he now wishes he paid the pros to do. He brings his stupid rental contract to the counter, which is when I flip on the charm, bringing it sweeter than a box of Ho Hos, saying things soft and gentlelike, with tons of respect and courtesy. By the time he's ready to sign the final contract, the yard turtles have come in for the show, gathering at their spot near all those stacks of rank cardboard, these goofy grins on their dumb-ass faces, and I'm telling the customer to please sign and initial there and here and over there, and as soon as the moron looks down to sign, I let it fly—bulging my eyes and flapping my tongue, or maybe giving him the pulled-back lips and screwed-up eyelids. Either way it's fast—way fast—because by the time the guy looks up, my sweet face is back, and he never knows what the fuck happened. And the yard turtles turn away to hide their grins.

Then one day Mr. Killjoy scampers in with his kid.

At first, I'm thinking, he's perfect. The dude's a real distinguished-looking goober, which always makes it more funny for some reason. Glasses, curly beard, yoga T-shirt and perfectly pronounced words—that kind of scene. He's looking down to sign the contract, clueless that I'm lowering my lids, pursing my lips and pushing the tip of my tongue through, over and over, and we're all choking back some laughs until I realize the little kid is watching me. Kid starts laughing, so now Killjoy's looking down at him with this warm smile, and you can tell right there that if the runt ripped a long wet one at church or something, Killjoy would think it's the most brilliant thing he's ever heard.

Kid says, "That man made a funny face at you, Daddy."

Long story short, you woulda thought I'd just pinched a loaf into Killjoy's goat-milk latte. Dude gets all huffy and puffy, his face gets all red and his eyes go someplace else, like he's no longer with us, and it looks like he's gonna come after me until he kinda snaps out of it and demands to see the manager, and I'm like, Fuck, dude. Take a chill. The yard turtles scatter, and the next thing I know, I'm sent home for the remainder of the week. Put on U-Haul probation or whatever the fuck they call it, and I'm gonna lose $180 in lost wages.

Collecting my shit from the back of the office, I do manage one thing right—stuffing Killjoy's rental contract down my front pocket. You know, the rental contract with his address on it.

 

 

My roommate's kind of a freak. Or maybe he's just too spoiled and bored. Gets all those checks from Mommy in Nevada, and he just sits around the apartment all day, sleeping till like three, watching TV in the wee hours, playing video games and fucking around on the computer—or, I should say, fucking with people on the computer.

I'm sitting there on the couch watching a "Love Boat" marathon on TVLand, pretty much grounded from my lost wages, going crazy-bored in the middle of a Thursday, and my roommate's in front of the computer opening up all these boner photos. Tons of boners. Boners of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages. Boners sent to my roomie through a fake ad he's posted in the "Casual Encounters" section of Craigslist, his ad screaming out, "Engaged hottie wants one last time."

My roomie's saying, "I don't know what dudes think."

And I'm saying, "Dude, you're pretending you're a girl."

He ignores me. "A chick doesn't want a boner photo."

I push myself off the couch and come over. "Show me your inbox."

Roomie obeys, and I squint at the screen. Inbox has 127 new messages, most of them with attachments. Photo attachments. I stand back and look at the screen, shaking my head. "Fuck, dude. Lot of horny guys out there." I sigh, thinking about it. "Lot of horny guys."

Roomie looks up, wanting me to feel the same jollies he gets from fucking with dudes who think they're emailing a chick who wants to screw them five nights before her wedding. I just look down at him, because now I'm thinking about Killjoy, and how I got his address and phone number on that rental contract, and I say, "You interested in ratcheting this shit up?"

My roomie gets so excited, he gurgles on his spit.

 

 

Two hours later, thousands and thousands of pervy fucks all over the Bay Area are sitting at their desks—at work, at home, at the library, wherever—and they're reading my roomie's fucked-up shit. They're clicking on his Craigslist ad, "Needed: Little men who LOVE large women," and they're reading all this shit about a giant white chick who wants to "be on the receiving end of a controlled, safe gang bang" at her house in Fremont tomorrow night, and that she's looking for "clean, disease-free smaller men who'd have no problem taking turns with a larger woman."

