The Strategies of Boys and Men
I don't know whose party it is; all I was told is that I "had to come" and that "it's gonna be awesome!" I'm not here for the awesome, though. Parties like this are teeming with material – there's always something stupid being said or done. It's never bothered me that most of what happens at these types of parties is the result of alcohol; beggars can't be choosers.
The house consists of one large living room, a small kitchen and a long hallway that branches off deeper into the house. This hallway leads to various rooms: a bathroom, a closet and two bedrooms. The master bedroom is taken up by the dumping of the guests' coats, most likely to protect the sanctity of the bed, but the other room is a hotspot of activity. I've already seen six pairs go in and out, always sure to leave a sock tied to the doorknob.
"Hey! What's up, buddy?" A hand slaps me on the back. My friend Nathan: I can smell beer on his breath. Only now do I realize that I've thoughtlessly moved away from the speaker I was using as an auditory bubble and into the centre of the living room, open to the attack of any that might come my way.
"What, not drinking?"
"No, I…have to drive some people home after." I manage to chuckle through the lie.
"Loosen up, they can always sleep here. Have a drink!" He shoves the plastic cup he's been holding towards me, but I push it back towards him. No matter how many times we have this conversation, he never seems to learn.
"Nah, I'm good."
"Don't be such a pussy."
"Look." He points to one of the many girls grouped together in the far corner of the room. "She's been checking you out all night."
We watch for a few seconds and, sure enough, the girl in question glances in my direction before quickly averting her gaze.
"Go for it." Nathan shoves me towards them but I resist. Finally he approaches them and shouts something into the ear of the girl in question. She says something back to him and he points in my direction, nodding fervently. I can see her mouth the word "okay" to him before they both head back towards me.
"Hey," I say, as casually as possible. She is smiling; my hands shake ever so slightly. I fold my arms, trying to look confrontational.
"Your friend tells me we're in the same program."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah, she writes too," Nathan interjects.
"Is that so?"
"Oh, I'm in Fine Arts actually. I write plays."
"Not exactly the same then, I guess."
"Nathan tends to think everyone who writes is the same. It's not really his fault though; they don't teach them a whole lot about tact in Engineering."
"Whatever, dude. At least I get to build shit and use huge machines. It's called being a man." We all laugh.
Soon Nathan is distracted by some passing friend and leaves the two of us standing awkwardly in the centre of the room.
"What kind of plays do you write?"
"The ones that no one ever ends up producing." She laughs at this, thank god.
"You've never gotten one through?"
"Don't rub it in."
"I'm not. In fact, I know the feeling: I haven't gotten an article published in over a year, and the last one was for a dog magazine."
"It was about picking up poop. They paid me forty bucks."
"What'd you do with the money?"
"Bought a bottle of tequila and tried to forget the whole thing." Laughter, hands stop shaking.
The night continues like this, back and forth; she doesn't end up going back to her group of friends. At one point we make a trip to the kitchen and steal a bottle of someone's tequila. We end up in the socked-doorknob bedroom, sitting on the bed, the bottle already three-quarters empty, our cheeks already flushed. She starts rubbing my leg and whispers something but I don't catch it. She leans over and kisses my neck. The whole thing is over before I have enough time to tell her I'm a virgin.
Fade from black to dimly-lit kitchen. Grimy refrigerator against the back wall. Small table centre stage. HUSBAND and WIFE sit across from each other, eating.
WIFE: So I asked about getting that extension on my leave.
WIFE: They said they couldn't afford it, said I've already used it all up.
WIFE: I know.
HUSBAND: So what does that mean then?
WIFE: Well, we could do what we were talking about. I mean, legally you get a year without losing your job, right?
Overhead lights flicker.
I guess I better get on the phone.
WIFE: Finish your meal first, at least. (beat) Thank you.
HUSBAND: For the best.
A baby cries offstage. They ignore it for a few seconds before WIFE gets up and walks off stage. HUSBAND puts down his utensils and stares at his meal.
A week later and I haven't heard anything from her. True, we hadn't actually agreed to see each other again, nor had we even really spoken after it was over, but I assumed at the time that something like this was socially binding, or at least sexually so.
Nathan and I are having lunch, as we tend do at least once a week. He pulls an enormous hamburger out of a plastic grocery bag and begins to peel off the saran wrap.
"Jealous?" he asks as he notices me staring.
"No, it's just that it's a little big, don't you think?"
"Nothing's too big for this machine."
"Well, I guess you do have a lot of practice shoving meat into your mouth."
"Hamburgers, especially. Your mom says hi, by the way."
