Storyglossia Issue 35, September 2009.


by Lyz Lenz


I was named Elmira for three reasons. The first was my daddy could never hear so good. Second, my parents met at an Oakridge Boys concert. Third, my momma could never tell my dad they were singing about Elvira. Not, Elmira. She didn't tell me either. I never knew until the summer before sixth grade, when James Duane told me.

"My hearts on fire for Elmira," my daddy used to sing to me. "Giddy up!"

And my momma told me that some boy would sing that song to me someday. "Wait for it" she'd say.

I got knockers when I was eleven, a good year before most of my friends. I had four boyfriends the summer before sixth grade: John Robert, Steven Minster, Georgie Wade and James Duane. I tried to teach them all how to sing the song. John Robert, Steven Minster and Georgie Wade flat out refused. James Duane said he would if I let him touch my boobs. I did. When he was done, I asked him if he was gonna sing and he said, "Your parents are retards. That song's about Elvira. Not Elmira!" He laughed and slapped the rump of an invisible horse between his legs, "Giddy Up Oom Poppa Omm Poppa Mow Mow."

"You fat ass liar!" I yelled.

"You think I'm lying, check the tape."

So I did. James Duane was a little asshole. We broke up after that because he wouldn't talk to me anymore except to shout, "Omm Poppa Mow Mow!" during recess. "James Duane," the teacher yelled at him. "The Oakridge Boys sang about Elvira, not Elmira! Leave Elmy alone!"

I've been looking for a new song my whole life. I have a list of all the songs I've tried on that didn't fit. The first twenty songs are all Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, my momma's music. The next set of songs were by bands who reminded me of my friends' tits, which by the time seventh grade started, made mine look like I'd stuffed gym socks in my training bra. Plus, as they were all getting skinnier, I was getting fatter. Pretty soon, even James Duane didn't bother to make fun of me. That's when I started sleeping on top of the CD cases, imagining that all that music was inside me. Even now, those boy bands are my favorite. In college, all my songs were songs I hated. Sung by women whose voices wobbled too thinly. Now, my songs were a little bit of everything: Pat Benatar. Stevie Wonder. Sting. U2. Madonna. I even had a Tupac song on there. I tried singing them at karaoke bars, but mostly it was just me, all alone in my apartment, wearing my sweatpants, and singing into a hairbrush.

Searching for your song is like being hungry and not having any food. Or you do have food but its just rice cakes and you think, god, I need more than this. There's got to be more than just this. But you can't find anything else so you just consume rice cake after rice cake, never feeling full. The only thing worse than dying of starvation is living off rice cakes. I'd rather be dead. I don't think I'm saying that because I'm fat either.

I have a lot of friends who don't like to go to karaoke with me anymore. But a bunch of people at the office go to Mully's karaoke bar every Wednesday night. That's the only good thing about working at Bonsall Plastic Molding, Inc.

I found my song last week. The same night Adam and I did it in his car outside Mully's after Sally had finished singing Pat Benetar and she and Macy dragged me up on stage for a little Madonna. There were only two microphones and Macy and Sally had them, so I threw my hands up over my head and shook my hips and sang "Staaarlight" like people cared, because after two or three Bud Lights, you think people do care. And I was good. Sally held the microphone to my mouth and I even did the "ew ew, ew ew" with the backup vocals. When I got down from my seat I went to find the bathroom, but instead I found Adam. He asked me if I wanted to come outside for a smoke. I don't smoke, but I did.

I've always liked Adam. He talked to me, unlike Richard the sales guy who just looked at my knockers, or that jackass who danced by the copier and whenever I told him to stop, he'd just give me the finger and shake his rump in my face. Adam worked in sales and had a thing for Bob Dylan. Adam was thin, and his forehead was kinda shiny like his pink ties. He had a Dylan poster hanging in his cube. The poster was of young Dylan, with these thick sunglasses on, his head turned just a little to the side and his mouth open a little, like he's got sinus problems. Adam says he's "pensive." When Adam got going, he'd tap the poster and say Dylan was the man. He was always different, always reinventing and changing. Dylan was fucking Darwinism, he'd say. His hand over Dylan's face. Survival of the fucking fittest. He was different than the other guys at work. I thought Adam understood.

I remember how I once saw him in his cube with his earbuds in mouthing the words to a song. I thought he looked like a hungry bird. Looking at him in the alley, I notice how slight he was like he'd lose himself inside my wide, white body. I felt sometimes like I encompassed everything. I pushed myself on him, I felt like all of me was going to enclose around him. He was so small and I'm a big girl, but he seemed to like being held by all of me. All my skin coming at him and touching him. He must have liked it because he took me to his car and that's where we did it.