What gets me is that within seven hours, we have 23 takers, and largielikesemsmall@gmail.com is sending them special instructions to basically chill out until tomorrow, which is when they'll get another email telling them where to go. And I'm thinking, Killjoy's gonna freak.

So it feels like a good time to take a load off on the couch, and I'm flipping through the channels when I land on this hardcore documentary about these psycho monkeys in some dude's lab. They're focusing on this one badass monkey who's fiddling with these wooden soldiers, and when this other monkey backs into them and knocks them down, the badass monkey goes totally apeshit, coming after the little guy like a crazy ass, practically killing him with all these nasty monkey blows and shit, and I'm like, Damn, dude, that alpha monkey don't take shit from nobody. In the corner of the screen, the little monkey looks like this pile of fur, and it's not moving, and I'm like, Dude.

Then a Levitra commercial comes on.

I look over to my roomie, and he's shoveling Honeycomb into his hole, swaying back and forth as he watches me with this dopey-ass grin, so fucking proud of himself. "We're not even done yet," he slurps. "Your Killjoy dude needs more. Way more."

 

 

So you're some cheap bastard, one of those freaks who always think about getting shit for free, and you're looking for cheap or free shit right now and you see this Craigslist ad saying they're clearing out the "well-kept belongings" of some dead dude's "estate" in a sweet part of town, and that there's going to be not only some "heavily discounted" shit for sale, but a "large quantity of free items" like free sofas, free chairs, free tables, two free beds, a free fridge and a free washer and dryer, explaining that "all items need to be cleared from the property within 48 hours." So you think this is a gift from God, and you're one of the 82 cheap freaks to respond in the first two hours, and you get an email from gottaclearitall@gmail.com that says to "hang tight" and wait for an email that will come at 7:30pm tomorrow—an email that will tell you where to go for your precious free shit.

Only I've written it nice and sweet and adultlike.

My roomie reads my work and laughs. "Dude, I got one more brewing," he says, and starts hunting and pecking on the keyboard, writing up another Craigslist ad—some pile of shit about dogs.

 

 

Now imagine you're one of those dog freaks, the ones with huge dogs that slobber all over people, and you think your drooling Sasquatch is the best thing to happen since "Murder, She Wrote," and you get this email from your dog friends saying some Hollywood casting dude is taking open auditions for a dog movie that will be made in San Francisco, and that anyone in the Bay Area with "an energetic and lively St. Bernard, Bull Mastiff, German Shepherd or Great Dane" is invited to bring his ass-sniffer to a "private residence in Fremont" for open dog auditions, and you're one of the 36 people to respond in six hours, and an email tells you to show up at a certain address at 8pm the next day. What you do is practically wet your pants, thinking your Marmaduke is gonna be famous, and you Google Map the address and you brush the dog's teeth and all that shit.

 

 

So the next night, an email goes out to the "little men," and another goes to the "free-stuff" freaks—each telling them to go to the same street address: Killjoy's pad. The dog people, we gave them the address the night before because we figured they aren't gonna be idiots and show up early for an audition.

Roomie and me, we're laughing and knocking knuckles until he sighs nice and happy and nods to the TV. "Dude, see if that monkey shit's on again."

 

 

By the time we roll by Killjoy's house, five minutes to eight, the place is like a circus on 'roids. I'm talking about cars everywhere, tons of people out front pushing and shoving, the silhouettes of these giant dogs romping all over the place knocking people down, some guy backing his pick-up truck onto Killjoy's lawn, and packs of little dudes milling around in the shadows. And there's Killjoy on the porch, totally freaking out, trying to keep these St. Bernards out of his house, yelling something into his cell phone as all these big-ass dogs, bargain hunters and little pervs push through and pour into his crib.