A girl is walking towards us. Her long, red hair is tucked behind her ears, reaching halfway down her back, just like–
"Hey!" He snaps his fingers in front of my nose. "What, no comeback?" He seems genuinely concerned.
"What's up with you? You keep zoning out like every ten seconds."
"Yeah, I dunno."
"She call you yet?"
"Gimme a break."
"No, she hasn't."
"Well, don't kill yourself over it, bud. There's plenty of bush to go around."
"Do you have to use the word 'bush'?"
"Yes, yes I do. Besides, I heard the whole thing wasn't even that good."
"Uh, yeah. Her friend Steph told me about it. Said it was more of a quickie and less of a sticky."
"What does that even mean?"
"Means you popped about half an hour before she could even get started up."
"Fuck you." The back of my neck starts to tingle, then burn.
"Whatever, I'm just the messenger."
"Still. Besides, how am I supposed to even…"
"How am I supposed to know what…makes her 'pop'?"
"Gimme a break."
"Just go for the hotspots, buddy. Works every time."
"Are you kidding me? You're like twenty-one, you can't go asking people stupid questions like this; that's just begging to get your ass kicked."
"Screw off. Sorry I don't watch enough porn to know every nook and cranny of the female genitalia."
"Buddy, I don't need porn, not with this face and this charm. And don't say 'female genitalia,' it's not a fucking science exhibit."
"That's what it's called."
"No, it's called a pussy, a poon, a box, a cum dumpster, a baby maker, man's best fr–
I manage to avoid the topic for the rest of the meal, keeping the conversation civil, trying to forget the nagging worry in the back of my mind. When Nathan leaves for class, I jot down a note on my palm: research.
HUSBAND, wearing an apron, is washing dishes roughly, his back to the audience. He accidentally splashes a large amount of water on the floor, curses loudly, then reaches into a nearby cupboard and pulls out a cloth. As he is leaning down to wipe up the mess, BABY can be heard crying offstage. HUSBAND curses again.
HUSBAND: (to himself) Fucking kid.
BABY wails loudly.
HUSBAND: Yeah, I'm coming!
HUSBAND walks offstage for a few seconds. BABY stops crying. HUSBAND walks back on stage and finishes wiping the mess. Teakettle begins to whistle on the stove. He picks it up and pours water into a teapot on the table but splashes some onto his pants.
HUSBAND: Fucking teapot! Goddamnit! (sits in chair and holds his head between his hands for a few seconds. Pours a cup of tea and takes a sip.) "Let's have a child, it'll complete the family," she says. Pretty fucking complete family with the woman making the money and the man wiping up goddamn shit from a baby's ass.
Overhead lights flicker.
My parents didn't raise me to be a fucking housewife, for Christ's sake.
BABY starts crying again, louder and more sustained.
HUSBAND: Shut up! Just shut up, already! Enough with the fucking squealing already!
HUSBAND storms offstage. Sound of three slaps come from the direction of BABY's voice. BABY squeals after every slap. Crying stops momentarily after the third slap but continues soon after. HUSBAND roars.
Once again, one of my professors has asked that I meet with them to discuss my work. This time, it seems that there is a problem with the "reality" of my current piece.
"There is a certain standard of realism that audiences need in order to associate with your work," she says, arms folded neatly on her desk.
"But it's not real."
"Yes, I'm well aware of that. However, you still have to be able to project a reality through your work in order for it to be relevant."
"How do you mean?" I force myself not to ask her what "relevant" could possibly mean.
"For example, this play you're working on, the one about the married couple. It's simply too dramatic."
"It's a drama class."
"Let's not take the word too literally." A small smile teases my lips, but the look on her face chases it away. "Do you honestly think that any man would react in such a direct way to being confined at home?"
"Well, he's pissed because it's such a different experience for him."
"Of course, and that's understandable. What I wonder is if his actions are really appropriate. Specifically in the last scene you handed in, the one involving the violent exchange between the husband and his child. Do you really believe that anyone would strike an infant rather than try to comfort it?"
"He's just frustrated."
"And you believe that makes his actions realistic?"
"It's not supposed to be real, it's just supposed to be a guy trying to deal with his problems the only way he knows how."
"Let me ask you something: how does the conflict between the husband and wife resolve itself?"
Thoughts flash through my head, wife dead on the floor, baby in her arms, husband holding some instrument of destruction over her. Fade to black.
"I don't really know yet."
"That's fine, I was just curious." She leans back in her chair. Obviously curiosity has nothing to do with it. "Let's get back to the issue of the husband's violent behaviour."
"Interesting that he wouldn't know of any other method to deal with his situation, don't you think?"
"Don't you think you could have him act in a more civilized fashion and still get your point across?"
