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The Imperfect Enjoyment

The Imperfect Enjoyment

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Publicado pordewangibson1808
When college instructor Dewan Gibson leaves the Midwest for California, he expects to find a world of breast implants, beer and beaches. Instead he enters a secret and ill-fated romance with a Middle Eastern undergraduate. In this vivid and humorous memoir, Gibson describes his attempts to overcome his forbidden love affair by jumping into an office fling gone wrong (Tijuana Mornings), traveling across the world to Denmark in hopes of meeting "Ms. Booty Mama" (Arhus Ain't for Lovers) and musing over the interracial relationships between his African-American uncles and "rural white women that wore 1980's big bangs and resembled Guns N' Roses groupies" (Too Much Tupac). Toeing the line between stable adulthood and post-college debauchery, Gibson presents a comically honest look at the frailty of modern relationships. Poignant, witty and at times downright hilarious--The Imperfect Enjoyment is a story of toxic relationships and the search for a second chance at love that enlightens and amuses as very few books do.

“Ladies may question how relatable this book is to their own lives, and whether the read will be enjoyable, or just a confusing testosterone trip. On the contrary, the book is an insightful look into the bachelor’s psyche, and a helpful way to decipher the questionable impulses men act upon…the book itself is superbly written in a format that will encourage even the most lethargic readers to press on.”

-THE SOUTH END NEWS

“So if you enjoy reliving your glory dates, past ups and downs, and are candid enough to admit that your enjoyments in life especially as it relates to the opposite sex, were best described as imperfect, then this is the book for you…Yes, the book is that good” .

-ROBERT SALAAM (THEAMERICANMUSLIM.NET)

When college instructor Dewan Gibson leaves the Midwest for California, he expects to find a world of breast implants, beer and beaches. Instead he enters a secret and ill-fated romance with a Middle Eastern undergraduate. In this vivid and humorous memoir, Gibson describes his attempts to overcome his forbidden love affair by jumping into an office fling gone wrong (Tijuana Mornings), traveling across the world to Denmark in hopes of meeting "Ms. Booty Mama" (Arhus Ain't for Lovers) and musing over the interracial relationships between his African-American uncles and "rural white women that wore 1980's big bangs and resembled Guns N' Roses groupies" (Too Much Tupac). Toeing the line between stable adulthood and post-college debauchery, Gibson presents a comically honest look at the frailty of modern relationships. Poignant, witty and at times downright hilarious--The Imperfect Enjoyment is a story of toxic relationships and the search for a second chance at love that enlightens and amuses as very few books do.

“Ladies may question how relatable this book is to their own lives, and whether the read will be enjoyable, or just a confusing testosterone trip. On the contrary, the book is an insightful look into the bachelor’s psyche, and a helpful way to decipher the questionable impulses men act upon…the book itself is superbly written in a format that will encourage even the most lethargic readers to press on.”

-THE SOUTH END NEWS

“So if you enjoy reliving your glory dates, past ups and downs, and are candid enough to admit that your enjoyments in life especially as it relates to the opposite sex, were best described as imperfect, then this is the book for you…Yes, the book is that good” .

-ROBERT SALAAM (THEAMERICANMUSLIM.NET)

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Published by: dewangibson1808 on May 19, 2009
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T IMPERFECT ENJOYMENT

IMPERFECT ENJOYMENT

‘ This book made me laugh and
I don't even like to smile.
-Big 'Los from San Quentin
State Prison

Gibson's work touched ‘me in a place that has not been touched since Ricky Martin's sexy ass left Menudo.
-Magarita Jimenez from West 90th St.

WHEN COLLEGE INSTRUCTOR Dewan Gibson leaves Cleveland for California, he expects to find a world of breast implants, beer and beaches. Instead he enters a secret and ill-fated romance with a Middle Eastern undergraduate. In this vivid and humorous memoir, Gibson describes his attempts to overcome his forbidden love affair by jumping into an office fling gone wrong (Tijuana Mornings), traveling across the world to Denmark in hopes of meeting "Ms. Booty Mama" (Arhus Ain't for Lovers) and musing over the interracial relationships between his African-American uncles and "rural white women that wore 1980's big bangs and resembled Guns N' Roses groupies" (Too Much Tupac). Toeing the line between stable adulthood and post-college debauchery, Gibson presents a comically honest look at the frailty of modern relationships. Poignant, witty and at times downright hilarious −The Imperfect Enjoyment is a story of toxic relationships and the search for a second chance at love that enlightens and amuses as very few books do.
DEWAN W. GIBSON is an adjunct lecturer at San Diego State University who has written for the International Journal of Intercultural Relations. He is also a former international chick banger. In his spare time he enjoys people watching and running up credit card debt to live far beyond his means. This is his first and likely last book (unless you decide to stop browsing through it for free and just buy the damn thing).

DEWAN W. GIBSON

cover by SoroDesign

DE W A N W.

a bachelor ' s memoir

>
THE IMPERFECT ENJOYMENT
Copyright Dewan Gibson @ 2009 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the writer. ISBN 978-0-61-522588-3 Library of Congress Control Number 2008937393 Printed in the United States of America Book Design Cecilia Sorochin | sorodesign Typeset Melior 9.5/13 by Hermann Zapf conbined with Brothers by Emigre Cover Design Cecilia Sorochin | sorodesign

for

mom and dad
YOU DID YOUR BEST

...

IT WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH

ALL THAT CAT, NEED S OME DOG LINCOLN’S BEDROOM HA NIYAH TOO MUCH TUPAC MA UR Y DID IT CAN CER HO LIDAY ULTIMATUM TIJUANA MORNINGS PARANOID ANDROID VEGAS VOGUE AUNTY ’S ARMS D RIVING UNDER HER INF LUENCE LU NA’S EYE LOVER’S LAMAZE CSI: SAN DIEGO 40K PLAY GR AD UATION AZTEC FRIDAY

table of

9 15 21 25 28 31 35 40 46 48 56 61 63 67 71 74 78 81

NEG RO KRYPTONITE RICO PURPLE BIG CHIEFA CHO COLATE FACTORY BAR NONE D -LIST M USCLEHEAD DO G OF THE DOW AR HUS AIN’ T FOR LOV ERS LISBOA RYA N LEAF VIRG IN IN THE BOOTYHOLE THE OTHERS OLD SCHOOL FOU R-YEAR ITCH SHIFT + F7 LIFE IS FOR LIVING THE AFTERPARTY

contents

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ALL THAT CAT,
NEED SOME DOG
THE GIRLS HAVE BEEN GOOD TO ME, most of the time. My first kiss was in the seventh grade. The girl had the most stylish Jheri curl in the neighborhood—parted on the side, with exactly one slippery baby curl hanging down on her forehead. She kept the wet-set well into the 1990s, despite most black girls’ having moved on to burnt-tipped extensions or stacked up-dos. I’m not sure why or how she fought off the influence of En Vogue and Sisters with Voices, but maybe the curl juice was so entrenched in her scalp that it eventually became selfactivating. Thankfully, our hurried French kiss didn’t lead to anything further. As a prepubescent twelve year old I would have definitely drowned in her full-grown love pouch. A few years later I got a stable job at a bookstore in a ghetto shopping mall that sold only ten-karat gold and Air Jordans. There I spent most of my time hiding out in the stockroom, slyly reading erotic novels hidden inside of hardbacks. On lunch

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breaks I’d walk through the mall, horny and hoping that one of the stylish kiosk-girls would start a conversation. They did not. However, I did strike up a friendship with a mall security guard who showed me how not to meet women. Known simply as “Big Nigga” to most, he was a huge goof of a man nearly twice my age, with early-onset male pattern baldness hidden under his ranger hat, dated bifocals and the calm of a man who has nothing to look forward to. He also had the funniest stories about what he “would do” to various women we saw in the mall. These were usually illustrated by a catch phrase that he thought was the epitome of cool. If a group of young women were unfortunate enough to pass him without the company of a man, he’d say, “Look at all that cat! Let me know if y’all need some dog UP IN THERE!” But he would never stop to introduce himself or hold a normal conversation—maybe because the girls just smacked their lips or hurried away laughing. Still, I was inspired by his inappropriate courage and one day hoped to achieve what Big Nigga only discussed. At the mall, I also spied on Rocio, a curvy young Puerto Rican woman. Despite the fact that she worked in a shoe store right up the escalator from the bookstore, I never had the balls to say anything more than a quick hello. Fear of being rejected in front of the mall rats wearing thigh-high stockings and the cool guys sporting the latest Tommy Hilfiger shirts was just too much. After a two-year tenure at the bookstore, I moved four hours southeast to the hick part of Ohio for college. Here I finally lost my virginity, to an older woman on the six-year graduation plan. Although she was a bit of a plain Jane and, for reasons unknown, had a recurring rash on her upper lip, she brought

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to life what I had up to then only seen while watching latenight B-movies on Skinemax. Still, the what-if thoughts of Rocio lingered and I was determined to return to Ghetto Park Mall to put my fragile confidence on the line. The opportunity came during winter vacation after my first semester of college. I returned to Cleveland much more self-assured than I had left. I was now a college-educated and, therefore, a somewhatin-demand single young man. Well, college-educated is a bit of a stretch. In reality I was only points away from academic probation. But having completed a semester at college, I could at least pretend I was studious in order to impress Rocio and other high-school girls. Wearing colorful Nikes purchased with federal student loans, I went to the women’s shoe store I hoped Rocio still worked for. Thanks to her protective store manager, a hulking middle-aged Jamaican with a watchful eye, I couldn’t spend a split second more than necessary to get a passing look at her. Glancing quickly between the window displays, I saw Rocio assisting a customer. Unsure if she even remembered me, I suddenly chickened out and turned away without even going into the store. But before I could speed-walk away I heard a faint knock on the glass. It was Rocio. We held a stare that was probably much shorter than I remember and she waved me inside. It then hit me that I had never before been within five feet of her. With narrow eyes, a bushel of curly hair, a shapely thickness from the waist down and wheat skin that would have been much tanner had she not moved from tropical Caguas to the unpredictable climate of Cleveland, she was even prettier than I had realized. But I was too shy to say that. So I just stood

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there, trying not to look nervous. “Hi.” I tried to sound a bit more hip. “Hi … what’s up?” In a Spanish-accented whisper she got to the point quickly. “Hi. Do you have a girlfriend?” “Huh … no … no girlfriend.” Of course, this was the truth. I did not even have a single friend who was a girl, let alone a girlfriend. “So do you want my number?” I answered, “Ooommm-hummmm.” Then I thought, “Damn this is easy; I guess college is paying off.” For our first date, on the following weekend, I had planned to take her to a 10:00 p.m. showing of a movie that, in reality, started an hour earlier. I had hoped that we would skip the film and make out in my 1987 red-on-red Plymouth Horizon hatchback, which was souped up with a front-end cover and a stolen CD player. I had figured that since she approached me at the mall, my chances were halfway decent. I was right— well, kind of. We did skip the film, but instead of making out, we ended up just sitting in the car asking each other “So what you wanna do now?” We then drove around suburbia, taking the long way back to her parents’ place. For the entire drive I was erect as only an eighteen year old can be. Not yet having a way with words, I could only grin awkwardly at Rocio and then look at the road. Outside her parents’ place, we sat in the car for another twenty minutes before I made my pervert move. As she waited silently in the passenger seat looking straight ahead, I reached over and began rubbing her thighs. She gave me the weird eye and said, “What are you doing?” Expecting a physical response instead of a rhetorical question, I could not give a straight answer. “Oh, I just wanted to see what your pants felt like.” Ei-

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ther a smack or a laugh was coming next. She laughed and we met halfway for our first kiss. Rocio and I struck up a friendship that developed into a relationship the following summer. We had an easygoing rapport that felt as if we were old friends. She was a naïve optimist and quick to giggle. And she was easy to please. We spent most of our time sitting on my childish bunk beds, flipping through channels while hoping my parents didn’t pass my doorless room. With her parents and family divided between the Caribbean and Midwest, Rocio’s home life was a bit volatile. Sensing stability, she was immediately drawn to my fiery but nuclear family. Yes, my hot-blooded dad might cuss you out, but the strongest words he’d use were dumbass or shit, saving the occasionally fuck, accompanied by a yank on the shirt or a jab to the chest, for when we—well, mostly my older, combative brother—were extra hard-headed. We had a generally loving Midwestern household (although we dared not say love to each other), the type of household in which the family dog is actually treated like a dog. No special canine nail clippers or trips to the veterinarian. If the dog is sick, let him eat some Pepto Bismol; he’ll soon feel better. If his nails grow too long—shit, he has teeth. He’ll bite them off. Rocio loved my home and started spending most of her time there, slowly becoming an honorary Gibson. The following year Rocio enrolled at my university in small-town Ohio. For the next three years we were that inseparable, innocent-looking couple you see on every college campus. The couple that does everything together and partakes in only moderate public displays of affection, but has the freakiest shit going on in private. The couple that every-

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one thinks will marry. The love we developed was based much more on friendship than on romance. Make no mistake—I was, without a doubt, physically attracted to her, despite what my lackluster description of her “shapely thickness from the waist down” might imply. In fact, her ass was luscious and I was on it every day for three years, and at least twice a day on weekends. But Rocio was unsure of her future and strongly dependent on me for guidance. The strain of being responsible for another person was more than I wanted to handle. I tried before tiring, but then figured that my selfish years would be more enjoyable alone. As I neared graduation, the relationship ran its course. It didn’t help that she caught me in bed, wearing only Americanflag boxer shorts and holding a bottle of Two Fingers tequila, with an eighteen-year-old freshman. Or that I had mentally left the relationship months before as I plotted my life as a bachelor. Our time was due. Rocio and I probably could have stayed together, had three kids—maybe two little boys and a girl named Roshumba with afro puffs—and been perfectly happy. But my need for adventure was too strong and I was focused on leaving the voluntary segregation and strict social expectations in Ohio and starting anew. I decided to end the relationship, thinking that if it were meant to be, then one day it would be. I gave little consideration to Rocio’s feelings or the fact that she had to deal with the anguish of being left through no fault of her own, just because; of being strung along as a potential long-term mate and then dismissed as a friend. So I left for Southern California.