When it was over, he sat up and zipped up his pants.

"You know, most karaoke singers have one song they're good at and use to show off their skills. In Japan they call that song the juhachiban. "

"Juhachiban," I repeated the word. I saw an episode of "Dateline" once where a fifty year old guy learned he had dyslexia. He started to cry and said something like his whole life he thought it was just him, that he thought it was his fault. Having a name for it made him feel less alone. I was glad it was dark and Adam couldn't see me cry. He might think I was weird.

"What's yours," I asked.

He laughed. "Juhachiban is what I named this car."

Adam adjusted his pink polo shirt and set his hands down on the smooth tan leather of the back seat. "I saved up extra for the custom teal color."

"I'm looking for my juhachiban," I said wiping my leg on the seat.

Adam lit a cigarette and shrugged. "Has that cat of yours been scratching you again?"

I crossed my arms. "She's a good cat, just rough sometimes."

"Get her declawed for god's sakes, looks like she's been going at your thighs with razor blades."

I went back inside. Sally was singing Shania Twain and I tried drinking more Bud Light. Then I got up and I sang Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." And I did. I really did wanna dance with somebody. But some guy in the back shouted "YOU SUCK!" I thought he was wearing a yellow shirt, but I couldn't really see.

When I sat down, Sally came over and asked me why I did that to Whitney?

"Adam," I said. "Juhachiban."

Sally smiled. "Adam is probably outside smoking with Macy and I think you've had too much to drink. You're not speaking English."

I smiled because I wanted Sally to think I was a good sport and that everything was casual. Sally told me, "When the drunk girls start singing Whitney it's time to go home." Sally's a mean drunk.

When I got home, I called out for Smooshers. He didn't come. That cat is fat and lazy. Smooshers isn't real, but I still like to walk in the door and say in a soft voice, "Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Here kitty." When I make tuna, I laugh because he's jumped up on the counter and is meowing pitifully. And I say, "God, Smooshers, it's my lunch not yours. I just fed you, you fat old cat." Smooshers listens to me sing.

I didn't want to go to sleep that night. I tried to think about Adam and remember how he looked in his pink polo, his forehead reflecting the parking lot lights, but all I could see was the guy who dances by the copier. He's there every other day, copying and twisting his dumpy waist to some secret tune. I looked through my list of songs. They all sucked. All of them. I laid down on my bed. I must have passed out, because the next thing I saw was a girl painted in color driving in Adam's juhachiban down firey red railroad tracks.

"Oh my God!" I shouted when I came to. "Duran Duran!"

That was how I discovered my juhachiban. I practiced in front of Smooshers every night for a week. On Wednesday I got to work early. So did my boss. At ten 'till eight, my cube wall creaked and I looked up into a desert of tan, wrinkly boobage. She was wearing a leopard print bra.

"Hey, girlfriend!"

Tiffany loved to do this, act like we were best friends, like I don't know that last week she reported me for letting the latest ad campaign go over budget, when it was really her who refused to take the time to have the proofreader look it over. She sent me an email telling me that she had an eye for "detale" and everything was fabulous. Soooooo, she printed 2,000 brochures that said, "WE'LL TAKE YOU THEIR!"

"Procedural error" she wrote in the follow-up email and CC'd her boss. Guess who's in charge of procedure?

"Hey!" I smiled.

"Hey, girlfriend! My son qual'd for State swimming, so I'm going to be out on Friday. He is so talented. I went to State too as a junior. This weekend's going to be real special. Did you see his senior pictures?"

I had. Framed on Tiffany's desk was one of him bare-chested, his jeans sagging around his waist, the band of his underwear showing.

"Oh yeah, great. That's great for the both of you."

"Did you get the new ad to design? I really needed that right now, but if you're too busy and it has to be later I can see if we can get an extension, although after the procedural error the other day . . . you know what I'm saying?"

"It's done. I got it back from design yesterday. I sent you an email."

I passed her the job jacket. She frowned. "You should do something about those scratches on your arm."

"It's my cat. Got spooked by the thunderstorm, I guess."

I smiled. She smiled back. Her lip gloss was smeared a little on her lower lip, but she was wearing eyeliner, that was good. You could tell bad days, because she didn't wear eyeliner and her hair was up in a clip and she sent out emails saying how she'd been up all night working on budgets. Those were the days when you knew she'd cry.

