Monday, May 23, 2011


Today's blog is based on excerpts from my short story, "EMPTINESSES."

Yesterday, my son Andrew asked for the car keys. As he bolted to the front door, I asked him what's what? He said his friend was throwing a corn dog party. I scratched my head, watched him leave and calculated that the only hot dog I recall him eating was thirteen years ago.JUNE 1998 AT THE TEE-BALL AWARDS "BANQUET," WE SAT ON THE INFIELD GRASS AS A WOMAN PASSED OUT FRANKS, CHIPS AND A SODA TO ALL THE PLAYERS. ANDREW REFUSED THE HOT DOG. WHEN THE LADY ASKED, "WHY?" THE FRUIT OF MY LOIN SAID, "I DON'T MIND THE HOT...BUT I DON'T WANT TO EAT A DOG." WHEN FACED WITH NO ALTERNATIVE, YOU CAN SEE HE ATE THE DOG...BUT WOULDN'T EAT ANOTHER FOR OVER A DECADE.

Naturally, hearing him rush out the door, albeit for a corn dog was shocking.

Behold the humble corn tasty yet so unhealthy. A popular walk-as-you-eat fast food, this fried, sugar and salt laden delectable, is a gastric F-BOMB of empty calories.

Trust me, I'm not trying to top Andrew's boycott but I haven't had a corn dog in forty-five years. In my youth, they weren't especially appetizing to me but when certain events unfolded in discussed in my short story, "EMPTINESSES," I swore to never eat a corn dog again.

The symbolism behind the Emptinesses title stems from my Vegas years when I moved in with a married couple, the Frobel's, Stu and Toby. In addition to being roommates, they their own way... became my friend.

Through the intimacy of cohabitation, I learned that frumpy, 5 foot 2, 140 pound Toby suffered from the emptiness of an unfilled womb. At the same time, it became obvious that sloppy fat Stu, 6 foot 5, 285 pounds, had a void where his brain should have been.

I use a circle theme in that story to epitomize the recurring errors in their relationship. To illustrate this point Stu once removed his wedding ring and held it up to his eye. He looked through it at Toby and said; when you take off a wedding ring, sometimes all you see is a hole. However, this blog has little to do with their dysfunction because it concentrates on my lack of fulfillment.

I encourage you to read the whole Emptinesses story but we start this blog a few months before Toby left Stu.

At a dinner party thrown by Peter-Party, in our apartment complex, I was smitten by another neighbor named Lois Gennet. Lois was from Slidell Louisiana. She was proud of her French heritage and was quick to remind people who read her name that her surname was pronounced Genn-NAY and her first rhymed with Joyce.

Toby thought Lois was high-strung and pretentious as well as obnoxious to be so insistent over her name. I didn't see her point. Maybe Toby was jealous that Lois was tall, slender and confident. Either way, I liked her and I knew she liked me.

Lois lived with a female roommate, across our courtyard, two flights up. She was a receptionist for an optometrist and attended business school at night. Despite our immediate connection, our schedules conflicted so badly that if she hadn't ditched that night's class, it would have been a miracle for us to ever be in the same place, at the same time.

Before eleven at Peter's party, as dessert was being served, Lois excused herself to go home and study. I kicked myself for letting her go without even asking for her phone number.

In the months that followed, a lot happened. Peter-Party died suddenly, Thursdays for Toby Stu and I, became our casino night at the El Cortez, (until Toby became a blackjack dealer there on graveyard shift) and depressed Stu began drinking more than ever. This change in his personality included becoming verbally abusive to his wife. During that period, the one thing that never happened seeing Lois. Until one late Sunday afternoon, I was walking by the laundry room and there she was. Lois was her bubbly self and I enjoyed keeping her company as she waited for the dryer to finish the job.

I wanted to ask her out. I tried to project when we could see each other and all I came up with was a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. When she finished folding her clothes, I offered to carry the basket up to her apartment.

On the way up, she told me that she got a raise and was now doing the billing at work plus taking on other responsibilities. She added that the office manager was retiring next year and that she was being highly considered for the position. I said, "That's great." She said, "Yes, but now I'm working Saturdays...that's a fifty-six hour week. With my night classes, I have no time for a social life."

When she said "time," I glanced at my watch. "Oops, I gotta run, I'm going to be late for work." I hustled down the two flights of steps and crossed the courtyard. Lois called down, "Say hi to Stu and Toby." I remembered Toby's new job. I did an about face and ran back up to Lois. While trying to catch my breath I said, "Would like to come out to the El Cortez on Thursday with me and Stu?" When her smiled drained away I added, "We could make it an early night, it wouldn't be like a date...we'd just be hangin' know, a chance to get to know each other better." She was so apologetic in turning me down.

When I lost my smile she added, "Friday mornings are crazy busy at work. I get in before eight and because the possibility of a promotion is so strong, I have to always be at my best. I hope you understand, I'm trying to leave an impression." I nodded as she continued in her sweet southern accent, "But when we do get together, it would better if it was a date." I took her number and floated back to earth on cloud nine.