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LINCOLN’S
BEDROOM
I MAKE THE TREK TO SAN DIEGO with a twenty-seven-inch Zenith as my passenger in my trusty Nissan sedan. In the back seat sits Mom and Dad’s care package, which includes aspirin, tissues, canned collard greens and rolls of quarters for my first month’s rent. With the anticipation of the breast implants and beaches that await me, the fifty-hour drive passes quickly—so quickly that I’m in jeopardy of arriving before the lease on my unseen apartment starts. Preferring to drive at night and rest in the day, I need a deep sleep in a comfortable bed. Just in time I spot an off-highway motel in Lincoln, Nebraska, advertising rooms for less than forty bucks. I pull over to do a quick safety and cleanliness check of the area and decide to check in. I offer a weary hello to the pregnant clerk with dirty blond hair and a suspicious look on her face. She gives me the key to a tidy room that looks like it could belong to a fixed-income senior. Thanks to the germ protection provided by traveling with one’s own linens, I can relax as I lie on the bed and click through the TV channels. Surprisingly, this motel in the stronghold of conservatism offers free access to the Playboy channel, but I’m just too tired to watch moaning blondes with landing-strip pubic hair. I drift off to sleep. I wake in the late afternoon and decide to make my ritual trip to the mall. Not one for browsing through museums or making other cultural excursions, when I travel I simply go to

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the mall or people-watch downtown to get the feel of a city. I find Lincoln to be a thinly populated and basic city that has been lucky to be saved by a large university. It’s the type of place where you could earn a decent living, raise three happy kids (assuming one doesn’t turn out to be gay) and look forward to weekend shopping trips at Wal-Mart and Home Depot. I stroll through the mall and come across a group of black people. Thanks to the simple-America feel of Lincoln, I wrongly assume the blacks here would be stuck in the 1990s, with high-top fades and Hammer pants, only recently hearing about the Rodney King beating. But in actuality, these are modern and regular black people. The type with the African American predisposition to believe in conspiracy theories, like that Tupac is in Jamaica working as a scuba instructor or that hospitals inject blacks with tainted immunizations that cause cravings for unhealthy food such as fried chicken and hog maws. Shit, these people are black enough to make me instinctively switch from standard English to a more African American vernacular, saying “What’s up?” instead of “How you doing?” just so they know I’m also “black enough.” As often is the case with minority groups or those who suffer from generational oppression, we stop and talk after overcoming the initial surprise of seeing each other. I find out that they’re in Lincoln for a minority enrichment program at the university and that they’re bored out their minds. One of the guys, a frail but rough-looking man named Cliff, also happens to be my fraternity brother from another university. Unfortunately I failed to take enough fraternal beatings from extremist members, didn’t meet the violence prerequisite and was ostracized from the group. As a result, I don’t dance around in circles with the other members at parties or partici-

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pate in their occasional community service activities, so to say the least I’m a bit indifferent when I meet him. However, since we do not probe our shared fraternal history and since he has girls with him and I don’t, Cliff and I exchange numbers and make plans to check out a few bars that night. At 10:00 p.m. we’re walking aimlessly through downtown Lincoln, with McDonald’s cups full of vodka and orange drink. Whether due to his stutter, which I know from personal experience can make conversation difficult, or because we’re two men who met in a mall hanging out together, we don’t say much to each other. Finally, through the air of uncomfortable silence, Cliff randomly says in a deep Mississippian accent, “You ever ffff-fucked a-a-a pregnant girl?” I snicker. “Nah, man.” “Tha-tha-that shit be good,” he says. This is the gist of our conversation. After windowing a few bars we decide most of the nightlife is on the street. We come across three black women parked outside of a bar, each with the curly hair and pronounced cheekbones common among East Africans. Possessing the confidence of an NFL player with an extra Y chromosome, I lean into the car window. “Hi. Is there anything going on tonight other than the parking lot?” They’re hooked by my corny joke that’s not a joke. From the back seat, the youngest girl says, “No! What you do?” I can’t immediately figure out if she’s speaking some strange Nebraskan slang or English with a foreign accent. I look over at the fraternity brother for clarification and see he’s anxious to say something to the women. He’s making dead-on eye contact and his mouth is moving, but the words do not come.

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I jump in before he spit sprays the girls with any s-words. “Yeah, we’ll find something.” I add, “How’s your night going? Are you new to Lincoln? Is there anything else going on besides these bars?” I’m trying to stall until he can get his words out. Two guys approaching three girls—fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. If one of those dudes has a moving but silent mouth—nope, that ain’t gonna work. Meron, the girl in the backseat, remarks that we don’t look like we’re from here. “Well, neither do you!” I say, sensing an opening. I detail my cross-country trip and she seems enticed by my independence and sense of adventure. I try not to gawk at her short shorts filled to capacity. She’s a few years and one pregnancy away from reaching the bad side of thick, but for now she’s fine. Meron invites us to an African after-party that is going on nearby. Walking into a cramped basement, we see it’s just like any other house party—well, except for the fact that none of the guests are wearing shoes and socks. I reluctantly reveal my alien-like feet and start to dance with Meron. Excuse me—I should say I try to dance with Meron. However, she’s in a dance competition with herself. She comes close to grind on me, does a 360-degree spin and backs away to dance with her chubby friend for half a song. Then she comes back and repeats this process. Okay, but what the hell am I supposed to do while she spins away and gets down with the big girl? I try to maintain some sort of two-step with Meron, but the awkwardness Caucasianizes my movements and I look like a Republican presidential candidate swaying nervously to gospel music in a Pentecostal church, knowing damn well he’s getting less than five percent of the black vote. I feign thirst as if she’s worn me out, and let her know that I’m going back to

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the hotel. She takes my cell number and says she’ll come by later to say goodbye. I go to the hotel and wait. I stare at my phone and wait. With my phone in hand, I urinate as aimlessly as Vice President Dick and wait. With the phone dangerously close to the iron, I press clothes for the next day and wait. I wait some more. I’m not sure if she’ll show, but I go forward with preparations for what is potentially my first one-night stand. I’m not sure what these preparations should consist of, but I feel like I should do something. First up, considering it’s a one-night stand and not a paid transaction, I change from the Playboy channel (my backup plan for the night) to MTV. I put condoms in the bedside drawer next to the ever-present hotel Bible, but move them under the bed when I feel Jesus say, “Nigga, please!” Then I try to bust out a few pushups to temporarily inflate my frail chest, but the lingering buzz saps my energy. Finally, I try to decide what to wear. I still have on the same striped yellow button-down and jeans that I wore at the party, but I feel there should be some sort of one-night-stand outfit, preferably made from a soft and sensual material like Pima cotton or silk. Then again, considering I’m not running coke from Colombia to Miami and don’t have matching “lavender and fuchsia gators,” I probably shouldn’t wear either of these. Trying to keep things simple, I decide that maybe I’ll just relax in my boxer briefs. Besides, the hole in front conveys easy access. But my undershirt looks like a baby tee. I can’t let her see me looking like Prince in the 80s. Fuck it. I don’t want to appear too forward, either, so I keep the jeans on and just loosen up a couple buttons on my shirt. Alright, I’m fine. Finally Meron calls. In her strong Ethiopian accent she

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says, “What street?” “It’s not that far from downtown, on the same street as the big Wal-Mart.” “Where the Wal-Mart?” “I guess the Wal-Mart near downtown. There can’t be more than one Wal-Mart on this side of town. I’ve only seen one McDonald’s and Wal-Mart can’t outnumber McDonald’s.” “Huh?” “Huh?” “Okay, I find it.” When she arrives we sit on the bed, unsure of our next move. I think, “Damn, girl. At least give me a shoulder nudge after one of my jokes, or maybe ‘accidentally’ rub your foot along my calf like they do in the movies—something to give me the courage I need to make the first move.” “Hold on,” I think. “I’m the guy, maybe I should do some of this.” Instead, I fiddle nervously with the blanket. Not so much as a first move, but more as a reaction to the embarrassment of Meron’s seeing my worn sheet and the hotel’s checkered, Vietnam-era comforter. But she takes this as an invitation to move closer and is soon next to me in the bed. I realize we’re on a tight schedule. That’s not a problem for Quick Draw. I’m unaccustomed to new trim and it shows. How quickly? Count the time it takes to read this paragraph and subtract thirty seconds. But I’ll have other opportunities, as one night in Lincoln turns into two nights and three days. This is what I’ve been looking forward to, eager women and a chance.

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HANIYAH
INSTEAD I FIND SOMETHING MUCH DIFFERENT. I arrive in San Diego without ever having visited the area. With no money and a recent college degree in communications that is leading only to employment as an overqualified telemarketer, I decide to enroll in graduate school and pursue a master’s degree in communications—which will probably lead to employment as a highly educated, even more overqualified telemarketer, or maybe director of mobile phone rip-offs at some cookie-cutter mall. Thankfully I am able to earn a meager income teaching a freshman course in public speaking while I study and delay a real career. And as a twenty-two-year-old college instructor I am somewhat of a novelty, which makes meeting women much easier. In between teaching and attending my own classes, I spend most of my time flâneuring around campus meeting various women. I’m not your typical hard-up man who stares at a woman as if he wants to eat her; I simply ask how her day is going and take it from there. No self-help books or game needed. Just spark a conversation, ask a few questions and shut the hell up. If you’re genuinely interested, show it; if not, cut the conversation short. Unless, of course, you’re interested only in hearing her say “Harder, daddy”—in that case, put on your interested look anyway (head tilted to the side, mouth agape, repeat “Whaaaaaat” in an incredulous manner every thirty to forty-five seconds) and be patient until you complete the mandatory three-dates-before sex requirement. This particular morning I have time to waste between class-

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es. I stand on the open-air balcony of a two-story classroom building. Feeling uncomfortably overdressed among the casual students, I place my hands into the pockets of my double-creased pants. I steal a few glances at the women walking past in their tank tops and short skirts, knowing full well that relationships among instructors and students, while not forbidden, are discouraged. Down below I spot a tiny Beyoncébrown woman with shoulder-length curls and glasses that belie her otherwise youthful appearance. I can tell from her neat and quasi-conservative knee-length skirt that she is probably not from Southern California. As I spy on her, she looks up and smiles at my obvious attempt to pretend as if I’m looking elsewhere. In a word she looks pure. Her skin is clear and behind her glasses rest wide, eager eyes and threaded brows. Her nose is pronounced, with a slight indent on the tip—the effect is more elegant than unflattering. I can see that her legs are short and I assume she stands not a hair over five feet. Although she holds a little weight in her midsection, she is nowhere near a muffin top. She reminds me of Lisa Turtle from Saved by the Bell or dare I say Stacy Dash from Clueless. I hurry down the stairs to introduce myself before doubt overtakes my confidence. “Hi. I’m Dewan,” I say with a smile as I stare at her. “I’m Haniyah. What does your name mean?” she asks, as if black people always have a reason to name their kids LaShaunta, Durrell Wayne, or, in my case, Dewan. I wish it did mean something regal such as “the one with great longevity,” but I’m sure my young, post-civil-rights parents just thought it sounded nice or, for that matter, cool. “Huh … oh, my parents just made it up,” I reply. She laughs and I ask her the same. “It means ‘happiness.’”

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Only days later we’re on our first lunch date, at Denny’s. While there’s not much romance to be had in a shabby restaurant, surrounded by seniors eating the Grand Slam special, it is at least a step up from fast food. As we eat and talk I become enamored with her slight British accent. I learn that she is from Kenya and has come to live in San Diego with her older brother. After we run through basic warm-up questions, the conversation lapses. Then we stumble upon love, or rather a discussion of love. Whether it is her youthful ignorance of what a first-date conversation consists of or my usual disregard for relational norms, we begin conversing about the existence of true love. You’d think a young and inexperienced woman would have visions of falling in love with her Prince Charming, but Haniyah holds no such hopes. Maybe I don’t either. After a few days of exploratory phone conversations we have our first “real” date, a trip to the movies. Before going she admits that she is actually from Bahrain and has been advised not to tell anyone. We’re only a couple weeks post-9/11 and along with the loss of due process, many Arabs in America are experiencing “retaliatory” hate crimes. But I don’t really care where she is from. What is on my mind is asking her to hide a Pepsi and a pack of Skittles in her purse before the movie and having the opportunity to get to know her better afterwards. But, unfortunately, we are not alone. Haniyah’s brother Amir and a few of his friends have come along to watch the movie and ensure that I keep my slick hands to myself. While cordial, they seem surprised that I am different from the stereotypical African American males they see on television, who wear doo-rags and prefer to make credit card transactions through the ass crack of a thick woman with multicolored extensions. Even Haniyah asks, “Why don’t you dress sporty?,”

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which apparently means hip-hop. “Not really my thing,” I reply. “My legs look like stilts in baggy jeans.” (Since I’m six feet tall and weigh 150 pounds, they pretty much look like stilts in any jeans). What starts with steak and eggs at Denny’s grows into an exclusive relationship. Outside of the ordinary DVD dates and trips to inexpensive restaurants, we spend time learning about each other’s upbringing. She grew up in luxurious conditions by American standards, while I teetered between middle class and “Dad, when we gonna get the phone back on?” She had a pet lion cub; I had a mixed terrier that pissed himself inside and held his bladder outside. Her family had a personal driver to take them around; I had the back of a bus or, once I turned seventeen, a five-hundred-dollar Plymouth Horizon. She had her own room and bathroom; I shared a queen bed with a snoring brother who farted and then blamed the smell on some mystery person burning hotdogs. She was raised Muslim; I was just raised. Haniyah and I continue to spend more time together, but I am still unsure where the relationship is going. I have been in San Diego only a couple months and, besides meeting a parttime stripper/full-time biology student who first claimed to work at Starbucks, I have yet to date anyone significant. The barista stripper is significant only because she is just that, a barista stripper. So I go back and forth between trying to fulfill my California player fantasy or going on lockdown, uncertain if I am ready for the kind of relationship where you answer, “We’re staying in tonight,” when the boys invite you to a nightclub, knowing damn well you want to see what’s being flaunted and to secretly touch what probably wouldn’t come back to haunt you. I choose the relationship.

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TUPAC
NOW WE HAVE OUR OWN SONG (“Differences” by Ginuwine), nicknames for each other (she calls me Baby D) and contests to see who will hang up the phone first. We dress up nearly every time we see each other; laugh at each other’s jokes, even when shit isn’t funny; take pictures everywhere we go, even if it is just for a snack at the mall food court; wait for the other person to be served before we begin eating; try to make ourselves sound deeper and more complex than we really are; buy each other gifts just because and even go camping together. Well, not exactly camping together, but with the same group of international students. It is here at the campground, where I achieve the distinction of being the first in my family to sleep outside without having been evicted, that I find that I care for her. I think this to myself when she ventures off with friends to hike the mountain. I’m stuck laughing with the Germans, who have a peculiar habit of breaking out in song at a moment’s notice. I try to catch up with her group, hoping to give her a hand when her worn trainers won’t allow her to clear a jagged step. I walk quickly along the rocky earth, giving little attention to the signs warning of mountain lions. I can see her tiny frame far ahead, but I can’t reach her. And I already miss her. However, for all our feelings, we are not sexually intimate.