"Oh, hey," she leaned farther over the cube wall. "Did you hear about Adam? Wild, isn't it?"

"Not sure what you mean." I looked down at the floor; the carpet was black with pink and teal geometric patterns. Tiffany told me once that the Mr. Bonsall's son had wanted to be an artist before he started working as a general manager, so he tried to make everything about the office beautiful. There was a print of a disembodied clown head framed over my desk. I tried not to look at it.

"Oh come on, Suzanne didn't tell you? About . . . Sally," she whispered.

"Guess not," I shuffled a of stack reports.

Tiffany frowned and stood up. She smoothed down her gold blouse with her free hand and then smiled again.

"Tonight we're all going to Mully's for my birthday! You coming?"

She wasn't going to take this from me. "Me and Sally are there every Wednesday night."

Tiffany smiled. Her makeup creased in her wrinkles. "You know, you could really be something if you wore some jewel-tones. By the way, don't spend too much time on email. People are getting into dutch because of it."

I asked Macy later if this were true and she said no, no one was getting into dutch for being on email and what the hell did dutch mean anyway? I said I didn't know, but I really did. My momma said that when I was in trouble. I guess that's why I always thought the history of the Netherlands would be interesting, but it's not.

After Tiffany left, I saw the guy again, doing his little dance by the copier. I sit in a cube across from the copier and I see everyone who uses it, so I know people but I don't know their names. This guy, he does this little dance, swaying his hips back and forth like the copier was a juke box and he was dancing to an old timey song. Except the guy couldn't have been that old and he always wore this short-sleeved yellow shirt with brown khakis. He was kinda dumpy around the waist. His hair was nice and curly on top. Some days it was nice to see him dancing like that. Other days, I just wanted tell him to stop wiggling his fat ass in my face.

This was one of those fat ass days. So I yelled, "It's a copier not a juke box, no one wants to see that." And the guy never turned around, he just lifted his middle finger in the air and kept swinging his hips.

When I went to lunch with Sally, I told her about my song.

"Oh yeah?" she said. "I'm singing 'Don't Stop Believing' I think I can get Adam to get up with me. But he says Dylan would've never done karaoke."

"Oh what's the deal with Adam," I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"You know, I heard from Tiffany that there was something with you and him."

Sally narrowed her eyes. "Don't worry about it."

I laughed, but Sally didn't laugh along.

Maybe Sally had done it with him. I can't imagine him liking it. Her with those sharp bones and acute angles. Although I feel bad a lot about being big, I also like it in a way. I like taking up the space. I like knowing where I am. When I sit in a chair or lie in bed or have sex, all of me is touching something. I can't imagine what it would be like to have that space, where your body inverts and your skin touches nothing. Never trust a woman whose thighs don't touch.

"He hasn't done it with everyone. Jen and Marie are happily married and they've never even hung out with him."

What was her point?

She went on. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe he just doesn't like people thinking that he does it with everyone?"

Sally shook her head and took a bite out of her half sandwich. She was always getting a half-sandwich and a cup of fruit. It used to be, I got a whole sandwich. But the lady at the counter, an old lady with this short white-blonde hair and purple eyeliner, would just look at me. Like she didn't understand fat-people speak for "tuna melt and a Coke." It wears on you. So, now I order a half-tuna melt and a diet Coke. But I keep granola bars and popcorn at my desk, because how can you live on half a sandwich?

"Do you know who that guy is who dances by the copier?" I asked.

"What?" said Sally. I could see food in her mouth.

"That guy, he goes to the copier almost every day and usually does this little dance, while he's making copies."

"What does he look like?"

"Like if he didn't have this great black curly hair, I'd think he was old, because he wears grandpa pants."

"I have no idea who you're talking about. Smooshers been scratching you again?"

I pushed my sleeve down over my arm. "Yeah, likes to play rough."

"That cat has razor blades for claws. You should get him declawed."

"Declawing cats is so cruel. Let's go, we'll be late."

Here's the other thing about Sally. Even though she orders less food, she still takes a really long time to eat it. She can get like five bites out of one inch of sandwich crust. It kills me.

On our way back into the building we stopped by Suzanne's desk for candy. Suzanne is never at her desk, but her candy always is. If Suzanne was at her desk and her candy was gone, I'd think it was the end of days.

"We love you Suzanne," Sally shouted into the empty office.

Tiffany was walking by and stopped when she saw us.

"Hey girlfriends! Sally, coming to Mully's for my birthday?"

"I go there every Wednesday," Sally said and turned down through the designers' area, taking the long way to her desk.