Roomie's laughing so hard, he's silent. And I'm looking at all the freaks pouring into the house—some guys already coming out with lamps and chairs—and I'm thinking, almost whispering to myself, Fuck, dude. That shit's crazy.

Roomie and me, we go chow down on some juicy stacks at IHOP.

 

 

Two days later I wake up fucking starving, so I step into my flip-flops and walk down the street to 7-Eleven, the late-morning sun so bright I'm totally squinting, can barely see all the SUVs screaming past me. All I wanna do is snag a pint of two-percent and four Hostess apple pies and head back to the crib, maybe crack a pie open on the way back.

So I'm walking across the parking lot when some egghead in a baby-blue Prius purrs to a stop right in front of me, the whole thing totally silent, and I'm like, What the fuck, dude? And I'm stepping back and squatting to get a look at the dude, checking to make sure he's not some massive psycho, when I realize it's Killjoy.

He's got this little grin on his face. Fuck, maybe it's not a grin. Maybe it's just happiness. Maybe it's just the buzz of surprising me—shocking me, really. Regardless, I'm acting like I don't recognize him, like I don't give a shit, like he can't say a single word that would make me care, but he's already talking, that voice of his all smart and educated and calm, every part of each word having its own scene, emphasized just right.

"Hello there, Joshua."

Fuck, he knows my name.

He leans over the shotgun seat to get a little closer. "Out for a nice stroll around the neighborhood?" So sweet and melodic, so in control. Yeah, that's it. The voice, it's in control—in control of itself, in control of the situation, and I don't like that shit because it feels weird.

"Stretching the legs after a nice long nighty-night?"

The way he's looking at me, it's freaking me out. The green, bespectacled eyes, so calm and bright and in control, just like the voice. They're looking at me, and I'm like, Dude, this shit's fucked up, and I'm like totally getting this freaky sweat brewing—real fast, real cold.

I force a serious face. "What's up?"

"You'd like to know what's up?" Killjoy leans further and opens the shotgun door. "Come have a seat, Joshua, and I'll tell you."

And like some little runt, I obey. Not sure why, but I obey, and I suddenly get this whiff of baby powder that I know is all in my head—more of a memory from a long time ago, when I was just a tiny fuck, when I had no control over anything.

 

 

So Killjoy's taking me for a ride in the Prius, and I'm having trouble focusing, and I'm realizing this dude is hardcore, but in a brainy way, and we're purring past my apartment building.

"I hosted quite a celebration the other night." Long pause. "Did you hear about that, Joshua?"

Looking at the road before us. "Nah."

"Ah, that's too bad. It was quite a group." Killjoy sighs contentedly, like he's recalling a fond memory. "Fascinating mix of individuals. A truly divergent, eclectic collection." He sighs again. "I like that, actually. Nothing quite so boring as a cocktail party where everyone is the same, and everyone is talking about the same banal topics—their trophy houses, their trophy vacations, their trophy kids."

He turns a corner, and I realize he's circling my block.

"It's a shame, though." His voice is so sweet, so gentle, and just like that the baby-powder smell hits me again, and I get this trippy baby feeling. "Because I will admit, Joshua, there was quite a clean-up involved. All those dogs." He sighs and grins to himself. "All those individuals driving up with their empty pick-up trucks, eyeballing my property. . . . My belongings." He releases a gentle laugh, shaking his head. "All those little rascals looking for their large lady friend. You know what they reminded me of, Joshua? They reminded me of little sperm buzzing around, frantic to reach their destination, desperate to find their large lady friend, their big giant ovum, if you will, this ovum they could encircle with such a single-minded, industrious purpose." Another sigh. "Poor guys. She never showed."

I decide to peer out the window.