TOO MUCH

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She did tell me when we first met that she wanted to wait until marriage, not so much for religious reasons but because she feels it is the right thing to do. At first I figured she’d eventually change her mind, or maybe I’d accidentally slide in there during a high-school-style dry hump. But weeks have passed and now months. The vow remains intact. Right now, though, that is the least of my concerns. Haniyah shares an apartment with Amir, who plays the role of guardian in charge rather than one of a sibling only a few years older. He’s become increasingly upset with Haniyah for spending so much time away from home. However, we pay him little attention and our late nights continue. He’ll have to get used to her being gone. My only worry is having her home before daylight so at least she can say she has not slept over. But Haniyah stays out one night too many. After a long night at my place I drop her off around 3:00 a.m. and we make plans to meet on campus the following day for our usual handholding session between classes. She never shows. I call one, two, three times and there is no answer. I call a few more times that evening—no answer. The following day I wait at our usual meeting spot on campus and she does not come. I go to her place that evening. No answer. Now I am worried. What has Amir done? Did he go off and commit some sort of honor killing? Along with forcing them wear the hijab and undergo clitorectomies, that’s what they do to their women, right? Well, even if they don’t go that far, they do subjugate them to feel they must meet an extreme standard of chastity, just as Americans oppress their women by making them feel they must meet an impossible standard of beauty. Just as our women chase beauty through surgery and scar, their women chase modesty by covering their hair and

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face, and both end up losing. I knew I should have taken her home earlier. The next day I bump into Haniyah as I’m going to class. Wearing a baggy sweatshirt and with her hair in a hurried ponytail, she looks worn. “What happened to you?” I ask. “I was at the beach thinking,” she says with a look of anguish, her hands hidden in the pockets of her sweatshirt. The strangeness of her statement leaves me silent. As I gather my thoughts, I stare at her bottom lip. It’s bitten and cracked, with sharp pieces of chapped skin hanging from it. Her instincts remain neutral and, despite my stare, she does not lick. “Amir got mad,” she says before the tears come down. “He said if he sees us together again he will shoot you.”

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MAURY DID IT
BUT WE’RE IN LOVE. Not a love like Mexican Americans feel for Tapatio or “conscious” African Americans feel for poetry jams, but a love in which we hope and think of a future, our future. So the shooting threat bounces weakly off my naïve armor. What does some pampered Middle Eastern boy know about gunplay? I assume he does not know much more than me, a sheltered suburbanite who has always stayed at least three streets away from the hood. Amir is a fake. He is as dangerous as your favorite ex-correctional officer turned gangster rapper, or R&B singer who plays up misdemeanor charges for the false honor of being an ex-convict. Amir is only words. Words that become much stronger when spoken to Haniyah’s mother. Soon after the threats Haniyah returns to Bahrain for winter vacation. Her mother is disgusted by news of our illicit relationship. “You don’t even know what ghetto he’s from. What kind of family do you think he was raised in?” she says, her mind obviously corrupted by satellite episodes of Cops and The Maury Povich Show. Yes, maybe a few of my extended family members did graduate from the Ohio School of Alcohol and Drug Abuse and maybe some male relatives did a few short bids (really, they just went in to hang with cousins and old neighborhood friends), but we are a hardworking family. More importantly we are a family that is open to others regardless of pigmentation. It wasn’t a big issue when my divorced grandmother mar-

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ried a younger white man—besides, he loved to eat collard greens. It was never an issue when most of my uncles dated white women, even rural white women who wore 1980s big bangs and resembled Guns N’ Roses groupies. Perhaps they had wild interracial sex, with their taboo prizes yelling “Fuck me like an NBA all-star!” and my uncles grunting “Free Mumia now bitch,” unknowingly healing centuries of racial strife through the powers invested in their loins. No one cared! Bottom line: we are a fair and open family. But this is of no concern to Haniyah’s mother. Her orders are clear: Lose all contact with the infidel or be disowned. If she does not do so immediately, her father will be told. Even in her livid state, Haniyah’s mother is rational enough to keep this secret from him. During the six weeks of vacation I rarely hear from Haniyah. With her mom, who is retired and able to be constantly near, supervising her every move, we’re unable to talk over the phone. Every now and then we communicate via instant messenger, but even that is unsteady as she is forced to log off without notice. What I do gather from our erratic conversations is that Haniyah might not be allowed to return to San Diego. There is even talk of her being sent off to study in Scotland. I am confused, but undeterred. I want this relationship, and I want it even more after being told it cannot be. I couldn’t care less about cultural understanding or the notion of “that’s how we do things.” They are wrong. How can her mother expect her to study in the United States and not develop significant relationships? Does she see Haniyah as some sort of academic machine whose sole purpose is to obtain a degree from an American university? Are the Americans who provide Haniyah this education not good enough to hold her hand and kiss

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her neck? Who is her mother to decide when we should end? I am realistic enough not to predict a lifetime together based on a few months, but if the relationship shall end, let it run its own course.

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CANCER
IT’S THE FIRST DAY of the new semester and I’m unable to focus. After only a few months, I’m crazy about this eighteen-year-old girl-woman. Unsure if Haniyah is even back in the United States, I can do nothing but wait. For the past few weeks I’ve been sleeping only three hours a night and eating only what my stomach will hold. Without showing her face or even saying a word, Haniyah is in complete control, more so than she could ever be in person. To make matters worse I’m going through a tough time financially. To be honest, I’m broke. Actually I’m worse than broke—I’m destitute. The teaching job pays only once a month and I burn through that within five days. I’ve stopped paying credit cards bills and can barely make the rent. I’ve even sent the holder of my car title a fictitious address change stating that I’ve moved back to Ohio. I wish a muthafucka would try to repossess my shit. Yet, I worry more about Haniyah than I do my financial problems. Has she been sent away to Scotland? Did her father find out about our relationship and hurt her? Has she been forced into an arranged marriage? Then my anger provides me with much needed emotional strength I think, “If she can’t write or call, well, then forget her. She’s probably just playing around with me anyway. And forget her family, too. Ignorant Bedouins stuck in the Middle Ages. I’ll find some other girls. Can’t she understand she’s dealing with a playa?” My delusions do not last long. As I walk toward class one

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day, I spot a woman similar in size and shape to Haniyah. She’s a loud yell away so I can’t completely make out her face. Her hair is long and straight, much different than Haniyah’s donut curls. I quicken my pace and she turns my way. Is it her? She begins walking faster and goes into the nearest building, her short frame weaving effortlessly through packs of taller students. I give up chase. If it were Haniyah she would’ve at least called to say she was back. Haniyah is sitting in my classroom. Not sure how to react in front of thirty other students, I pretend as if I’m not in love with a missing woman who is now only steps away. My usual first-day enthusiasm is sapped and I want only to finish class as soon as possible. I offer no description of the course. I do not hand out the syllabus. I only ask the students to introduce themselves. We come to Haniyah. Her curls are now long and straight, her playful disposition now serious. She says, “Hi. I’m Haniyah. I’m Mr. Gibson’s girlfriend.” The other students are tense. First-day jitters prevent questions or outbursts, even from the one or two eighteen-year-old jerks guaranteed to be in nearly every freshman-level course. No one says a word. The last five students give their introductions and I dismiss the class. We walk toward each other and I whisper, “Missed you” as she hugs me weakly. “Are you doing okay?” I ask. “I don’t know. My mom wasn’t going to let me come back, but she changed her mind the day before my plane left. Dewan, I don’t know.” I immediately get defensive. The respect I inherently hold for her mother just because she is a mother is nearly gone. “Just do what you want to do. She has her own life, you have your life. I don’t get it.”

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Haniyah, offended and protective of her mom’s honor, says, “You don’t understand. She’s worried about how it makes the family look. Dewan, everybody will know.” “Why does it matter?” I groan. “Who is this everybody?” She bites back, “Everyone at home will know and everybody in the U.S. will know. That’s how it is. They all just talk and talk. They’re all going to say ‘She’s the girl that went to the U.S. and dated the American guy.’ They don’t care. You just don’t do that. You don’t know how it is.” “So you agree with that?” I ask rhetorically. “That’s what you show by going along with it.” A week goes by and I have not seen or talked with Haniyah. The intestinal anxiety returns with only momentary feelings of calm. I try to take my mind off her and stay active, as they say. But even sluggish bouts up and down the basketball court lead to drawn-out thoughts of loss. Running hard from goal to goal on the empty court, wishing for exhaustion, I shoot without care. The ball continually bounces hard off the backboard and I give full-speed chase. Going harder, I jump off one leg toward the rim, but I can’t slam it through. A former varsity player in high school, I now feel like a gangly amateur, an unskilled embarrassment. A couple of nights later, she finally calls. We make plans to take the next afternoon off and meet at the beach. Once there, we again feel normal. I joke about moving to the Emirates and becoming her secret nighttime lover. We laugh at her overbearing brother and his attempts to be patriarchal. But we don’t discuss tomorrow. There are no plans for the weekend or fantasies about trips we’ll never take. Haniyah makes this clear, saying, “I can’t do this anymore.” My pride evaporates as I try to convince her otherwise, hop-

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ing that she can find the strength to stand up to her mother. “She’ll accept it eventually. We can make it work.” She cries and I hold her, hoping that physical familiarity will convince her that I’m safe, that I will be there for her when her family will not. Recognizing the concerned glances from passing beachgoers, she decides that it’s best that we leave. I hesitate. I want her to stay and feel what I’ll feel when I’m alone. She soaks my shirt with tears as her slight body shakes with near convulsions. “Please just take me back home.” I don’t respond. We have ended on her mother’s terms, but we will leave on my terms. She claws into my shoulder, grabbing through the slender muscle and holding on to the bone jutting through my thin frame. Mercifully I relent. I drive sixty in the slow lane, wanting more time. We pass all that’s aesthetically pleasing about San Diego. I think, “What if I just drive right off this muthafuckin highway?” When we arrive at her place, I fix my eyes on the steering wheel, knowing she won’t leave without some assurance that I’m at least okay. I turn and she gives me a farewell kiss that is both dry from her strained lips and wet from her falling tears. I drive off before she gets to her front door. My eyes are moist as I try to accept the disappointment. I look in the rearview mirror and watch my cheeks shiver to hold back the tears. I think, “You look like a straight up bitch right now. Get a hold of yourself!” I laugh uncontrollably. My gut expands and contracts with each rapid chuckle. I’m temporarily healed, but it doesn’t matter. The cancer has devoured the relationship.

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HOLIDAY
ULT IMATU M
I’M HIDING IN HANIYAH’S pitch black walk-in closet. I keep my eyes shut to prevent disorientation. I feel around to obtain some sense of stability and come across loose shoes and unfolded clothes. I form a pillow with tank tops and underwear. To keep quiet I rest on my side with my arms wrapped around the makeshift body cushion. I squirm when my back grazes against cardboard packaging. Well, I guess she didn’t like the chocolates I bought her. My jitters subside and I begin to appreciate the solitude of being hidden away. It reminds of how I use to hide in the back of Mom’s Nissan Sentra before she went to the grocery store, giggling with the anticipation of getting caught and later finding comfort from being unseen and unbothered. Just minutes ago I was in Haniyah’s bed, boxer shorts hanging halfway off my lanky frame. She lay nude save for a button-up pajama shirt she threw on when she heard Amir arrive home. He approached her room and they talked through the door. He must have felt suspicious because he extended the conversation to ask about her day. While they talked I tiptoed into the only hiding place available. Ten minutes have passed and I’m still here. Finally I hear him walk heavy footed through the two-bedroom apartment. Haniyah opens the closet, smiling and waving her hand for me to get up and out.

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“You didn’t like the chocolates?” I ask as I balance on one foot to put on my jeans. “I ate the light ones. I don’t eat dark chocolate,” she says. I kiss her goodbye and jump over her balcony ledge Dukes of Hazzard style. Amir has been given the responsibility of watching over his rebellious young sister, yet he is distracted by his own relationship. Most days he goes to his girlfriend’s house at around 7:00 p.m. and returns around 3:00 a.m., just in time to avoid staying the entire night and having his acts labeled haram. I park down the street and stay at their apartment until my sixth sense tells me he’s near. Or I pick Haniyah up when he leaves and return her just before he gets back in. We spend most of our time in parts of town he doesn’t go to, or hiding in the sheets doing everything but. Of course, we are not a normal couple. There is no family around to speculate about our potential for marriage. No best friends around to double-date or make stale jokes with about male and female roles in a relationship. We have only each other. Whatever friendships we had prior to our bond have been neglected to the point where an attempt to reignite them would seem insincere. So when I am not with her, I’m waiting. I try to break the monotony by slurping 1.5-liter bottles of Carlo Rossi wine or reading magazines at the twenty-four-hour Wal-Mart before buying Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches. I suppose I should prepare a lecture or two so my classes seem less impromptu, but I’d rather think of her. At times I even put my phone on silent and hide it in a drawer until anticipation and hope build so much that I have to check to see if there is a missed call or, better yet, a tiny envelope icon on the screen. But the reality that we could be found out still hangs over us.

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It turns out that we no longer need to hide from Amir. After he goes home for summer vacation, his application for a renewal of his student visa is denied without reason. Well, of course, the unstated reason is that he is a young Arab male. During the hyper-xenophobic times that began in 2001, during which even Rachael Ray is criticized for wearing a kaffiyeh while selling coffee, it does not take much more than that to be denied entry into our kingdom of freedom. Although Haniyah also has an aunt living in San Diego, we figure her marriage to an American will make her more open to our relationship. So we are alone, free to spend time together without restriction. Our clandestine night operations become daytime walks downtown and dinner dates whenever we feel the need. We spend nearly every night together. I no longer have to worry about dropping her off before Amir arrives home or being seen by someone who might know someone who knows someone else. During the next three years we are inseparable. We even fly across country to visit my family and old friends. Apparently this is a big thing, as evidenced by the fact that all her friends seem to say in unison, “Oooh, you’re going to see his family!” But I still don’t feel secure. To the hyper-masculine that might seem like a feminine description of my feelings, but I can’t put it more clearly. Each summer and winter vacation Haniyah goes back to the Middle East and then returns to San Diego, unsure if she will ever be able to tell her family of our relationship. Each time I wait with surprising comfort in my sexual abstinence, accepting her vow and thinking that it might lead to a more serious vow between us. Then we break up, only to reunite a couple weeks later.

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Still, I fear she will find another lover. She is spending more and more time at her aunt’s house. Many weekends they host small parties with open invitations to various Arab and international students. Of course, I am never invited. I feel like crashing the parties, smacking Haniyah on the ass and asking her aunt, “How’s the family doing?” Instead I wait for her late-night phone calls and get some peace of mind when she tells me that the parties are “boring.” Yet I am wary of a potential mate coming along, a man whose Arab blood could trump our love. I picture her mom arranging for her to meet a man who goes to one of the top schools, maybe Yale or the London School of Economics. An Arab man, a man she will approve of, who speaks the languages I will never learn and can play traditional roles that I do not understand. I can even imagine what he looks like: thick eyebrows, arms much stronger than my own and pronounced cheekbones that intimidate men and melt women. But he doesn’t have my charisma, or so I tell myself. There is no way he can get discreetly naked from the waist down while Haniyah is studying, jump high in the air and scare her with a bouncing cock. But because of his blood, I still hate that bastard. I feel that I at least need approval from her aunt. I am in my mid-twenties and looking to go further in my career, while Haniyah has impending plans to move across country for graduate school. She has asked me to come along, but has also given notice that we will not live together as an unmarried couple. So I am ready to uproot myself from my comfortable life in San Diego, move to the East Coast without a job and hope that Haniyah will find the courage to tell her immediate family. But

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despite having agreed to reveal our secret to her aunt, she still has not done so. Fed up, I finally decide to break the golden rule of relationships. I offer an ultimatum that I know I’m unable to go through with: “Tell your aunt by the time you get back from winter vacation or we’re done.”