"Hey," Tiffany whispered loudly, "You should know, I heard people were getting into dutch from eating too much while on the clock."

She winked and walked away. Adam was waiting for me at my cube. He was sitting at my desk, his small butt smushing my stack of reports.

"In Japan someone was murdered at a karaoke bar for singing "Don't Stop Believing." Apparently that was the song that was playing when this dude's wife of twenty years left him. So when the he heard it at the bar he just snapped."

I sat down at my desk. "I think I found my juhachiban."

"Yeah. Does that mean you'll be at Mully's tonight?"

"Why are you here?"

"Just letting you know I sold my juhachiban."

"Don't you need it?"

"It did the job."

I hated myself for eating only half a sandwich. I was so hungry. I looked at Adam. I wanted him pushing against the white folds of my stomach. Like a grandmother suckered by a wolf. A snake unhinging its jaw. I know what it's like to want to swallow someone. To slide your tongue underneath their feet and then flick them into your mouth and they slip right inside. And I am no longer lonely and I am no longer at the mercy of that horrible Smooshers. Adam left and I straightened my stack of reports. The imprint of his jeans had creased the paper.

I heard the copier running and looked up. He was there, dancing again.

"There's no music, you know," I said. His hips swiveled in a belly-dancer-type circle.

"Don't you have a job to do? God, don't you have work or something?"

He was doing "the sprinkler" now. His arms jerking erratically while the copier hummed, paused, hummed, paused and hummed.

That night, at Mully's, everyone was there. I didn't know Tiffany had that many friends at Bonsall Plastic Molding, Inc. Even her husband, some big shot lawyer, came. He sat next to her at a small low table in front of the stage. He was really tall, and his arms and legs sprawled out from the table. Adam and Sally were sitting to the right of the stage and Sally waved me over. Some jerk was singing "Zoot Suit Riot," but it was only seven and the crowd wasn't shouting back, RIOT, at the appropriate time. They were silent, except when some guy called out from the back, "YOU SUCK!" and people laughed a little, but mostly they just drank their beer.

"He's here," I told Sally.


"The guy who dances at the copier."

"What guy?" asked Adam.

"Elmira thinks there's a guy who dances by the copier."

"Yeah, he wears a yellow shirt and I think he's back there." Adam rolled his eyes. Macy slipped in to the empty seat.

"Hey Macy," Adam said. "You know of a guy who wears a yellow shirt and dances by the copier?" Macy shook her head and took a big sip of her beer; she was a Miller girl.

"Hey, you like the Dallas Cowboys?" I asked looking at her sweatshirt, but Macy didn't hear me; she was too busy shouting out the last RIOT and the guy on stage gave her thumbs up. Next, an old woman with a whispery voice sang a song by a young woman with a hard-edged voice.

Everyone sang that night. Macy sang some pop song and shimmied, her jugs shaking in her Dallas Cowboy's sweater until some guys started to hoot. Tiffany got up and sang Whitney Houston and giggled at all the high notes. After he drank four Guinnesses, Adam sang "She's A Brick House" and the whole place erupted in applause. When he sat down, he threw his arm over Sally. "I did it for the irony," he said. Sally didn't sing "Don't Stop Believing." She sang "A Groovy Kind of Love" and winked, letting her voice linger over the words "yooou" and "bluuue." Even the married girls in HR, who liked to play card games and have dinner parties, got up and sang "Lady Marmalade." They gyrated against each other and blew kisses to all the men in the bar, except their husbands.

Then it was my turn. I stood up.

"Woo hoo, Elmy," shouted Sally.

"Woo," said Adam, twirling his finger in the air.

I walked to the machine and bumped my shin against the speaker. I flipped through the book and found my song. The music came on. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.

I knew the words.

A staccato laugh blasted from the speakers. The synthesizers zigged out their hollow rhythm to the thunk, thunk, thunk of the drums. She moved her shoulders. One. Two. Three. Four. One. Two. Three.

Dark in the city . . .

She could feel the rhythm throbbing in her stomach. The room was quiet. Do do do do do do do dodo dododo dodo. Eyes closed. She could smell the sharp tang of her skin as she lifted the mic to her mouth. The words pushed out of her. Smell and sound. Lost and found. Her mouth was alive. I'm after you . . .

It was in her, sliding into the white, fleshy pit of her longing. She opened her mouth wider, wanting to unhinge her jaw and flick them all inside her.

Like the wolf . . .