"Have him talk the situation out with a psychologist, have him vent his frustrations in a letter; it needs to be something more relatable than beating a defenceless child."
"He wouldn't do any of those things."
"And why do you think that?" she asks, leaning forward once again, arms folded in nearly the exact same position as before.
"I can't think of any guy who would write his wife a letter, especially when he sees her everyday."
"Then pick something else, anything else."
The next hour is spent in the library, script in hand. I write "Psychologist" and "Letter" in the margin, then scratch them out. A few minutes later, "Hobby" meets the same fate, then "Sports" after a few more. Finally, after numerous attempts to salvage "reality," I place the stack of paper back into my bag and walk towards the exit, the entire exercise already slipping from my mind.
HUSBAND is sitting at the kitchen table, staring confrontationally at the audience, no longer wearing the apron. BABY is crying offstage. WIFE walks in dressed in a prim pant suit carrying a briefcase. She places it on the table, takes off her jacket and kisses HUSBAND on the forehead.
WIFE: How was she today? (HUSBAND doesn't answer) What's wrong?
HUSBAND: What's wrong?
HUSBAND: Does it ever shut up?
HUSBAND: That demon, does it ever shut up?
WIFE: Don't call her that. She has a name.
HUSBAND: I've had enough of it.
WIFE: (stands up abruptly and walks to the sink, her hands on the edges) Well, that's too bad. We don't have a choice: we have no money and no time to make it. You knew the responsibility having a child was going to be before we decided to have her. (beat) You can't say it wasn't worth it though. (turns back to HUSBAND) You can't.
Pause. HUSBAND continues to stare at the audience.
HUSBAND: You decided.
HUSBAND: You decided to have a child. You wanted one, one of those things. You're the one who pushed for it.
WIFE: Oh, and you had nothing to do with it, right?
HUSBAND: No. I didn't. You brought all this on us. (gets up and glares at WIFE) If it weren't for you, I'd be at work right now instead of wiping up your fucking kid's shit.
WIFE: Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, but that's the way it is. We need money: this is the only way to get it.
HUSBAND. No. I'm going back to work and you're going to stay here with that hellion.
WIFE: You know that's not an option. I can't lose this job, I've worked way too long and way too hard to give this up.
HUSBAND: (saccharine) Not even for your child?
WIFE: Fuck you.
HUSBAND: You wouldn't do it to protect your precious baby?
WIFE: What are you trying to say?
HUSBAND: I'm just saying you should really keep a good eye on your baby during the day; who knows what might happen to it?
WIFE: You bastard! How could you even say that? She's family, for Christ's sake!
HUSBAND: No, she's your family!
WIFE: You cold-hearted bastard! Get out!
HUSBAND: (sarcastic) Right.
WIFE: Get. Out.
HUSBAND: Or what?
WIFE walks off stage in the direction of BABY.
Nathan has somehow convinced me to come out to a bar with him and his friend. He claims it will help me "lighten up." I only agree to come when he agrees to pay.
"So, Nate told us about your little roll in the hay at Brian's party a few weeks ago." Nathan's friends never seemed to have much on their mind save for a few choice topics.
"Way to go, buddy." That can't be it. "I hear the track team is looking for some new sprinters. You're a shoe-in." Bingo.
"That doesn't even make sense."
"Doesn't have to." The pair of them exchange various forms of encouragement, such as high-fives and fist-pounding.
"Forget about her, man," says Nathan. "Just look at the potential tail all around you. See?" He points to a girl sitting in the back corner of the bar. There are two purses on the table; her friend must be in the bathroom.
"Yeah, I don't think so," I reply.
"If you don't want her, I'll be glad to take over."
"Totally," pipes in Nathan's friend. I roll my eyes. Nathan doesn't move.
"Well?" I ask, now interested, if only because of the small chance that he'll fail.
"Nah, not right now." Nathan plays with his mug of beer, picking up the coaster with the condensation on the bottom. "Her friend is probably on her way back, too hard to make a move with the girlfriend right there." I stare at him for a few seconds, trying to work out the look in his eyes, but he quickly changes the topic before I can make anything out.
I order a gin and tonic when the waitress finally comes by, making sure to let her know to put it on Nathan's tab. In return, Nathan makes an offhand comment involving the blemishing of his bill with such a feminine beverage. I do my best to ignore him. As the waitress leaves, I see a boy followed by a head of long, red hair walk into the bar.
At first I dismiss it for another hopeless chance that it could possibly be her, knowing that the disappointment isn't worth the excitement. But, as the minutes go by, I know that I have to at least take a second look, if only to make sure.