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TIJUANA MORNINGS
THE TIMING OF MY ULTIMATUM could not be any less perfect. I’ve finished graduate school. I’m still teaching parttime and I have also gotten a cushy job at a community health center—the type of job where you feel good about indirectly helping the less fortunate, but you are so underpaid that you’re one check away from getting a really personal look at poverty. Here I meet Karina. She is an unbelievable physical specimen, tall and lean with an arched lower back leading to a round ass and with titties that say, “I shall nurture you with my bosom.” She also has tiny teeth and long brown gums, but, hey, even Halle Berry has small stretch marks near her breasts. The first time I meet Karina I know that we could be trouble. When the nurse brings her into my office for an introduction, I can’t even gain enough composure to stand politely and shake her hand. I just sit there smiling like a fat kid who has finally completed the maniac level on “Dance Dance Revolution.” Karina and I hit it off quickly, all laughs and innocent flirting. Each time she walks past my closet of an office, I stretch my pencil neck out the doorway and admire how her figure makes itself known through her shapeless scrubs. Co-workers sense there might be something brewing. Since I have a reputation as the quiet, nice guy, they encourage it with giggles as I walk past, or with jokes about my man print showing in the thin wool pants I often wear.

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Yet other than brief conversations in the early morning, we have little time to get to know each other. So I become the most punctual employee in the office. Work starts at eight o’clock; I’m there at 7:45 waiting for Karina to drive up in her pickup. One particular morning as we wait in the parking lot a few minutes before work, Karina says in a Tijuana accent, “I’ve been feeling weird. My chest and back are sore. But I think it’s just stress.” “Stress? Oh, you should try yoga. I do it all the time when I need to relax.” Actually, I have not done a minute of yoga in my life. “Fareals?” she says, completely oblivious to my sarcasm. “Oh, yeah. Stop over some time and we’ll do it together. Maybe have some breakfast too.” Later that day she stops by my office and asks for my phone number. I don’t think twice. With a mixture of excitement and laughter at the absurdness of my yoga line, I write my number down.


WEEKS LATER THE HEALTH CENTER closes early due to a doctor’s illness. Karina follows me home for “yoga class.” Fully aware that simply by having her over I am breaking another rule of relationship decency, I try to downplay my mistake by thinking, “It’s only breakfast with a co-worker.” To mute any discussion of matters related to Rodney Yee and yoga, I pop in Breakin’ All the Rules starring a dreadlocked Jaime Foxx. Karina rests comfortably on my Craigslist couch as if she’s been here before, laughing at the movie’s physical humor but lost on the jokes that don’t cross the border. I’m sit-

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ting at least a couple feet away, but the uncomfortable pleasure of having a woman near tilts my body toward her. Karina takes a single deep breath and roughly puts her hand in the front pocket of my creased dress pants. She quickly finds what she’s looking for, or maybe it found her. She laughs quietly. Okay, what’s funny—the size? I know I’m not exactly a three-legged member of the Mandingo tribe, but give me some credit. Oh, I get it—it’s the instant erection. One touch and I’m up. Well, it has been a while. I mentally repeat, “Just breathe and it’ll be okay.” I then go into player mode and use a move that I would later patent: picking her up and with her legs wrapped around my waist, I carry her to my room. I undress her and say, “You have a perfect body.” It hits me—am I saying her face is not perfect? Am I really saying, “Uhmmm, your body is great, but your face is just alright? And your personality … I don’t really know you yet.” Shit, why couldn’t I just keep it simple and say, “You’re beautiful”? Thankfully my shallow words don’t affect the mood. She stops before I make the ultimate mistake. Without warning she pops up off the bed as if someone has walked in on us. She puts on her clothes and says, “I should get home now.” She pulls me toward her and forces a goodbye kiss, reminding me of something you’d see in an AMC network film. For a brief few seconds she grips my shoulders and stares into my eyes, like a proud mother to her son. I reject her gaze and look down at my erection. I pull closer and use her hand to adjust my hardness downward. I begin to make slight upward motions, just enough to feel. We move in sync and my aggression increases with the pitch of her moans. She says, “I should go,” but stays on for another rub. And

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then another. The moans become quick yelps and then she shivers and becomes still. She presses her mouth on my neck. It’s not a kiss; her lips just remain there, wet and sloppy. I continue to move and feel the heat through her hospital scrubs. She backs away and looks down at my pants, pleased with her achievement. The next morning, hours before work, my heart jumps with an early morning knock on the door. It’s Karina. My heart continues to race as I imagine the trouble this would have caused if Haniyah were in town. I invite her in and offer to make breakfast, but instead she leads me to the bedroom. She does not have to try hard to tempt me. I sit on the bed and she straddles me. We continue where we left off yesterday, her athletic body rubbing against my weak frame. She whispers in a Spanglish cute with imperfections, “Do you have condom?” and sighs disappointedly at my answer. She starts grinding as I lie on my back, her black thong still on and her matching bra hanging off the edge of the bed. Recently unaccustomed to seeing a woman enjoy the feel of me, I think, “This is really happening. I’m almost doing it again.” I wish I could stop right here, with a memory to smile at and the pride to say I stuck with my girl when things got tough. But I don’t. I enter through her underwear and end up wearing a cotton condom. She rides me fast, the arch in her back controlling the motion while her torso remains still. I feel her ass bouncing, even pounding, against my thighs. Her hands claw at my thin chest and I grab her wrists to relieve the pressure. I reach for her waist, hoping to hold on for dear life or, at the very least, feel her soft thighs jiggle. She snatches my hands and yanks them

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toward her breasts. I grip hard and thumb-stroke her dark nipples. I try to sit up so I can take them in my mouth, but she pushes me back down. She moves harder, attempting to take the orgasm that I can’t seem to give. The moaning and the painfully pleasured look on her face are too much and I surrender with a deep bellow. She slams down on my chest with a frustrated two-hand smack. I flinch in surprise but remain inside her as she slowly rocks, taking what little I have left to give. I’m empty. Karina hangs her head as she sits over me, her long black-and blond streaked hair shielding her face. She pulls off of me, gives another hard kiss and says, “What do you think about us?” Stuttering with surprise I reply, “I’m kind of involved right now. But, well … I’d like to get to know you better.” With a sudden flash of anger she says, “You knew me well enough to have sex with me.” Well, she might have a point. But I figured she knew our limits. Apparently she is the type of girl who demands you hold her hand in public simply because she held your dick in private. Shocked, angry and afraid, I look at her but say nothing. I think, “Hey, you had sex with me just as much as I had sex with you. It takes two to tango and you did the work of a person and a half!” As she quickly throws on her medical scrubs and leaves, I pull the covers over my head and tense up in regret. I think of what Haniyah is doing at this exact moment. A nauseous feeling runs through my gut. As soon as she’s gone, I call Terrell, my best friend, in Ohio. I can always count on him to tell me what I need to hear until I’m strong enough to hear otherwise. “Hey man, I messed around with that girl from work.”

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“What girl?” he asks in a hushed tone, as if someone who shouldn’t hear can hear. “The Mexican girl I told you about before.” “What, man? Shit, you’ll get over it. At least you finally got some.” I try to pretend like it never happened. I vow to avoid Karina and any other woman who will give me what I have not had. But my greed is too strong. A couple days later I explain to Karina that maybe we could have something if we grew to know each other better. I believe some of what I’m saying; I believe it more when I think of her on top of me. During the next few weeks her morning visits become routine. Every night I leave the door unlocked and by six o’clock the following morning she has joined me in bed. Three weeks pass. Knowing I’ll soon have to deal with Haniyah returning, I look for fault in everything Karina does, hoping to end our fling with a clean break. We’re supposed to see a movie and she doesn’t show. That’s strike one. She goes to lunch with the “friend” who often comes to our job to take her out. That’s strike two. She says she’ll come over after work and flakes. That’s strike … well, who said you only get three strikes?

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ANDROID
BY CHEATING ON HANIYAH I feel as if I’ve lost her, though she has no idea what’s happened. I’ve tried to rationalize my behavior with simple male bravado. What I was not getting from Haniyah, including acceptance and the feeling of being wanted, I had a right to get from a more understanding woman. But my continual attempts to validate my continual misbehavior hit a snag when I think of how she’ll feel if she finds out. I’ve seen her tears before and dread watching her quiver with psychosomatic nausea and anger. Selfishly, which seems to be my permanent mindset, I decide against incriminating myself by telling her about my indiscretions. I then think of the overdramatization of choice. I want my fling with Karina to seem impulsive and unplanned, as if it just happened. I even lie to myself, like a lethargic housewife who goes to the gym thrice weekly, but only to walk around aimlessly so she can then have the false contentment of having “worked out.” But we all know the truth. I know I wanted to fuck Karina, just as the lazy housewife knows she wants to be just that. I know that I wanted to be given the opportunity or, at the very least, to create my own opportunity. The situation with Haniyah’s family is dire, but she has stood by me in every other way. Even when that stuttering doctor from the campus health center called me after a routine blood test and said, “Your white blood cell count is low. Have

PARANOID

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you ever been tested for HIV?” Panicked, cursing the barista whore and the entire city of Lincoln, I called Haniyah. She knew from my voice that something was wrong. I rambled through my sexual history, searching my memory for bareback moments, and her virgin ears listened without judgment as she assured me that everything would be fine. I delayed getting tested for two months, until research on the low rates of heterosexual male infection gave me the confidence Haniyah had all along. After the flamboyant gay man gave me the negative results, Haniyah was there to laugh at my overreaction. Yet when things got tough for her, I lay with another woman. The feelings of guilt come and go, inversely related to my sexual excitement. But somehow I also feel closer to Haniyah, like I’ve committed a necessary evil that will make me appreciate, despite its flaws, the relationship I have now. Strangely, I also feel her family knows of my mistakes, as if I’ve jinxed the relationship. My main regret is that I’ve fallen to the low standard her mom has for American men. I wanted nothing more than to prove her wrong, to show that I was different, that I was a good one, that I could potentially be that pious Muslim. Well, so much for that. At least I can still have salt pork with my collard greens.

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VEGAS VOGUE
WITH ALONE TIME before Haniyah’s return, I invite Terrell to visit from Ohio. Having met each other on the first day of our ubiquitous minority pre-college summer program, we’ve seen each other through the typical post-adolescent growing pains. From break-ups to near academic probation to facing alienation from the tiny African American community in Athens, Ohio, we’d grown from college buddies to confidants. A classic sartorialist and tactful in nature, Terrell’s most telling characteristic is a verbal bluntness that hints at his inner-city upbringing. With his candor a good match for my more indirect honesty, we became fast friends. In addition to the typical guy talk of girls and more girls, we spent hours on end disputing the validity of religion; laughing at the characters you can find only in a small, isolated university town; and contemplating our potential achievement as the first from our families to graduate from college. In short, he has an open ear and an opinionated mouth. With my current relational dysfunction I can use his advice. After spending a day in San Diego, we make a five-hour drive to Las Vegas. With little cash to spend on a hotel, we plan to stay with Rocio, my ex-girlfriend from Ghetto Park Mall. She, Terrell and I hung out constantly in college and the two of them were even closer after I left for California. A year after our relationship had ended, Rocio finished college and moved southwest, and she is now shacking up with a man who is perfectly comfortable with her ex-boyfriend spending the night. Despite being only hours apart, Rocio and I rarely

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speak, but Terrell’s visit gave us an excuse to meet up. Taking the concept of road trip a bit too far, we rent a Jeep 4x4 for the drive through the desert. With the wind flailing through the plastic windows and the loud bark of DMX’s hiphop threats pounding through the speakers, we’re unable to get into our expected trip-long man-to-man talk. Instead we exchange sideways glances and wonder why we’re not saying anything. I try to mention Haniyah and Karina, but give up because yelling over the wind makes me sound extra bitchy about my relationship problems. Considering Terrell has spent two thirds of his life talking and the other third thinking about what he’s going to say next, its odd sitting next to him in near silence. Yet, I’m sure our lack of conversation is temporary and he’ll be back to playing Man-Oprah in no time. We arrive in Vegas and get to Rocio’s newly developed townhouse. We surprisingly receive an upbeat welcome from her better half. Shirtless, beer bellied, with a torso covered in taco meat, he looks like he just finished scratching his balls while flipping through MTV, MTV2 and BET. With an unconcerned look on his face, he gives a strong black man’s grip. Silently wishing my features were less boyish and my body much thicker, I make safe conversation as we unpack and get settled. Rocio says, in a tone more proper than I remember, “So what do you guys want to do tonight?” before adding that she hardly goes out anymore. I look at her, but turn away when I see I’m only making her conscious of her post-college weight gain. Aware that Vegas is never as fun as expected, I reply, “Don’t matter. Let’s just go out.” The three of us pick up Rocio’s friend Moms before going to the Strip. A well-kept woman in her early fifties, Moms has

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the nightclub enthusiasm of someone half her age. With shiny brown skin that would make Jermaine Jackson look ashy and hair that’s been pressed, tamed and trained, Moms looks surprisingly young. Caught off guard by her youthful aura, Terrell and I exchange glances that say, “Yeah, I’d hit it.” We go to a nightclub for those on a budget and try to make the best of our near-empty surroundings with drinks. As the four of us dance, I keep a respectful distance from Rocio. Terrell, noting the unstated obvious, says, “Man, she’s after you tonight!” He and I decide to take a little walk through the casino, leaving the girls behind. Our playful banter continues. “What you think about Moms?” I ask. “Shit, I might get on that old ass,” he jokes with a gaptoothed smile. After some aimless pacing, we head to the elevator that will take us back up to the nightclub. Three white women with big hair, dressed like transplanted Southerners, join us for the ride up. Jungle fever, most common among white women vacationing in Kenya or living near the athletes’ dorm in college, inflicts one of the women. She says to Terrell, “Oh my God, you’re gorgeous.” He replies, “If I’m gorgeous, why don’t you kiss me?” Considering Terrell is almost always reserved with women and driven more by reason than by lust, I’m surprised by his bold, albeit Billy Dee Williams-like response. After the brief make-out session, we laugh our way off the elevator and join Rocio and Moms. After a bit of dancing and watching Moms perform her Dorothy Dandridge moves, we start the drive back to the house. Rocio is too buzzed to drive so Terrell takes the wheel. In the

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back seat Rocio rests her head on my lap, near the danger zone. I scoot away and give her my scrawny thigh. Terrell can barely hold in his laughter as he glances at us in the rearview mirror. We drop off Moms; Terrell makes a last-ditch attempt to walk her to the door. No luck. Back at our temporary home, Terrell takes the couch. I walk to the back room with Rocio to grab a change of clothes. With a mischievous grin Rocio whispers, “Let’s go back to the car.” Faltering under pressure I stutter, “What about your boyfriend?” She says drunkenly, “Just come on! Let’s go to the car!” Standing only inches away, she starts to twist and fiddle near my crotch. She then disappears below my waist. With disbelief and lust I say, “Your boyfriend is right upstairs!” She doesn’t stop until I somehow gather enough strength to walk away. In the living room Terrell is pretending to sleep. I lie on the loveseat as he laughs into his pillow. Rocio, irate and walking hard across the newly carpeted floor, throws a blanket at me before storming off upstairs. Terrell, with his patented sarcasm, says, “Damn, y’all alright?” I answer, “Man, I told her I didn’t want to do anything.”


