COMING INTO MONEY
I had to run upstairs to get the phone and then stand there, talking, tethered to the kitchen wall, in the very midst of all that goes on in a Jewish kitchen, the bickering and the kvetch, because this was back when voices weren’t just things that were free to float around willy-nilly in the air. They had to pass through wires. They had to be connected to the wall.
Hello, I said, breathlessly.
Soledad? I said, fingering my pockets for an inhaler.
What are you doing right now? she asked.
Talking to you, I said. This was my stock, smart-ass answer to an innocent question. It was an addiction, a crutch. A way to sound clever when the truth of it was I was never doing much of anything.
She said, Want to do more than talk?
I told myself I was hearing things. But my crotch took the bait. It’s very gullible, my penis, willing to accept almost anything. Willing to accommodate any proposition, no matter how flimsily plausible. It’s a diehard optimist. It gives life the benefit of the doubt.
Soledad could have meant a million things. Like checking out a flick. Or grabbing a slice of pie. Anything. But without proof of subtext, my penis had already pictured a scant-clad Soledad on the other end, the curlicue phone cord seductively dangling from her mouth, her pink tongue feeling out the rubber.
Soledad was tall and Chilean and a couple years older. But in terms of raw physicality she was on a whole other level. She was like a Spanish Marilyn Monroe. A real va-va-voom. When she walked you could practically hear the tom-toms. Seriously, it was a curse. The poor woman couldn’t so much as walk down the street without some fool honking or hooting or hanging his head out the window. And best of all, she was my bass player’s sister.
I saw her for the first time a couple months ago when she emerged from her bedroom in a diaphanous nightie, angelic and unannounced, her breasts practically levitating. “Take a picture, why don’t you!” she said, and slammed the bathroom door. Only I didn’t need a Polaroid. It was all locked-in tight upstairs. Etched in perpetuity. She had a similar effect on our guitar player, Chris Neff. But unlike me, Neff was man enough to do something about it. Not surprising since he was taller and fixed his own car. They started dating immediately.
But lately, things between Neff and Sol had gotten shaky; the two of them fighting pretty inexhaustibly these last few days so when it came right down to it everything was pretty much up in the air. Which I prayed was the reason for her call.
Um, what about Neff? I said.
Can you do me a favor, Steve? she said. Can we not talk about him?
It was a pivotal moment. The fate of Lucky the Wonderduck, our unknown punk band, hung in the balance. Not to mention the risk of extreme personal bodily harm. Because the fact remained, the nerds I hung out with were all literally afraid of Neff—deathly afraid—for a myriad of reasons, the most convincing of which involved a lighter, an ice pick, and a can of Aqua Net.
Him who? I said.
Pick me up in twenty, she said, Don’t be late.
I ran downstairs to borrow the keys from my dad, who turned out to be nothing short of a major buzzkill.
What if I need to go out? my dad said, I’ll be stuck here.
You’re going to leave the house? I said, You never even leave the basement!
Anything could happen, he said. There could be an emergency.
This is an emergency! I said. I need some money, too.
I don’t have any cash on me.
Come on, dad, you always have money.
If I had money I would give it to you, you know that. I’m all out. I meant to go to the bank but I never made it over.
So there it was. My first potentially illicit rendezvous foiled. Because, remember, this is back when you couldn’t just walk up to a machine and ask it for money. You had to know people.
Then I remembered the box. I grabbed the keys to the Beemer and made for the stairs.
Nevermind, Dad. I’ll be fine. Forget the money.
You can’t go out without money, he called after me. What if you blow a tire?
I ran up to my room and dug out the small blue and white tin. It was a Tzedakah box, a charity box: with a Star of David and a crude Israel map and a caption: “Contribute to the Jewish National Fund. Redeem the land of Israel!” It was heavy with cash, thanks to my latest Halloween scheme — which was to lie and tell people I was collecting for UNICEF.
Truth is, I didn’t give a crap about Israel, or even about Hebrew School. I was only concerned with putting an end to the Jew-on-Jew violence that occurred every time I went to the little boy’s room when this one kid, this big thug by the name of Steven Pesin (real name, no bullshit), would assault me—for no reason except perhaps to sublimate his latent homoerotic tendencies—when my dick was out, in the middle of a Jewy pee.
My Hebrew School teacher said the money was for planting trees in Israel, though why Israel needed more trees or why they needed my money to get them planted wasn’t something I ever quite understood. Don’t trees just grow places?
Besides, trees are so abstract. So far in the future. But the thought of all this money could achieve in terms of tree-planting for the Jewish People tonight was undeniable. And before I knew it, I was sporting an erection. Because this is back when it was like that. When it could happen anywhere. When they called it popping a boner because back then it was more or less a thing that popped. And this one would stay popped until something was done about it. Short on time, I had no choice but to commit both sins simultaneously: jerking my chicken and embezzling from my Zionist Homeland.
But the box was like a little steel fortress. Getting at the cash was not as simple as it seemed. I first worked the coin slot, mangling it with a ball-point, prying upwards to rip the lid off the thing, all the while squeezing the life out of my dick. But the box was unpriable. Jesus Christ! These fuckers really knew how to make a Tzedakah box! They really wanted their Goddamn trees!
As I turned the clattering tin over in my hands, and envisioned Sol’s translucent sleep-wear, I realized the error of my ways. Entry was not to be had by force but by ingenuity. The box’s structural weakness was not its coin slot, but its exit flap. Its trap door. Yes, I was nearly there, now. I had simply to pry up the flap and coax the deadbolt back into its housing with a flathead screwdriver. Just—like—that! And as the flap finally gave way, and all that charity tumbled down over my tumescent junk—to put it bluntly, I came—and with that subpar cumshot I annihilated at once a Sylvan MidEast Countryside and an entire civilization of microscopic Jews.
Next thing I know, I’m parked in Sol’s driveway, beeping my horn.
Nice car, she said, hopping in.
It’s my dad’s. Anyway, you look nice, I said without actually looking.
Yeah, right, she said.
No, really, I—
I looked over at her. Her cheek was bruised. There was some swelling about her blackened eyes.
Sol, what happened?
Nothing, she said.
Seriously. You should put some ice on that.
Seriously, it’s not important.
If you say so. Where you want to go? Elsie’s? Pizza Pad?
Just drive, Steve, she said. Just fucking drive.