They've found a booth near the window that looks out onto the sidewalk. I can't see her face from this angle, but the boy's is abundantly clear. A strict Roman nose, cropped hair, high cheekbones, the kind of face you see on the covers of magazines and wonder why women could possibly find this attractive. He is constantly smiling: it seems as if every word that comes out of the girl's mouth evokes from him a loud burst of laughter that can be heard even over the wail of the music.
"That her?" Nathan is elbowing me, gesturing towards the booth with his head, making sure not to stare.
"Is. That. Her."
"Um, I don't really know." She picks that moment to get up. In the half-second before I force myself to look away, I feel a weight settle in my stomach. It's her. The freckles, the blazing blue eyes, the delicate legs, the flawless curve of her breasts as they meet shirt. The weight sinks from my stomach to my crotch.
Nathan rounds on me instantly. He demands I go talk to her when she comes back. I refuse. His friend joins in the chorus, both of them eventually degrading to the classic chant: "do it, do it." I explain to them exactly why it's an asinine idea: what would I say? What could I say? Nathan tells me it would be a romantic gesture. He says it would be a good "may I have this dance?" moment and that she would explain all about how she lost my number and how she's been trying to get through to me for weeks and how she can't wait to get me in the sack again to teach me how to love. His words. Still, I refuse.
The waitress returns with my drink, but before she leaves I order two shots of tequila, all the while keeping a keen eye on the booth by the window. When she returns, I order another two. Nathan and his friend say something about taking it easy, but I can barely hear them at this point. Two more shots arrive; I can feel them glowing in my stomach, reaching out through my throat, into my brain, massaging it, coaxing it. Another two.
I tell the boys that I'm going to do it, I'm going to go talk to her. Apparently now they think it isn't such a good idea, but I'm determined. Besides, they're just being chicken-shits – now is the time for action, not for words. Now is the time to separate the boys from the men, time to see who's got balls and who doesn't, time to stop being a pussy.
The boy and the girl in the booth by the window seem surprised to see me, as if they hadn't noticed me staring at them. I play it casual, asking them how it's going, asking them if they wouldn't mind if I joined them, asking if the boy wouldn't mind fucking off for a little so that I might enjoy a conversation with the little lady in private. Apparently she finds this proposition disagreeable, so much so, in fact, that she asks me to leave them alone. I look back at Nathan and his friend; they offer no support with their gestures, trying to get me to come back to the table. Time to take matters into my own hands.
Grabbing the boy with the Roman nose and the perfect teeth by the collar of his pristine dress shirt, I pull him out of the booth and shove him against the window. He seems surprised, as if he didn't see this coming. I pull my arm as far back as it can possibly go; a second later and all I can feel is pain shooting through my fist. I look down and see blood trickling out from each knuckle, dripping to the floor.
She looks at me and I look at her. She slaps me. Hard. Then she says something about growing up before shoving me against the cracked window. Finally, she pushes the boy towards the door of the bar: he's not hurt at all.
A blur of motion and I'm outside. Nathan has his hand on my arm, dragging me away from the door. Seconds later, he slams me against the side of a building, my head knocking the brick.
"You don't do shit like that!"
"How old are you, man? You don't just go around picking fights like that."
"Can I go home?"
He grabs me by the arm once again and steers me towards the nearest bus stop. When we get to my house, he opens the door and pushes me inside. He leaves without saying a word.
I lean against the wall of the foyer and caress my bleeding hand. There are fragments of glass embedded in the flesh, stained red. I try to wrap the whole thing in the bottom of my shirt but the blood soaks through so I make my way to the bathroom and try to wash the blood away as gently as possible.
HUSBAND and WIFE in the kitchen. Two suitcases are lined up stage-right. HUSBAND is eating a large steak, dripping with blood. WIFE is carrying BABY bundled up in cloth.
HUSBAND: You can't be serious.
WIFE: I've never been more serious.
WIFE: You know why.
She picks up one suitcase then attempts to pick up the other but struggles because of the bundle in her arms.
HUSBAND: Let me at least help you with those.
WIFE: No, I can handle it.
HUSBAND: You'll never be able to carry all that on your own.
HUSBAND gets up and bends down to pick up the suitcase for her.
WIFE: No, I can manage.
WIFE successfully picks up the bag and walks off stage hurriedly. HUSBAND returns to the table and sits down.
HUSBAND cuts a piece from his steak and chews it for a few minutes before picking up the plate and throwing it against the refrigerator.
HUSBAND watches the blood run down the refrigerator. He sits in silence for a few seconds, sighs, then goes to a nearby cupboard and pulls out a cloth. He bends down and begins to wipe up the mess. Fade to black.