THE NEXT MORNING I apologize to Rocio for the previous night’s odd situation. Feeling as if I’m actually apologizing for not giving her the long stroke, I keep the conversation short. Terrell and I hit the highway and with the yesterday’s adventure to talk about, the hours quickly pass and we’re

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soon in San Diego. With work in the morning and the worry of relationship problems on the horizon, I decide to distract myself on the internet while Terrell watches television. As I struggle with the unreliable dial-up connection, Terrell comes into my room and sits down, but he says little. I think about asking him if he wants to get food, but figure that since he speaks up about everything, he’ll say something if he’s hungry. I pay him little attention as I concentrate on logging onto instant messenger. Out of nowhere he asks, “What do you think about bisexual people?” Awaiting his punch line I reply, “I don’t know. I guess they’re greedy.” In a disappointed tone he answers, “I’m bisexual.” “Shut up, man. What?” Tears pour down his face, tracing the outline of his wide African nose. He lowers his head between his knees and I see the sweat glowing beneath his Caesar haircut. He repeats, “I’m bisexual.” Whether it’s shock or the false notion of betrayal, I get a sinking feeling of loss. I’ve always considered myself liberal and supportive of gay rights, but discover that the situation is different when someone so close to me comes out his impeccably neat designer closet. Besides a couple distant relatives who are gay and a few associates who are rumored to be bisexual, my only encounters with homosexuality have been through discussions of tossed salads on prison television shows and Ned Beatty’s getting turned out on the banks of the Cahulawassee River. So of course I have stereotypes of gay males as prison bitches or sexcrazed aggressors around whom I need to lock my ass cheeks

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and post an “Exit only” sign near the crack. But this is Terrell! My best friend who has just tongued down some woman in a Vegas elevator. I need to disregard my stereotypes—right now—and be there for him, as he has been there for me countless times before. From taking out a student loan and giving me half to pay for my fraternity initiation, to distracting Rocio when I wanted to stray in peace, to delivering a punch toward a would-be attacker that missed and accidentally hit the foe’s girlfriend, Terrell is one of the few people I can count on. I ask him, “Are you sure? Were you always bisexual?” He doesn’t answer this immediately, but instead gets to the point that’s at the front, side, corner and back of my mind. “I never thought of you in that way. I wasn’t sure if I was, but I know I am,” he says. Relieved, I become more accepting and my ass cheeks relax. I start to think of signs from our seven-year-long friendship. Should I have seen this coming? After all, he’s really into fashion. So much so that he doesn’t have mere clothes; his wardrobe is more like wearable art. Well yeah, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look GQ. What about the two guys he smacked? Literally bitch slapped right in the face. He could have punched them, but he chose to take their manhood with his open hand. Damn, I shouldn’t be that surprised. And maybe I shouldn’t be that concerned. I gather my composure and tell him, “It doesn’t matter, man; it’s just sex.” His mood immediately brightens, but I still wonder if this is going to change who I’ve known him to be. Will I end up seeing him on television at a gay pride march wearing a rainbow-print doo-rag? Will his hip-hop dancing and grinding on women become vogueing

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contests with emaciated, spike-haired white guys wearing lip rings and mesh shirts? Probably not, if he’s been bisexual the entire time I’ve known him. Wait … maybe I shouldn’t even use the terms bisexual or gay. They’re both tainted with negative connotations. If you don’t believe me, go up to a random person and ask, “Hey, I was just wondering, are you gay?” So from now on I’ll say Terrell is a sexual maverick, a term that gives him an edge that might protect him from the rampant homophobia that we all know exists. Fuck it; whatever he chooses to call himself is fine by me. What right do I have to judge?


TERRELL RETURNS TO OHIO and I go back to my habit of waiting on Haniyah. But this time the normalcy feels good. I think of how all this player bullshit is not worth the stress. A true player needs to be quick on his feet with lines and lies. While I’m no Simple Jack, I find the truth much easier to remember. So I just need to be there for Haniyah and calm my horny ass down. Just as I return to sanity Karina comes into my office wearing blemished makeup and those medical scrubs that she somehow makes revealing. Sounding like a celebrity asking admirers to save the planet, or at least a puppy, she says, “The doctor said that I’m pregnant.” I decipher her words with the skill of a veteran attorney helping a superstar teen-fiend get off underage sex charges. “So are you pregnant for sure, or is the doctor saying you’re pregnant?” With a look that says “You sure are dumb for a college graduate,” she quietly yells, “Ay, I’m pregnant!”

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somehow he is doubtful of Karina’s intentions. as the male in this situation. fuck you then. what do you want to do?” “I don’t know. so I’m sure he can provide some much-needed advice. my position is neither pro-choice nor pro-life.” 55 . He became a father at age twenty. I’ll help you out.” Obviously. “We’re pregnant. Well. Flustered by this potentially life-changing news. she doesn’t even bother to make eye contact. but instead a neutral I-don’t-havea-choice. a woman I hardly know apparently bearing my child and a ruined relationship with the woman I love.” But now I’m facing child-support payments. “What the fuck is this.” Before. He yells out. You feel alright now?” She rolls her eyes. since she’s pregnant. I try to start a conversation while pretending to look for something in the fridge. some sort of immaculate conception?” I remain outwardly calm and say. I follow her with my eyes. so I simply say. Then. For a quick second I think. “At least now. I want to have the baby. to help me see the positive side of a dire situation. “Okay. I have always criticized guys who say. “It was worth it. I am in fact pregnant. When I see Karina in the break room. “She’s a Goddamn lie” Although my dad hasn’t performed either a pregnancy or a DNA test on us all the way from Cleveland. he adds. Glancing toward the door I whisper. I call my dad.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T I think. Sympathy for her situation stops me from giving her a rare “Well. “Okay.” As she leaves the room with a bag of Mexican candy coated in chili powder. you can hit it raw.” I digest the realization that my dad is up on the latest hip-hop slang and go back to work ready to deal with my new reality. “Maybe that’s why you were feeling funny a while back.

I’ll stay in his life and care for him as my father cared for me. If she does not have the child. but I fear our bond will reflect the lack of a relationship I have with his mother. For now. stalker style. but I’m unsure if I’ll feel that life-changing attachment that has sobered alcoholics and tamed players. but does not know when.D E W A N G I B S O N AUNTY’S ARMS HANIYAH IS RETURNING TONIGHT. The conversation is one of awkward giggles and forced attempts to cheer her up. Stressed and rushed. I decide to wait at least until she settles in before following up on my ultimatum. my relationship with Haniyah is over. The next day I send her a text message asking if she plans on telling her aunt. I MapQuest the directions. She plans to stay a couple days with her aunt before moving back into her apartment. I only want answers from Haniyah. sadly. I map out scenarios. If she has the child. he means nothing. Marrying an American man with a love child is out the question. as she usually does whenever she returns from the Middle East and has to face her love problem again. But I can’t think that far ahead. She says she will. Haniyah calls from her aunt’s place sounding despondent. Armed with the memory of her address from Haniyah’s official documents. I send Haniyah another text 56 . I can make a clean break from her and move on as if nothing happened. I think of the unborn child and try to feel something for him. I can’t stand the long wait to find out if I’m the father of Karina’s baby. Having an American boyfriend is already a drastic idea. I decide to show up at her aunt’s house.

57 . I look in the rearview mirror and see a car full of teen boys daring me to hold my stare. tuck it in. I introduce myself to her aunt. I swerve out of my lane. I pull over at the Kmart to change my worn t-shirt. We stare at each other in silence. Looking defeated. my hands shook and left me unable to dribble and my mind blanked. pull it back out. Children in need of an ass-beating walk in the street. “On my way c u soon. Exiting the highway. The neighborhood is grittier than I imagined. The homes are small and old. Although I know it must be on the right.” As I drive in my dented sedan. She looks as stunned that I followed through with my text message as she did when she found out my neighbor was Saudi Arabian and might know her family or friends. Would you like something to drink?” she asks. causing me dribble off my foot or even shoot the ball at the wrong basket. I cut in front a car to make a left at the light. They win. so nervous that my throat was locked with dryness. I glance to both sides. “Please have a seat. I knock on Aunty’s door and Haniyah answers. who she is much nicer than I anticipated.” I put on a wrinkled button-up taken from the back seat. Glancing down at the directions on the passenger seat. I walk in full of arrogance and selfishness. I cruise slowly down the street looking for the house.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T that reads. unconcerned about passing cars. she pulls the door open wide. I feel as I did during my high-school basketball games. tuck it back in and finally decide to leave it out. which reads “My girlfriend went to London and all I got was a tshirt. with shiny. A vacant RV that looks like a molester’s paradise is used as a makeshift playground. beat-up cars on 20s parked on their front lawns.

I sit. but her eyes are glued toward the table. or at least dingy colored. “Thanks again. Aunty wrinkles her face and begins crying. I continue. Dim yellow light reveals dark stained cabinetry. which probably killed years ago. My hands are folded. “Oh. but I’m okay. “We have water. business like. Aunty sits at the head of the table. The counters are full of jars of seasoning and kitchen accessories that seem to be more for design than for use. on top of the table while Haniyah slouches forward. Her hair is pulled back. Astonished. I’m fine. as if she needs me to repeat what I said but can’t bear to hear it again. Countless silent seconds pass. we’ve been dating for a while now. wearing high-waisted faded jeans that do a disservice to her curves.” Unable to carry on with the small talk.” I look to Haniyah for backup. or would you like tea?” I give an uneasy smile. thank you. Her aunt turns to me and with the negativity of someone who sees 58 . I look around the kitchen.” She offers again. her chin almost resting on the antique-style wood. I reply. as if nothing has been cooked or cleaned there. She’s tall and wide.D E W A N G I B S O N After a moment’s hesitation to observe her full lips and stout frame. like a father bragging about his daughter who has made the honor roll. Aunty asks how we know each other and I uncharacteristically get straight to the point. “No. but not pressed or tamed. but instead joins her in tears. “We thought we should let you know. since it’s been a secret. Then she yells. The floor is dingy.” Aunty stares at me in silence. and the kitchen lacks any smell. I blurt. Only her adult braces give the impression that she’s still concerned about her looks. Haniyah and I face each other. “How can you do this to your family?” Haniyah doesn’t answer.

But … we’ve been together for a while now and think we’ll be together when she finishes graduate school.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T a cul-de-sac as a dead end says. I pompously reply. “I’ve studied the religion. 59 .” Then.” But my attempt to make my meager-paying jobs sound important does little to change her mind. “But he is my second husband! And you think I’m supposed to fine with this?” The words roll off her tongue like our relationship is meaningless. I’m open to learning. comes in to the kitchen and tries to relax the atmosphere with humor.” With a dismissive air she replies. “I teach at San Diego State part-time and I work fulltime in health care management. realizing the seriousness of the situation. Girlfriends lead to marriage. Not much to look forward to in being married. Haniyah’s uncle. “So what do you think you’re going to do from here? You just think I’m not going to say anything?” “Well. He jokes. Looking to Haniyah for support. an outdoorsy-looking white man with a long ponytail. “And what are you thinking? Are you Muslim? What are you going to do about that?” I glance at the bottles of liquor on the counter and say. I again get nothing. we thought you’d understand because of your marriage. he defers to his wife. She turns to Haniyah. “I wouldn’t be in a rush to be together. “What type of job do you have? Have you finished school?” Seizing this question with a glimmer of hope. not even worthy of discussion.” She snaps. “Do you know what this is going to do to your mom? How can you do this to her? You know she’s been sick” She turns back to me and asks.

It was nice to meet you. I don’t.D E W A N G I B S O N She says to Haniyah. I stand up to leave and Haniyah hesitates before getting nonverbal permission that it’s fine to walk me out. towering over Haniyah. I won’t tell your mom. “I’ll give you a week to think about it and if you decide to be with him. I’ll tell your mom everything. 60 . She swallows her in her long arms and they hold each other. Her aunt also stands. “Okay. thanks. sobbing. I’ll replay this moment over and over again.” I search for the courage to scold their family for their air of superiority. In the days to come. I want to throw out everything Mom taught me about respecting elders and challenge this walking contradiction. wishing I had a clever or biting reply. If you do not see him anymore.” I glance at the uncle and he gives an understanding nod.

but other girls are far from my mind. their loss then. it’s gonna be hard. who will then tell my girlfriend?” Unfortunately. his girlfriend recently left him for a taller. While we spent most of the time hanging at my humid apartment. I then go see my friend Najeeb. we didn’t know each other well enough to actually enjoy the night out. Najeeb perfectly understands the notion of outsider commonly held among Arabs. “Shit. “If I take a cleavage shot off the big titty girl.” I try to believe him. Forget them. I’m saying. is he gonna tell his girlfriend. With an Arab father and an Asian mother and having lived in the Middle East as a child. shocked at my boldness. we did occasionally go to nightclubs. We’d have a couple drinks and laugh as we both wondered. athletic man who offered the excitement of newness that those 61 . who is the ex-boyfriend of Haniyah’s roommate. but you know you can get a lot of girls. Actually I see other girls as the jinx that caused my loss. he tries to focus on the positive. I call Terrell with the update and.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T DRIVING UNDER HER INFLUENCE I SPEND THE NEXT COUPLE OF HOURS driving around to avoid the depression that waits in my lonely apartment. “What! So you just showed up at their place!” Regaining his composure. He and I formed a close friendship while our girlfriends were overseas for summer vacation. he says. However.

