The Litany of Stupid Things

Gabriel Welsch

The girlfriend in the small car. The things she wanted, the things she grinned at, the things that made her wiggle out of her clothes. I spent a lot of money on that girl who just walked up to me one day after school and asked if I wanted to hang out. I knew Bootsy had a new bag of bud he was looking to tear into, and I had a guitar at his place and nowhere else to be, but the way she asked was enough. The shirt she wore gaped at the neck, and every time she moved her curves pulled that shirt over her body so that I probably could not even have spelled Bootsy, if I could remember him. She took me to her place, working the shift in a beat Tercel—me watching her hand work the knob, her legs gunning the pedals and dumping the clutch at a couple lights—to her room in her parents' house. She undressed me in the daylight, laid her body before me and told me she loved to fuck in the afternoon when she could see everything. I grew so dizzy I nearly fell.

Strings and picks and effects pedals and connector cords and 9-volt batteries and D'Addario stickers and every now and then a capo in case we did anything acoustic. Which we never did. And embroidered Slayer and Anthrax patches for the jacket and pins with skulls and studded cuffs some kid sold that he said he got at Zipperhead and Black Flag bumper stickers and rubber bracelets and cheap combat boots. Satin Iron Maiden banners and black light fuzzed-out posters of Eddie, many of which I gave to her. She put them up and her parents reacted predictably and I bought her more. And money for runners, for the smokes they'd buy after the cheap liter for themselves. Money for scumbags to help me get lit.

My share of the beer. Wawa hoagies and Jolt. The means to carry the weather when the weather descended and turned Philly into a swamp and blasted lawns from green to tan in a matter of a few gelatinous days, when morning was a bile-soaked crust of effort to wake and spend ten hours behind a mower or on the endless vibrating grind of a weed whacker, when the cicada killers burst from their warrens in the caked ground, when we would linger in the irrigation mists drifting over the production fields and let it cool our faces and later, in the orange haze of twilight, settling to condense in the small of my back, the caverns of hers, the fields fecund and earthy and pushing the sun's warmth back into the evening.

Combat boots and Dickies. Buzz cuts and Calamine lotion. Blistex and Coppertone. Ray-Bans and Hanes pocket tees. Felco blades and boot laces, waterproof Casios and gauntlet gloves. Rolling papers and bags of Drum. The smell she wanted to breathe in from my shirts, the smell of dirt and sweat and smoke that she pulled from my clothes.

An Ibanez Artist with a cracked nut and bridge with a buzz. A cheap mandolin with cigarette burns near the lower f-hole. A Peavey with a shredded cone gobbed up with nail polish. An ancient Harmony with its back kicked out and patched with Bondo. A pink Squire with a paisley pick guard, at fire sale prices in a strip mall in Conshohocken. An bottleneck slide made by a biker, from an actual Michelob bottle neck. A set of maple toms from a Tama set. A Zildjian t-shirt even though I knew as much about cymbals as I did about skin diseases. A knock off Flying V with scratchy pots and nasty noise in the humbuckers. And worse, everyone knew why. Everyone who saw these things clutter my truck, my room, later my apartment, and eventually my yard sale, knew why I had them.

Gas to get to the Jersey shore. Boardwalk fries. Crappy sepia-toned fake old photo, done up like bandits in some saloon, the girls strapped into corsets and discovering, perhaps for the first time, the thrill of a little discomfort, winning over the aesthetics of sweatshirts. My share of the RV, the running water, the campfire, the back bedroom, the space in the Tercel for the Bondo acoustic, my share of a week spent pissing off the few friends we had left, for the cost of locking the trailer at midday while the others stayed at the beach, my share of the glaring pissiness when we emerged to find them sitting on lawn chairs and kicking empty beer cans back and forth.

Cups of coffee and the thermos for coffee. The creamer for the fleet house, the creamer like icebergs of lard floating and pooling at the top of microwaved day-old. Coffees in August hot as the day. Coffee cups to cut off later and spit into. Cups her feet would push again, cups she would throw at me. A cup to hold while she shivered and wept.

Rubbers, that we called condoms because that was the new word. Cheap mail-order lingerie, something to play adult with. A hotel room in King of Prussia, a hotel room in Pottstown. A gram of coke one night, a dimebag another.

Flowers for her mother on Mother's Day. A butterfly knife and bloody knuckles for when I thought about her old man. Bottled water for Mondays, headed back to school, when we were hung over and dragging ass. Tapes for copying Dylan, Floyd, Neil Young. New U2, Black Crowes, Metallica, Anthrax, Public Enemy.

Gas to get to the Great Northeast, to get to an ATM three times in two days, to get to the clinic by the Pepsi plant, to get the only hotel I could afford, somewhere in Manayunk on the way back, far enough away but not anywhere near home, to get little packs of Advil at a Wawa, to get ice cream at dawn from a Turkey Hill, to get a box of Kleenex, to get gum, to get coffee for the drive back, to get a crappy tape of hair band ballads because that's what she liked and she wanted something, she said, "stupider than me."

Vodka to erase the thought of fucking her from behind while she bent at the window to answer her old man who stood below, in the front yard, yelling about the mud on her car. Vodka to erase the thought of fucking her in Wendy's broken down house up above the Pepperidge palace. Vodka to erase the thought of fucking her in the basement of her brother's place while he was out of town. Vodka to erase the thought of how she looked when she stayed down too long, and I came on her legs, her chest, the side of her cheek. Vodka to erase the thought of her vomit and blood on my hands in a hotel room in Manayunk, of the towels I wetted and used to wipe her mouth, of the way she gritted her teeth and bit into my shoulder. Vodka to erase the thought of her telling me to go away.

The test. The questionnaire from the clinic worker: How many partners have you had. Have you ever engaged in intravenous drug use. Have you given blood. All a version of Have you risked someone else's life? Have you done something so stupid and selfish that you are about to pull the stars from someone else's sky? Every wall covered in consternation, in posters that scorn impulse, that tell you to plan everything. The knowledge that if I were any good at planning a damned thing, I wouldn't be in that room, this town, this place, this hole.

A new mailbox for a family in a red house. A deductible for a truck fender. Glass for a broken window, with cash left in an envelope on her old man's hood. Vodka and more vodka. Guitar strings that sat in a drawer, then a box. Moving vans. Rental cars. Distance. Fine for loitering in Manayunk.

A bike to get to AA. Cigarettes. Creamer for the coffee cart. My share of the cost of filters, coffee, stirrers, sugar. New jeans. Plain t-shirts. Phone cards. A post office box.

Gas for the years that followed, driving always away, to places in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Indianapolis. Gas to drive and park and realize you bought sex, though neither you nor her would ever want to say it out loud. Gas for the slow coast by strip clubs and massage joints, truck stop hookers and the ads in the back of phone books in hotel rooms, the deep wonder of thrill. Gas to drive toward an answer to the question: has anything changed, or is it just looking for something more complicated, harder at its core, to meet the yawning want? When the car speakers hammer out Motorhead and the dry cleaning hangs in the back and the red light never lasts long enough and the sunset is blood and possibility and the end of all things, when the gas in the tank is just the latest stupid, useless thing you have purchased, ask: how far have you gone?