"It was quite a clean-up, Joshua. I'm not going to lie to you." He sighs, almost content. "Quite costly, I'm afraid. Eight-thousand-dollar bowls from the Ming era. Four-hundred-year-old Ohlone baskets. Items like these? I'm afraid they don't mix too well with a pack of St. Bernards romping through your house."

My skull feels like it's floating.

He stops in front of my apartment building, and I hear my door unlock, and for the first time I realize he's got jazz playing—classy relaxed shit with lots of trumpets, and I'm thinking, This whole thing is so like .... just so... I don't know.

I turn and start to get out, and he says, "Of course, you had to assume I'd get a few of those folks to give me your email address?"

I stop and turn back to face him, pulling my feet back into the car, forcing a blank look, trying to ignore the fact my face is burning and throbbing, trying to keep my mind sharp.

But he's so soft and gentle.

"Perhaps you didn't realize I'd have the resources to trace back the origins of an email."

My shoulders are slouching. My mouth is dry. My brain is stuck. And I'm like, Dude, this shit's like . . . Fuck.

"Would you like me to call the police?" Still so gentle. "I can do that, Joshua." He pauses. "If you'd like."

I shake my head no.

"Good, because I think there's another way out of this."

And I practically squeak. "Yeah?"

He stares into my eyes. So fucking in charge without even trying.

"Joshua, do you know what I do for a living?"

I gaze back at him.

"I'm a psychologist."

My mind is separating from my skin.

"I'm a psychologist, and I think I can help you and your roommate."

Still gazing at him.

"Because one of the things I specialize in—and you'll get a kick out of this, Joshua—is hypnotism." He softens almost to a whisper. "I help people, Joshua. I help people who need a professional to truly get into their head."

He's staring, and I'm kinda half there, and I'm like, Whoa.

"So why don't we go park the car, and then we'll go wake your roommate?" He pauses, still staring into my eyes, still smiling. "Sound like a plan?"

And I'm staring back at him, losing focus—faster and faster.

And he's saying, "You're safe, Joshua. You're very safe. And now I want you to listen to me and do precisely as I say."

And I'm gazing back.

 

 

I fucking love solitaire.

Never realized I loved solitaire. Maybe I didn't love solitaire before today, but I sure as hell love it now. And after all, now is all that matters as I sit at the kitchen table flipping these cards, lining them up seven under the eight, six under the seven, the ace goes over there, flip this card over here now, and check this shit out, it's a king.

I can't stop. I don't want to stop. All I ever wanted to do was play solitaire.

Forever.

In this apartment.

Naked and cold.

All by myself.

All alone with my roomie's body propped up in the corner over there, big gash across his throat, skin all purple, eyes glassy and crossed.

And I can't afford to care.

Because I'm playing solitaire.

For as long as I can.

It's my lifeblood, this solitaire. Killjoy said so.

Been playing for hours, I'm sure, because the roomie's been propped up over there a real long time, and it's dark outside, and I can hear the commuters on the street below, and my hands are raw from the cards. But like I said, I don't give a shit. I was made for solitaire. Doesn't matter what's going down in front of me. Doesn't matter how wild things get, or how freaky they got in the corner when Killjoy carved up my roomie real bad, slicing him up like a giant Easter ham, giving him the stun gun every few seconds, finishing him off with that cut across the throat right as I'm putting the jack under the queen, then an eight under the nine.

All I know is, I want more solitaire.

Solitaire forever.

Flipping the cards, all alone, with the roomie in the corner, because that's what I do, that's my reason for existence. Just keep flipping those cards until someone finds us and makes me stop, whenever that will be.

Hopefully won't be soon.

Copyright©2008 Greg Bardsley

Greg Bardsley is a former San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter who covered everything from street crime to politics. His fiction has appeared in Plots with Guns, Pulp Pusher, Thuglit and Demolition, and his short story, "Big Load of Trouble," will be anthologized next year by Kensington Books. Currently, his novel, Unnecessary Roughness, is making the rounds with publishers. Visit him at http://gregbardsley.wordpress.com/