His toenails are dangerously long.D E W A N G I B S O N of us in long-term relationships lack. “Yep. without his having to say a word. “Where you been?” I ask.” “Ah man. His skeeball haircut has been overtaken by a large fro reminiscent of Jay Leno in the 1980s. she just had me there looking dumb. see this end and a make a new start. that’s it. she just sat there and didn’t say anything?” I answer. who was raised with an almost tribal principle of loyalty. dressed in pajama pants and an old t-shirt. Sockless. his dome filling the gap. I was still visiting Haniyah at her place and was cordial with her roommate’s new boyfriend.” Hearing it from another intensifies my anger. To Najeeb. “That’s some ignorant shit. my cordiality was seen as deceit. I avoid the awkward phone call. Since I haven’t talked with Najeeb in a couple of months. I want to make sure he’s okay before I launch into my depressing monologue.” he answers. “Called you a couple times. just chilling. still surprised by my visit. I need to talk. During the frenzy of the break-up. 62 . instead giving him the same shock of a surprise visitor that I had just given Haniyah’s family. I became stuck in the middle.” He invites me in and I make my way through the clutter to the couch. I want to follow his advice. he looks like a recluse. I tell him my story. “So.” He sums up what I wanted to say to Aunty. “Well. Our surroundings tell me. but I feel uneasy about probing. giving the impression that he could shank you with his pinky toe. The door opens a foot. I knock twice on the door and feel him gaze through the peekhole. that he understands my anguish.

but hang up when the little boy who answers doesn’t speak English. But I can’t stay away from Haniyah and we slowly go back into our own world.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T LUNA’S EYE I AVOID HANIYAH for a few weeks after the debacle with her aunt. hairpins and those other items that tend to transfer homes during the course of a relationship. Thanks to lax fuel economy standards and a shrewd cartel. Not yet having the confidence to go in to a club by myself. out of sight and hopefully out of mind. She replies. I even pack her clothes. We make plans for a move to New York the next year. I ask her if she has told her aunt that we’re still together. providing Haniyah with 63 . I stay up late drinking beer and sending rambling emails to long-lost acquaintances. I loiter in the bookstore reading every remotely interesting magazine on the stand. We resume our normal nights together with little mention of her aunt’s threats. No luck. “We didn’t bring it up again. I lie to myself and pretend to enjoy my newfound freedom. wishing that one of the quirky-looking women around me would strike up a conversation. Like an insecure teenager wanting approval from the in-crowd. I even call Karina a couple times. It starts with a simple call during which we both pretend everything is fine. I put on my club clothes and go downtown alone. I tape the box shut and place it under my moldy kitchen sink.” I give her the benefit of the doubt. thinking her mind is made up and Aunty’s words are meaningless. I look for familiar faces in the long lines. her government is throat deep in money.

who is making a weeklong visit from Oman. It’s Friday evening so I put on my nightclub uniform: a linen blazer. Not wanting to be the overbearing man who taints girls’ night out with testosterone. I decline. She’ll be able to fly from New York to San Diego twice a month while I stay here. preferably one that doesn’t lead to pregnancy. “Have you traveled before? Have you moved out to California alone?” As she learns more of my good side. — I’M INTRODUCED TO LUNA at Haniyah’s apartment. I sense acceptance and a liking. But they insist we go clubbing together. Then I’ll move to New York and sometime within the next couple of years. Her long lashes and heavy mascara emphasize her eyes. and a button-down shirt that’s tucked in for the special night. bounces softly at her shoulders and helmets her chocolate face. I give Haniyah and Luna uncertain hugs. She seems intrigued by the man in love with her cousin. “Why’d you tuck in your shirt? You don’t usually do that. a three-roomed ritzy spot with outrageous drink prices. it’s possible or even likely that we’ll be engaged. Haniyah suggests that I meet her cousin Luna. Her hair.” 64 . working and looking for a job in New York. We meet at Deco’s.D E W A N G I B S O N full tuition and a large stipend for graduate school. a friend to hot combs and an enemy to water. Her questions come rapidly in a pretend form of Queen’s English. Haniyah says. She asks that I come along as they shop and sightsee. We even sign up for round two with her family. tan loafers.

flirting with a few just long enough to maintain her ego. Some make the traditional mistake of dancing behind her unannounced. in the morning light. She turns to me and further tempts me as her eyes wonder about my hesitance. she’s not bad looking after all. With Haniyah out of sight. I don’t falter. Perplexed by her forwardness. comfortably unoccupied. I replay one of the short clips. Shit. The internet girls look different. Her hips sway. while others approach her face to face with prepared lines. Somehow they move in sync with the hip-hop music. I guess they have been through some shit if they’re in dirty movies. I look toward the bar. I lead us to the hip-hop room for a G-rated threesome dance. Haniyah tires and tells us she’s going to the ladies’ room. Haniyah accepts. My laptop sits on my bedside drawer. Haniyah nurses a martini while Luna eyes the surroundings. But she breaks what I thought was an international rule for women and stays on the dance floor.com. Lurking men sense Luna’s single status and try join our circle. Then I replay it again. Expecting Luna to go along. She moves closer and gives me her back. I ignore the question and offer drinks. I wake up with a throbbing headache. I keep a safe distance. Soon the night is over. Not that I haven’t before. but I don’t this time. we dance. I quell my sexual frustration with three beers and free thirty-second clips from onionbooty. dick in the booty style.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T Shit. I replay the clip. still logged on. She rejects most suitors. rougher. I finally get out of bed and make my usual Saturday trip 65 . but Luna declines out of religious observance. revealing curves that I didn’t think existed on her lanky body. Home alone. A ridiculously thick girl is riding an ass-naked buff guy wearing Timberlands.

expecting to say hello. I spot Haniyah. I’m excited about the opportunity to show Aunty I’m still around and doing well. I know the whole thing was just weird. “We were just really surprised to see you. realizing how strange it is to dodge my girlfriend of over three years. Then I tell them what they want to hear. Unaccustomed to and somewhat embarrassed by visitors to my tiny unorthodox apartment. I duck into the nearest store to avoid the discomfort. “Don’t worry about it. but soon come to my senses. Haniyah says. solitude ruined by the shock of being ignored and disregarded. Not hiding her guilt. Haniyah for obvious reasons and Luna for her playful teasing and supposed acceptance. As I invite them in. I go home. Walking toward the food court. Hours later there’s a knock on the sliding glass door of my apartment.D E W A N G I B S O N to the pretty people’s mall for alone time and people watching. they begin apologizing for the incident—or lack of incident—at the mall. She immediately looks at the ground and Luna does the same. I didn’t know what to do either. The aunt is completely oblivious and not a word is said. I browse through the few affordable stores and window shop the designer boutiques. but they have yet to notice me. but unsure about the damage this could do to our resumed secret life. I peek through the blinds and see Haniyah and Luna.” 66 . Angered by this blatant disrespect. “I just didn’t know what to do in front of Aunty.” I look at them both with equal disdain.” Luna supports her. I turn around and watch the three continue on their way. As they pass me they nearly brush my shoulder. They’re coming toward me. Luna and Aunty. We’re just feet apart when I catch Haniyah’s eye and move closer.

she’ll say only that everything is fine. At times she tells me how she’s looking forward to having a biracial baby with curly hair and caramel skin. Some co-workers believe I’m a deadbeat dad-to-be who has shirked responsibility for my unborn child. I offer to help her out with whatever she needs. I also have doubts. and then a month down the road she’s sup- 67 . Usually I’m sleeping over at Haniyah’s or have my cell turned off to reject her infrequent calls. During the rare times we do catch each other. I still need to deal with the growing situation at work. At one point she claims to be four months pregnant. while others think I’m a naïve pussy-whippee being led on by a shady woman. She’ll knock on the glass door and I’ll invite her into the living room. instead balling up in the blankets and pretending as if she doesn’t hear my questions. Karina and I have become increasingly distant and spend only an occasional morning together.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T LOVER’S L A M A Z E NO MATTER WHAT the circumstances with Haniyah. it’s with only a half hour to spare before work. As we sit on the couch. she’ll adjust my thin body as she sees fit. Luna and their family. When I ask about her health. she refuses. Then she’ll rest on my chest and sob. With her belly grow the rumors in the office. At other times she won’t even speak. It’s during these brief visits that I realize her confusion.

so to avoid her wrath I become Rainman with elementary arithmetic. She stands and lets out a wall-penetrating laugh “Damn! You get hard eaaaaaasy. yeah. She straddles my lap and begins riding me fully clothed.D E W A N G I B S O N posedly three months pregnant. she doesn’t say much about her. I minimize internet windows and enlarge phony work documents—this is my top skill at work. I arrive at the office early and try to get work-related tasks done before being distracted by the drug-like pull of the internet. “What’s up?” and she closes the door with an exaggerated sneakiness. her four-. I worriedly say. She could track Haniyah down and tell her everything. only occasionally asking how my “friend” is doing. nearly poking out of my wool pants. I turn around and see Karina smiling as if she’s found out some little-known embarrassing fact about me. “We’re doing fine. I grip her waist and thrust upward. When we discuss her due date I quickly do the math in my head. Surprisingly. or six-month-pregnant body moving with surprising agility. I stand up too. I respond like she’s entered a prohibited area. She places her hand over her mouth in a vain attempt to regain her composure.” — IT’S FRIDAY MORNING. I log on to check the stock prices of the few shares I own when I feel someone at my back. thinking back to that unwrapped morning after that damn Jamie Foxx movie.” Hell. Instinctively. as I always do when I sense someone is near. Through hushed laughs and deep 68 . Karina becomes disgusted at my side eye movements and whispered counting. But it could be worse. five-.

goateed white man in his mid-twenties. With a fake laugh I reply. or maybe I’ve just struck a nerve. but that’s not your baby. Evan gives the impression that he’s all business. I’m looking forward to learning about the breathing exercises.” I laugh. hoping the open-ended question promotes conversation. But he’s also dating a co-worker who is a friend of Karina’s. “You’re going to Lamaze with Karina?” “What. But as my horniness subsides. Ahhh … you know.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T breaths she says. We’ve spoken only in passing before.” He doesn’t laugh back. How you doing?” I bring up the very thing I’m trying to get my mind off of. “Chillin’ man. Going to Lamaze class today. The silence intensifies. A tall. man? Yeah. work. “Nothing too much. “What else you been up to?” I say. the urgent reality that I might be a father revisits. telling her that since I’m an expert yoga practitioner. I figure maybe he’s also expecting a baby with his girlfriend. “What’s been going on?” I ask. with a barbershop baritone. She was supposed to tell you a while ago. you didn’t hear this from me. “Can you come to Lamaze class with me after work?” I agree. She lives with some dude down in TJ. Needing someone to talk with to help take my mind elsewhere. or maybe he’s just lost a child. who happens to be walking past.” 69 . I strike up a conversation with the office maintenance man. save for a couple of group lunches. “Lamaze class not your thing or somethin’?” He closes the door. “Look. He’s the kind of guy who skips the company picnic to watch MacGyver and repave the driveway.

I look dumb. I just thought I should say something. She makes a lot of shit up. I kind of figured that. “I don’t think he knows about you either. I think of confronting her. but realize that with my moral authority. like an older brother schooling his younger sibling.D E W A N G I B S O N Not knowing Evan well enough to show any emotion. I pretend to be uncaring and say. Who’s the guy?” “The guy who comes and gets her for lunch. I remain unscathed despite my illicit behavior. it would be like Reverend Ted Haggard preaching against the sin of smoking crystal meth and soliciting gay escorts.” Karina leaves work without mentioning the Lamaze class. huh? I appreciate you doing that.” “Thanks. “Yeah. but don’t say you heard it from me. 70 .” “She’s messed up. yet Karina and some gullible guy in Tijuana are stuck with a lifelong responsibility. man.” he says.

If you really believe that.” I say with the calm of a detective with DNA evidence. So just don’t be a father. don’t play dumb. “What the fuck you talking about?” “Come on. I didn’t feel good. If I don’t speak up now. “If you wanna believe that. some rock-head child might show up at my door years from now demanding back child-support to buy limited-edition Air Jordans. “I know I said I would come over.” “No. “Okay.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T CSI: SAN DIEGO SINCE HEARING THE NEWS about Karina a few weeks ago. What- 71 . But now her navel is the size of a Snausage treat and her belly looks like it’s holding Baby Shaq. I was just wondering … I don’t know why you couldn’t just say it from the beginning … You stay with some guy in TJ. She responds with an attempt at the jugular. I don’t ask you for nothing. hoping I’ll apologize and the trick will continue.” I remain as steadfast and hardheaded as Dubya. “Can I talk with you about something?” She answers. You live with some guy and he’s the father. Her morning visits are now nonexistent and maternity leave is likely approaching. I need to tell her that I know. you don’t have to be in my baby’s life. don’t you?” Her curse words emphasize her fake anger. I’ve kept my distance. then don’t see him. Don’t worry about it. I say. So I catch Karina after lunch break and with the bluntness and lack of courtesy I wish I had with Haniyah’s aunt. it’s not that.

I’m 72 . I care for you and I knew you’re a good guy. dogging the mother of my child based on something I heard from some guy I do not even know well. she’s the women I admire most. Just as Judge Judy is about to set a shady limousine driver straight for not showing to pick up a couple for the prom.D E W A N G I B S O N ever. I’m still thinking that perhaps Evan the Maintenance Man gave me bad information. When you were a child did she also have you steal cigarettes from 7-Eleven as she distracted the cashier?” She goes on.” I think. I guess the Virgin Mary also did some nice things. but she can’t shut a muthafucka up like Judy can. Here I am.” I sit there hoping I’m not as gravely misinformed as Colin Powell was in front of the United Nations.” She leaves my office with a quick “Fuck you. Karina says. I didn’t know how to tell you. “Goddamn. As I get home from work. Next to my mother. Maybe this is just another one of the theories being spread around the office. Well. I can tell right away that something is wrong. “I was pregnant when we first did it. so I didn’t want to say it. but I cannot stay angry at a pregnant woman. Karina arrives at my apartment unannounced. “My mom said I should tell you. She looks like a child explaining to her mom that she wet her pants while having a dream about pissing. your mom was up to this. because she’s always right and seems to be of high moral character. too.” Call me Captain Save-a-Hoe or Young Paul McCartney all you want. I’m not going to be a father ’cause that’s not my kid. What kind of guy goes and picks a fight with a woman—a pregnant woman? I turn on Judge Judy to take my mind off things.