I knew I was cutting it close so I had no time to shower or shave. I found Stu passed out in his reclining chair with an empty pint of blackberry brandy at his feet, a box of generic, frozen corn dogs on the counter and a skillet on the stove.

Five minutes later, dressed in my Stardust uniform, I rushed out of my room. Stu was still passed-out but this time I saw Toby's note on the coffee table, "I have too much respect for you to sneak around behind your back, so I'm leaving you..." I didn't have time to read any more and left. When I got home after work, other than Stu turning his chair to face the front door, everything was exactly how I left it.

Lois and I got together at two of her church's outings. Despite being in a big group, our platonic time was so well spent that I wanted her more. At work, I applied to transfer to day shift. Unfortunately, the wait time was estimated at ten months. So even though Lois and I were never "together" in any sense of the word, it felt like a break-up when I realized that we were destined to be just friends.

One afternoon I got a call from Lois. She was excited and said, "Dr. Tyler is flying to Dallas next Thursday. That Friday will be a clerical day and I don't have to be in till noon." I said, "Cool." Lois said, "Is that offer to come out with you and Stu to the casino still good?" I said, "After all this time, trust me I'm taking you out royally and Stu will not be joining us." She said, "I can't wait but I have to get back to work." I said, "Bye," and unintentionally added a kiss into the phone. She thrilled me by adding a smoochie of her own.

On my way out to work, between swigs of brandy, Stu told me that Toby was on her way to pick up the rest of her stuff. He then confessed exaggerating to Toby, his sexual encounters with three of her girlfriends before they were married. A couple of tears flowed down his cheeks as he took the corn dogs from the freezer and sobbed, "I just wanted to piss her off. Actually it was all lies, I never touched her friends." When he took the skillet out of the cabinet, I saw his stash of five, pint bottles of blackberry brandy. He was crying and calling himself names as I left.

At 4:00AM, I opened my apartment door and was hit in the face by the stink of smoke. I covered my mouth and went in. The living room was shrouded by a gray haze. I switched on the lamp. I was horrified to see the stove top was a scorched mess. The wall behind it and the adjoining cabinets were charred. In the disaster area of a sink, the blackened fry pan had the fused remnants of corn dogs stuck to it. Suddenly, I heard Stu choking. I went into his room. Other than snoring and laying in a pool of his own vomit, he seemed okay. After, I turned on the exhaust fan and opened every window, I went to bed.

The next Sunday, I met Lois at her church's picnic at Bonney Springs Ranch. Before I left, I told her that I made dinner reservations at the ski lodge on Mt. Charleston.

When Thursday came, drunken Stu was already staggering around while I was getting ready for my date. I thought his close brush with burning down the apartment and perhaps his own death would have wised him up. Instead, he was worse. In addition to continually whining over losing Toby, he began missing days at work, had trouble remembering things and because he stopped taking care of himself, his body odor was worse than our stinky kitchen.

I was about to leave when he said, "Wait for me." I said, "I told you, I'm taking Lois out." "But Thursday's our night." "Remember I told you, I've been waiting for this a long time." He said, "That's okay, we can all go to the 'Tez' together..." Stu looked like a lost puppy when I left.

It was a comfortable March night when Lois and I went on our way. But the lodge was 7,000 feet up and above the snowline. Before going in the restaurant, we walked out on its observation deck. Countless twinkling stars and a full moon lit up the valley below. When we got too cold, our mood was rekindled inside, at the circular fireplace...over cocktails. After a gourmet dinner, we had a romantic stroll through the icy woods. We then caressed in the car long after the heater took effect, before driving back to civilization.

In an awkward moment in front of her apartment she said, "I'd love to invite you in but I'll have hell to pay if we wake up my roommate." I made an uneven face. Then Lois said, "Let's go to your place." I was apprehensive. It didn't matter if Stu was there because we'd go to my room. What worried me was the awful burnt odor ruining our mood. I reminded Lois of the situation and she said, "Take me."

We necked a long time outside my apartment before going in. When I opened the door, the smell of the grease fire was still strong. Lois wrinkled her nose but smiled. When I turned on the light she screamed. Stu was passed-out, naked, with his recliner facing the door. Lois overreacted. She snapped, "Nobody treats me like this," and ran off. When I caught up with her she said, "This is outrageous, I don't know what to think right now...I'll call you."

I set my alarm and called her in the morning. I tried to make things right but I got a sense that she thought I arranged the whole thing. Before I could deny it she ranted, "It's over! I don't want to see you any more!" My heart was deflated.

I never slept in the Frobel's apartment again and moved out a few days later.

So please remember, it wasn't Stu's grease fire that made me swear to never eat another corn dog. I'm certain if I would have connected with Lois, the accident would have been so insignificant that I would have forgotten about it. It's only because I came up empty that everything about Stu is evil. So since 1980, every time I think of corn dogs, I think of Stu...and I don't like it.

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