There was no going back. Do do do do do do do dodo dododo dodo. It was there echoing out of her. She jiggled her chest, leaning forward then tipping back to howl the chorus. Like the wolf. It was so natural. So primal. She thrust her hand forward, then to her hip. Scent and Sound. Lost and Found. Discord and rhyme. Howl and whine. She sashayed to the edge of the stage. And I'm hungry, she sang.

The sound faded away. There was nothing. Had I enveloped them? Were they all gone? I opened my eyes and saw the green and yellow neon spelling out the different types of beers on the back wall. "YOU SUCK!" the guy in the back shouted.

I dropped the microphone and stumbled out of the bar; my skin seemed to touch everyone.

The next morning Tiffany came into work late. Her coat was unbuttoned and she still had on her large designer sunglasses, so I couldn't tell if she had eyeliner on, but her hair was pulled back in a clip. She was cradling three big bags of mini-chocolate bars.

"I have candy!" She said and flung her arms out, the bags dropped to the floor.

I shuffled my reports.

"I know how much you love your candy. Don't forget, team-bonding lunch today!"

She walked off to her office, carefully lifting her leopard print heels over the bags. They lay on the floor all day until I left to go to the bathroom. When I came back, the bags were sitting on top of my reports. I suspected the dancer, that asshole.

One hour before lunch, Tiffany sent an email to the marketing group, telling us that it was team bonding and that some managers had been getting into dutch for not fostering community.

I was the only one who showed up for team bonding lunch. This happened last month too. Tiffany told the server to give us a table for five, just in case, because she heard the designer was maybe going to show up late because he had some errands to run. This happened last month too. Tiffany told me that if I ordered a plate of fries she'd share it with me. When the fries came, Tiffany ate them all.

"God, I love the salad here, don't you?" Said Tiffany.

"It's good," I said. I had never had the salad at Applebees.

"I love the Asian salad. But my husband's been to Japan and he says they have no Asian salad like that over there at all. What a gas, huh? Who knew?"

"That wasn't my experience in Japan." I had never been to Japan. "Hey, Tiffany, do you know who that guy is who dances by the copier?"

She laughed. "I should send you a video my son took of me and him dancing in the living room in our underwear."

"He wears brown pants and a yellow shirt and has a lot of curly black hair. Is he in HR?"

"I had a daughter who died. It was after my son was born. I passed her dead through my system. After it happened, my husband took me dancing because we used to like to do that. I didn't want to dance, but I did then because he wanted to and so we did the tango and every time I stepped wide I imagined something dead falling from between my legs." She kept going on about how her son was video taping himself for a Hanes commercial. It was all over YouTube she kept saying, but I wasn't listening. I just kept thinking about being empty. I was so hungry.

"God," said Tiffany, "I need more Diet Coke"

The waiter was right there with a new glass and he asked me if I wanted more Diet Coke. I was drinking regular. So, I said yes, but he never brought it.

When I got back to my desk, one bag of candy was open. I knew it was him. Someone who danced like a fool at the copier would obviously eat floor candy. I grabbed a Goodbar and ate it. It's not like anyone would notice it missing. The copier was humming. There he was again. God damn him. God damn him and his stupid dancing. I walked over to the copier and grabbed his shoulder.

"Look, there is no music . . . " His face was white and round. His cheeks looked firm. I wanted to place my hands on them and push them in. His neck was flushed from dancing.

He said, "We all have things we're good at. Me? I dance in front of the copier."

I had never seen his face before. It was smooth white and round. He grinned easily like a child and his curly black hair fell over his eyes. He was facing me, but he didn't stop dancing. His hips swiveled and brushed against my skirt. I wanted to yell at him for acting like a fool, for acting clumsy and foolish and stupid in front of everyone in the office. Dancing was scratching deep until all of yourself spilled on the floor in bright red rivulets. Dancing was not something you did in front of the copier.

"Hey, don't be an ass, just dance." And he grabbed my hand and spun me awkwardly. Me bumping into him, my skin pushing around him, his pushing back. I shook my hips and I could feel my skin tremble. I thought something is going to slip out of me onto the carpet and I will never be full. But I danced anyway. I did "the sprinkler" and the "shopping cart." He was laughing. I shimmied and quivered and pouted. I imitated Madonna vogue, vogue, vogue. I YMCAed. And together, in front of the copier, we moonwalked.

Copyright©2009 Lyz Lenz

Lyz Lenz is enrolled in the MFA program at Lesley University and works for Her essays have appeared in Real Weddings, Guidepost,, and others. She maintains a blog at Her brief career in karaoke lasted one song and was met with resounding derision.

Interview with Lyz Lenz