Just weeks ago she drove a beat-up pickup with a bumper sticker that read “I’m not speeding. I’m qualifying. I help her as she struggles to get off the sofa. feeling an odd sexual tension. although I figure I won’t see her again.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T relieved to hear the news directly from her. I figured I wasn’t the father anyway.” I say. I’m not mad.” “Take care of yourself. 73 . I walk her to her car. but I don’t act.” We sit on my new chocolate leather couch for nearly an hour longer. Let me know how everything goes with your baby. “I guess you were confused. I hope stuff turns out well for you. a new four-door sedan with tinted windows and fancy rims. Listen.

preparing to throw a verbal dart. Shit. Not even a week later I get an email from Human Resources asking if I’m free for a meeting that afternoon. It’s extremely well kept. I didn’t really mean to open them. “I just need to discuss a few issues with you. like the one with the PowerPoint attachment entitled “Ass Galore”? Well. and right now she’s Nordic white. Alright. as if I don’t have a care in the world. and stare at her short hairdo. I’ve seen her enough times to know that she turns red when she smiles for real.D E W A N G I B S O N 40K PLAY BUT SHE DOESN’T STOP THERE. Maybe I did look at a few emails I shouldn’t have while at work. I try to walk in calmly. But what working man doesn’t have at least a few titties and a couple of asses on his hard drive? It’s not like I’m running wild and banging my co-workers. I blank out. I’ll stop lying. What have I done? I know I slack off every now and then. I’m not anymore. but nervousness causes me to scratch the top of my head. Well. as I often do at work. without the use of product. I was saving the tech department time and trouble. but everyone does. This could be trouble.” Goddamnit. I take a seat and the woman in charge greets me with a smile. Shit. I go upstairs to meet the HR director. Can I ask what this concerns?” The HR director replies. “Sure. She leans forward in her executive chair. She has 74 . But what about those silly forwarded emails I’ve opened. I write back. I just had to investigate to make sure they weren’t viruses that could destroy the company’s entire network.

but Karina deserves at least a chop to the throat. If she were black. that’s good you’re able to provide them with direction. “I’m doing fine. I hit that a few times. I reply. she could be on a level reached only by Julius Erving and Angela Davis.” Instead. Recently I’ve been trying to develop a more focused outreach strategy for staff. “Oh. I need to snap out of it and say something semi-intelligent. I try to keep my response short.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T great Afro potential. the medical assistant at the East County clinic. Not that it’s right to hit a woman. yeah.” “Well she has said that … apparently. …Well. I was just wondering if everything is okay with you. “Yeah. Are you familiar with her?” I think.” That bitch. Things are going fine. I know Karina. so we’re targeting areas that are most likely to come to us for services. I say.” “Well. “Hell. are you aware that she’s expecting a baby really soon?” “Yeah.” “Well. She’s talked to quite a few of her co-workers and the word has gotten around.” “But as far as the situation with Karina …” “I’ll be honest.” 75 . you are the father of her child and are refusing to acknowledge this. yeah. I’m familiar with Karina. sweet and not to the point. trying not to smile. Shit. the reason I wanted to meet is to discuss Karina. “So. how are things? Are things with your staff going alright?” she asks. Karina and I had a relationship. We just kind of knew each other from the office and it went from there. Dewan. well she was definitely pregnant the last time I saw her … the last time I saw her in the office.

it’s not against our policy for employees to date. I don’t want to talk bad about her. but she lives with some other guy in Tijuana. I’ve heard about this sort of thing happening before. You have to realize that as a successful young man you’ll attract a lot of attention. I don’t know what I was thinking. but when the relationship starts to affect the workplace.” Feeling overly sorry for myself I say. it becomes a problem—for everyone involved. “Yeah. “So is she just making all this up?” “Yeah. I continue. I mean. I know. “I’m just trying to move on now. I’m not mad at Karina about anything. She even told me herself that I’m not the father. I’m well aware of that. “Yep. So what’s this matter about a baby?” “Well. I don’t know. then.D E W A N G I B S O N “Well.” “Well. why would she go around saying all this?” “I guess she just feels bad because we were kind of dating. you’ll need to pack your office and be escorted out the building. ” I think. I’m seeing someone and I want that to work out. She’s says a whole lot of things.” Obviously I was thinking about 76 . We don’t really talk anymore. sometimes from people who don’t have the best intentions.” Talk about sounding like a stereotypical Negro. Any second I expect to get that speech where they tell you that even though you do great work. Or maybe she really did think that before. so I can’t really say what she’s thinking. for the most part it’s only women who work here. look at this place. I’m not the father of her child. Look. She even said that he’s the father.” I’m not sure that HR is buying this. but I just wish she’d stop saying things that aren’t true.” “Okay.

but losing my job over Karina—hell to the no! 77 . I just wanted to see what exactly was going on. “Well. I’m sure to some extremely horny or tragically lonely people sex is worth forty thousand dollars a year. Never mind retaliating against Karina.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T that ass and those titties and the chance to lose my born-again virginity. I guess there’s not much I can do about that. But I don’t need to say all that. I’ll still need to let Brenda [the CEO] know. I just need to forget this mess before I end up broke again. We’ll need to keep a record of this in your file. well.” “Okay. okay.” Hallelujah—and I’m not even saved.

Combine this with my own deceit. Whatever. But she insists that it’s only coincidence. Believing that she is better. Terrell’s surprise news and Karina’s soap opera. her mother is in town. I concede. I seek out any hint of dishonesty. “No. more moral than me. am vulnerable. Dewan. Just tell me! You don’t have anything to hide. and smell blood.” I press on. I ask about the brown man barely visible in the background. right?” I bring her to tears with my interrogation. no. She claims not to know him. I don’t know him.D E W A N G I B S O N GRADUATION CHILDLESS AND EMOTIONALLY REFRESHED. I then see him in the background of another picture. and I’m left with a level of paranoia that only a cheater understands. taken in a different area of the park. For the first time in the three years we’ve dated. too. “So what you’re telling me is that out of thousands of people at Disneyland this guy happened to be in the background of your picture twice. we still see each other. albeit at odd times when her mom and aunt are shopping and sightseeing. 78 . “You must think I’m a fool to believe that some Arab guy just happened to be around you twice. Surprisingly. When Haniyah shows me pictures of a trip to Disneyland she took with another aunt and cousins. I prepare for Haniyah’s college graduation. But I’m beginning to worry about Haniyah’s dishonesty. The ease with which she lies to her mother makes me believe that I.” Looking frightened she replies. which is less than two weeks away.

whose future white-collar jobs should be NAFTA proof. without a hint of undergraduate debauchery. I approach Haniyah’s friends. I get a temporary rush as I cheer loudly to show people I’m not alone at the graduation. but I don’t get a clean look at the woman in charge. When Haniyah first transferred here from our proud public university. glancing at my cell phone and wishing I had someone to call or text. tells me Haniyah is “right over there. and the buildings are intelligently designed to take advantage of their hilltop location. I loathed its haughty surroundings. Haniyah spots me from afar and comes to give me a hug and kiss as we hide among the crowds. The grass is well manicured. secured entrances and privileged East Egg students with luxury cars and well-connected parents. One young woman. with congratulations. proud families greet their degreed kin.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T Graduation day is here and I attend the ceremony alone. Luckily. Haniyah is one of the first people called to the stage. I suppress the urge to go over and integrate their clan. whom I always hoped would give me the eye. I walk to the arena and quickly find my seat to avoid the congregation of happy families outside. whom I know only in passing. Tense and lonely. I spend the rest of the ceremony in and near the bathroom. But later I came to enjoy the attention I got as one of the few hyper-melanin visitors to the campus. Having learned the discomfort that comes with a surprise visit and introduction.” I find her in a circle with her family. The dry tone of Mass infects the ceremony and soon I’m drifting off to sleep. My hands instinctively brush the small of 79 . The private campus is luxurious and looks more like the site of a sprawling internet company that knows your every move. When the bore concludes.

” Our time is short. I know it’s weird like this. but I quickly raise them when I remember the Sharia police could be near. “Thanks for coming. She rejoins her family and I take longlegged strides back to my car. You knew I’d be here.” “You don’t have to say that.D E W A N G I B S O N her back. 80 .

“I’m going to miss you. “I can’t stay long. I smile and give a smart-ass reply. She says. I make plans to go out to a nightclub with friends. right?” In the mirror I see her nod in agreement. So you ready for that long flight?” I slip on my pointy loafers to walk her to her car.” “Okay. I’m sure it’ll pass right by. I’ll be seeing you soon. You told your mom you needed to take a summer course. I spray once below my throat and again near my navel. “Yeah. We were hoping to spend a little time together before she goes.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T AZTEC FRIDAY TOMORROW HANIYAH IS LEAVING. I put on a blazer over my fitted button-down and reach for the cologne in the bathroom cabinet. “Am I like your best 81 . its fine. “Anyway. You’re like my best friend.” The potential for emotion makes me distant. Then. but without the excuse of a study group or some other school-related function she can stop by only for half-hour in and outs. determined not to stay in the house and mope. I begin to plot a surprise visit to her aunt’s neighborhood.” “Nah. I know you have to leave soon. but decide the risk outweighs the benefits. going to the Middle East for summer vacation. I’ve come to hate the academic calendar our relationship follows. I want her to leave. I just told my mom I was getting something from my place. it starts in July.” she says. As I’m getting dressed Haniyah shows up.

not the difficult three months apart we usually face each summer. 82 . I feel her torso tremble. She waves as I scratch my thick curls. Frustrated with my inability to come up with comforting words. away from the noisy traffic but directly under the intense sun. man … what?” Sadness and now anger fill her voice. I rush out of the office. I won’t be happy. She coughs through her tears. I answer the phone. I remind myself that it will be only around six weeks this time.m. too. She even said that I spent the night over at your place. I don’t know what to do.” I remain silent. I get a call on my cell from an unknown number. Even if I could come back I’d lose my family.” We go back and forth. “Dewan?” “Yeah. She told everything when she got back home. thinking that the telemarketer could be a young female with a pleasant voice. Aunty told everything. and if I stay I lose you. Then. Ah. It’s Haniyah and she’s crying. Figuring it to be a telemarketer. what’s going on? You alright? “She won’t let me come back.” I try to see her through the tinted windows as she drives off. My mom said she can’t trust me. “I thought she said she wouldn’t say anything. I silence the ring.D E W A N G I B S O N friend or am I your best friend?” We reach the car and hug tightly. “It’s not just her. I walk to the side of the building. “I love you.” I interrupt to sort through the confusion.. Two days later. too.” “Love you. while at work counting the minutes until 5:00 p. Right when I got off the plane she asked about you. trying to understand their betrayal. “I’m just accepting that no matter what. It’s Luna.

“Come on. There will be no relationship. just as we have with our other family-related problems. she took my passport. “I think we’ll see each other again. I go into CEO mode and try to find a solution. You didn’t do anything wrong. We just can’t. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I put you through all this. I don’t hate you. I’m sorry.” “Don’t think of it like that. I’m sorry. There will be no summer class in San Diego or graduate school in New York. If we want to. she says. I love you and I want to. but what can we do? Dewan.” Weakened. She wanted to bring me back right when she heard.” “We can figure out something. Let’s take our time to figure something out. Is she even speaking to you now?” “Only to tell me that I need to break up with you. I know she will. I don’t know when. Just make the best of your time there. not at all.” “I have to go now. but we will. Then I’ll send her an electronic plane ticket 83 . She only didn’t because of graduation. You don’t need to think that. Let’s just think about what we can do. Maybe we can find some way.” There will be no further compromise. Love you too. But she will tell him this time. She keeps telling me that. don’t say that.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T Itching with adrenaline and sweat. I force a reply. There’s nothing I can do.” “What? What about your dad? Does he know?” “Not yet. Dewan. I love you. we can find a way.” If she only knew the guilt I feel. Just try to relax until we get it together. First I propose that she find the hidden the passport and take it back. I don’t accept this as the end. “We can’t. I know you hate me now.

I think she doesn’t want to. Determined to rid myself of her emotional control. I need to break free.” I no longer have the strength to convince her otherwise. Perhaps her family would accept us if they knew Haniyah would not waver. I knew I’d miss Haniyah. However both plans are pointless. But this time I blame myself. or at least I am now more than I was. I arrogantly put myself in her position and scowl at her lack of courage. I heed the common wisdom that the best way to move on is to move on. She says she can’t. Yet we’re still in touch every day through email. But she won’t do it for us. Haniyah tells me. if she leaves Bahrain without permission her government scholarship will be revoked. fear of disownment would keep her confined. 84 . but I didn’t believe I would get stuck. But as an unmarried woman. In break-ups past we always had an out. I figure I deserve this retribution after getting away with so many capital offenses. Even if her mom were to give back the passport and dare Haniyah to leave. I become less sympathetic. we could just go back into hiding. Next we discuss a fiancée visa. “I don’t know if I can have a relationship without my mom’s approval. It’s worth a try. Whatever her family believed. As the weeks pass. I’m worth the risk. Eventually she’d gain United States citizenship and financial aid for graduate schools.D E W A N G I B S O N to come back to San Diego. which would require us to marry within ninety days of her arrival. Maybe karma would have gone my way if I had not been selfish. I replay the past few months and think of how things could have turned out differently if I hadn’t invited Karina over. together. Every morning I analyze her message and hope to see something that’s not there. Haniyah won’t come back.

T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T NEGRO K R Y P TO N I T E MOVING ON IS MUCH EASIER said than done. I think back to some bullshit advice I once got that claims it takes a third of the time you spent in a relationship to get over it. I refuse to go through more than a year of this shit. I find a year-old Crossfire at a large suburban dealership. Calling around to a few car dealerships in search of my dream ride. like many young black men who focus on image instead of building wealth. No. a two-door. Armed with a blank check from a reckless financier. Within thirty minutes I’m there in my beaten-down Nissan sedan with the Tijuana paint job and the stereo that shuts itself off and on when the road gets too rough. futuristic poor man’s Porsche. constantly thinking of how I didn’t even have enough sense to take off that silly nightclub outfit and have a proper last moment with Haniyah. Then after receiving a promotion at the community health center. decide to purchase an expensive depreciating asset as soon as possible. I test drive the 85 . So for at least the next sixteen months I’ll be stuck with this guilt and regret. I relocate from the drab sliding-door-entrance apartment to a proper bachelor pad equipped with air conditioning and a balcony. I take the plunge. Trying at least to start the move-on process. I. After having my eye on a Chrysler Crossfire for almost a year.

giving me the chance to speed past tumbleweeds and pe- 86 . which offers a cash-back warranty to drivers who don’t see a marked increase in the number of available sex partners. The college degrees I earned in the easy majors and the moderately hard work I’ve done over the past few years have come to fruition in the form of a V6 engine and angular styling. Considering that in my family. I drive my new ride off the lot. The early morning desert highway is empty. the purchase of a new car has the importance of the birth of a first-born son. The driving portion of the trip lives up to my expectations. strolling through mini-malls and shopping plazas. or that it once flipped over as the dealer was exiting the highway. Damn!” After a month of enjoying my new ride. This car is change. I pull over and call my dad to tell him the good news. I recklessly coast down Interstate 15. it is a fitting car for a now single and somewhat successful young man. I pull off and onto the highway. While not a Ferrari. disregarding the danger inherent in speeding over one hundred miles per hour. Finally. After an hour of refusing special paint protection and unlimited warranties. “What! They let you drive it off the lot already! You gotz to be kidding me. His enthusiasm approaches that of an overpaid twelfth man whose team just made a comeback in game seven of the NBA finals. I hand the check over to the dealership and progress begins. leaving a slight nick on the roof. Never mind that it does not have back seats and is designed in a such way that the driver can’t see out the rear-view mirror. hoping someone sees me cruising in my self-importance. I take a quick getaway trip to Phoenix.D E W A N G I B S O N two-seater and feel my potential for new women grow exponentially.

She is not a typical sorority girl: a blonde who refers to oral sex as a “BJ” and sees a lesbian experience as a college rite of passage. so I move on. I met Andrea a few weeks earlier when she was in San Diego for her sorority’s conference. Since then we’ve had at least two long phone conversations per week. Typical of hotels in the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas. While trying to find my hotel. just down from San Diego. it includes golf. The female disciples flirtatiously admire my worldly asset as they wash and shine. But my questions and criticisms could keep me there for hours. so we’re able to discuss our ex-partners without the usual apprehension. can be a little too much sometimes. Five hours later I’m in Phoenix. until I see a Super Wal-Mart that could probably feed much of sub-Saharan Africa. in the hopes that she’s able to hang out. Andrea is actually a 87 .T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T culiar roadrunners. “Are you from Los Angeles or something?” “Nah. but out of curiosity of how she supposedly found God at such an early age. One girl says. But the room has a Jacuzzi bathtub and a bed much softer than my IKEA mattress. I stop at a fundraising car wash held by evangelical teens. The hotel is actually more of a resort. L. Compared to the hostels and living-rooms I’ve slept in. I pass through parched and impoverished towns surrounded by decaying nothingness and I wonder how people live in such conditions.A. Browsing the grounds. this is a five-star resort.” I want to continue the conversation. not out of law-breaking lust. She’s recently out of long-term relationship that left her with a young daughter. I call up a female friend who lives in the area. tennis and enough old white people to fill a Wayne Newton concert. I find a bike trail and other amenities I couldn’t care less about.

Andrea calls. it’s unbearable. I don’t force the issue. I’m only a few hours away. but even with the sidewalk mist fans. I packed The Blazer.” But she gives her word that she’ll try to trade shifts. but is getting off early. considering my spontaneity could be her inconvenience. I dig through my book bag for an outfit that’s hip and weather appropriate. an army of button-down shirts and an old dressy t-shirt I was planning to sleep in. I iron the shirt and discover that it looks less worn than I thought. so I throw it on with a pair of dark blue jeans. In the meantime. Foolishly expecting cool nights similar to those in San Diego. she’ll try to see me the following morning before I hit the highway back to San Diego. If she can’t. I drive around the city and go to the mall. we can catch up some other time. I tell her. I find nothing.D E W A N G I B S O N thick Latina who works full-time as a correctional officer to put herself through school and raise her young daughter. “Don’t worry about it. I try to brave the scorching heat to visit the outdoor shops. Not knowing my way around the area. with nothing planned. I go back to the resort and while I’m taking a short nap. I’m back at the mall with an hour to spare to find a nice restaurant that won’t break my brittle bank. Somehow the native Arizonians carry on as if their breath isn’t being sucked away by the triple-digit temperatures. 88 . where I sit around and have lunch while watching a diverse mixture of Mexican cowboys and hip yuppies browse the stores. but she’s scheduled to work most of the night and probably can’t find a babysitter on such short notice. She’s at work. I ask her to meet me at one of the restaurants I found at the mall. In desperation. She sounds startled that I actually drove down as I said I might. I ask her to dinner.

she goes on about her daughter and her job.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T Thankfully.” After nearly two hours at the restaurant we reach that awk- 89 . We walk to our table and I nudge her chair a bit even though it’s already pulled out. “So do you always just travel around alone and just show up places?” Sounding much more interesting than I really am. it depends. Her child-bearing hips easily allow one to guess at what’s behind. a busy workday and raising a child. “Are you only staying here for the night?” Instantly reevaluating my travel plans I say. thanks. I try to deflect questions back to her whenever the conversation turns to me. she’s of average height with a round playful face.” She then asks. “Well. The resort is nice and it seems cool here. there’s no she-beast surprise. We order drinks before selecting a fancy Mexican dish. You’re so nice. I wouldn’t mind staying an extra night. Seemingly impressed with my listening skills. you know. we talk just like we have on the telephone. I put on my interested look. nod my head and say “Whaaaatttt” every thirty to forty-five seconds. I answer. sometimes you just feel like getting up and seeing something different. If you wait for friends you’ll be waiting forever.” as an older sister would to her little brother. Just as I remember. when Andrea arrives. Enjoying the ease of drinking beer and listening. But she continues to probe. She says. it seems she never has a chance to vent. I try to appear as confident as I did the night we met and greet her with a strong hug. During dinner. A tribal tattoo stretches from the small of her back to her waist. With the stress of school. “Yeah. “Ah.

“Yeah. in fact. we are quiet on the ride to the resort. this is really … it’s a really cute car. I make the offer. after seven years of studying communication. I like it. Andrea leaves her car at the mall and rides with me to the resort.” She just nods her head in agreement.” Obviously. she says.” My place? I don’t own a thing here and got the room on a priceline. but tonight it is. my place. It’s not the best stuff. You want to try to find it?” “No. “Let’s just drink that instead of trying to kick it with the old people.” Laughing. she says.” The room has few seating options so we both end up sitting on the king-size bed. I tell Andrea. I break the cork in half while trying to open 90 . “There might be a bar near here. it was on sale at the grocery store.” I want to tell her that “cute” does not accurately describe a car with a powerful V6 engine and an automatic retracting spoiler. but it looks nice. but I’m sure its okay.com discount. decides to extend or end the date.D E W A N G I B S O N ward moment when someone. but I’m not sure. my persuasive skills still are not refined. As I get in the cockpit. “The resort place I’m staying at has a bar. Sitting close in the compact car.” “Okay. “I think I brought a bottle of wine in my bag. usually the woman. Well versed in easing tension through alcohol. There’s mostly old people staying there. Over-enthused with the way things are turning out. Well.” “sexually aggressive” or just plain old “off the chain?” Instead I answer. It’s cool because it’s strong and it rides pretty good. let’s just go back to your place. How about calling it “dangerous. “Wow. I get the door for her and watch her sink with surprise into the almost-floor-level passenger seat.

I sit there for at least five minutes. I say “I wanna get behind you. We continue kissing and move across the bed so her legs hang off. I still can’t hang. She bites near my shoulder and I jump at the pain that doesn’t feel as good as the movies make it appear. I toughen up and come even closer for more. I struggle to remove her jeans and she starts pushing and kicking playfully as I pull. Andrea’s kisses move from my lips to my neck. Less than a minute passes and I already know I can’t last. laugh at me when we finally get undressed and look for that previously mentioned muscular guy when they get tired of bumping against a sack of bones. The hints were real. spread and folded at the knee. She laughs at my lack of dexterity and soon we’re drinking sediment-filled wine out of plastic hotel cups. To regain my composure I withdraw and let her ride on top. After a few strong tugs her underwear comes off with the jeans.” She replies. Thinking “The hell with it. Bush…lots of bush. But I don’t argue with Andrea. frozen and unsure if her hints are really hints. “I wanted to fuck you as soon as I met you.” I make my move.” What the hell? Occasionally women have told me I’m “cute. She could cornrow that shit if she wanted. She whispers in my ear. I do a three second condom on penis maneuver and I’m soon inside.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T the bottle. Women are more likely to date me for a while. “You might hurt me with 91 . I grip her waist tightly to stop her movement and try for another change of position. Between sips she moves closer to me and I return the favor to take up the last six inches that separate us.” But as far as wanting to have sex with someone as soon as they’ve met. that’s reserved for the too-cool muscular guys who speak in hushed tones.

but keep waking up with the hunch that something is wrong. but there’s no answer. “I’m on the highway not too far from San Diego. Thinking I lost the signal. but the dashboard lights are still dim. I casually break the news to her that I’ve left. but that’s how I get down. I panic. Thinking the car might have overheated. but at least she knows how to boost my ego. I go out to check on it in the slightly cooler late night. I ended up leaving early—” She doesn’t even give me time to explain. I turn off the radio and air conditioning and speed back to the resort. thinking that my battery is being drained by the extreme temperatures. It powers on without a struggle. I decide to make a run for it. short and intense. She tells me that she has to pick up her daughter from the babysitter and should be on her way. Click. Afraid to drive in the daytime temperatures and of the possible risks of overheating. I get a call from Andrea to meet for breakfast. the car is still running smoothly. Sorry. She stays on top and I release in a fit a spasms. I pack my stuff. I let her know that I’m staying an extra day and hope to see her before or after work tomorrow. hoping to make it back to California’s cooler weather before I end up stuck in Arizona. but decide to take full advantage of a long sleep on the comfortable bed. Knowing little about cars besides how to drive them to the mechanic for service. After driving her back to her car. I’ll leave the marathon sex to the porn stars.m. 92 .D E W A N G I B S O N that. On the way back from the mall I notice that the dashboard lights are dim. It’s around 5:00 a. After about three hours on the road. I sleep for a few hours. Afterwards we lie and watch television in uncomfortable embraces. check out of the hotel and get straight onto the highway. I try to call her back.” She’s lying her ass off. I contemplate finding a bar to hang out at.

I start to leave a message. I come across a rotating lever near the headlight switch. 93 . I play around with it some more and see the stereo faceplate brightening and then dimming. I hang up before going through the details. In my anxiety over the whole situation. Shit. I start to fool around with the numerous knobs and buttons in my car. I guess it’s cool that my car has an inside-light dimmer. I turn it one way.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T Well. I fucked that up big time. “This probably looks bad. So much for weekend trips to Phoenix once a month. I try to call her back once again. but my car …” Sounding dumber by the second. but it seems to have no effect. But it’s not so cool that it ruined things with Andrea. The call goes straight to voicemail. I’m a dumbass. Oops. but I don’t even get a ring this time.

I am now free and in control.D E W A N G I B S O N RICO PURPLE THE NIGHT WITH ANDREA felt more normal than I thought a night without Haniyah could. I’m a fairly nice guy and I’m there. But one night in Phoenix isn’t enough. should I arrogantly assume that I’m the lone person of substance hanging out at a nightclub? Of course not—there are many and. at the very most. People who say you can’t meet nice people at bars are people who don’t get many dates. During my relationship with Haniyah I would party occasionally. The familiar surroundings sometimes provoke unwelcome thoughts of a better time. There’s no better place to look than nightclubs and bars. Once in 94 . But even spending most of the week exploring San Diego’s nightlife is not enough to make me forget Haniyah. many of them have breasts and big asses. but now I am more belligerent than an Amish boy during Rumspringa. My infatuation with Los Angeles began as a youngster when my flamboyant great uncle Lil’ Bruh moved there from Cleveland in order to find a place more accepting of men with dehydrated Jheri curls who choose to wear fur coats in the summer. but far from my past with Haniyah. he took pictures of celebrities in the days before US Weekly. I drunkenly believe we can be together again. When not playing bit roles in low-budget films. For three hours straight I don’t think of her or. unlike me. From underground bars to classy nightclubs. Mostly I enjoyed the comfort of not having to lie. I need more. Los Angeles is nearby. the alcohol and free-spirited surroundings provide a temporary relief from Haniyah.

Revamped with a cut-and-styled modern mullet. Or. But with an invite to the release party of the film Hustle and Flow. creating an idealized impression of what the city had to offer. his cousin GC and I arrive at the venue unsure if we’ll be able to get in. life. it always happens in Los Angeles. Najeeb is rehabilitated and in the know about various club events and list-only parties. and the four-hour round trip from San Diego makes it difficult for me to get to work in the morning. a live in Latina girlfriend and a job in the trendy fashion district. So from that point on. Decked out in our club uniforms we look like the Blasian Rat Pack. most industry parties are held on weekday nights. when I was willing to spend $50 of my modest bookstore income of about $280 per month to have a cable box with Skinemax in my room. we reconnected like the not-so-old days. nearly all those movies take place in L. I have wanted to experience the L. There is no better time than now.A. Najeeb. Whether the plot involves female prison inmates banging guards for the key held on a large ring. Unfortunately.m. enabling me to create my personal skinflick paradise almost every night after 11:00 p. He has now gotten over his untrustworthy ex-girlfriend by moving to Los Angeles.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T a blue moon he’d send photos of Michael Jackson and other white people I was not yet familiar with. better 95 . For some reason. This fascination with Los Angeles continued into my teen years. a psychologist treating nymphomaniacs with the gradual withdraw technique or a pool boy scoring with a big breasted cougar.A. After I showed up at Najeeb’s place that day with news of Haniyah and her aunt. curiosity outweighs rationality and I decide to make the trip. Entrance depends not only on the guest list but also on authorization from the bouncer.

After introducing herself she says. since I smile a lot. Maybe I can play that up? Or maybe I can say I’m a comedian. I quickly think. offering to give oral sex to a dude along with a cash bonus for his time. Apparently she’s a publicist.D E W A N G I B S O N yet. Anyway.” Then she asks the most L. I can barely hold a note. “What talent do I have?” I know people often think I sing because I bear a slight resemblance to former teen singing sensation Tevin Campbell. The joke goes “Why did Robin Swoboda quit the news? Dick Got- 96 . of questions: “What do you do?” Caught off guard at this unexpected chance at stardom. an agent or something in between. We calmly approach the doorman with the clipboard and it’s true—we’re on the VIP list. like making a sex tape with a night-vision camera. “You are so cute. But what about the jokes? The only joke I have is about the old newscasters in Cleveland. The Hollywood environment makes me feel like a star. We throw down drinks like horny freshmen at a frat party as we mingle with B-list celebrities. as if I’m free to do crazy things that only celebrities can get away with. pissing on teenagers or showing up late to court wearing pajamas with a fresh relaxer in my hair. a Blackipino version of Entourage on a budget. The three of us are drinking and dancing when a short woman with shiny spiral curls and recently glossed lips approaches. wearing a football helmet wrapped in aluminum foil.A. I wanna work with you. I assume my unique ability to air hump while simultaneously displaying an ear-to-ear smile and holding a drink caught her eye. What about acting? I played an astronaut in kindergarten. We enter the converted restaurant and discover that it’s open bar. which was cool until he got caught paying for oral sex—I mean. Dick Goddard and Robin Swoboda.

Too late.” Damn. I take the hint and go back to Najeeb. without a plan. Perhaps they’re actually paid protection. so much for stardom. He asks. but still drunk. I’m dehydrated and ashy and my breath is on fire. Then I say. my blood-alcohol level numbing the rejection. When I go to Najeeb’s room to tell him I’m leaving. “What happened. This would probably work a lot better if I were sober. what does that mean? Shit. The night isn’t over yet. No. My reply is simply “I work at a clinic!” followed by a thunderous laugh.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T her. Back to Najeeb’s apartment. There goes my chance at having my own soft porn on Skinemax. My stomach is upset. “Do you wanna dance?” She replies. Her friends move closer. I jump into the shower to regain some of my bearings so I’ll at least feel sober enough to drive.” Well. man? What’d you say?” “I don’t know. I can’t 97 . she missed out. But how do I approach a movie star? The same way I approach other women. I see up-and-coming actress Sanaa Lathan from Love and Basketball and Nip/Tuck standing with a group of friends. I walk toward Sanaa and mumble something about her movies. I’m with my friends too. “I’m just with my friends. man—something about her movies or something.” Okay. that’s still kind of funny after all these years. it’s worse than that—my breath smells like I ate a shit patty marinated in cat piss. It feels like ten minutes and I awake not only hungover. Maybe I can flirt my way to kept-man status. Well. But what if you’re not from Cleveland? Shit. looking like a tall-ass baby reindeer. I have only about ninety minutes to sleep before I have to drive the two hours to work.

I hope we can still be cool. get up man!” He wakes. He does look like Tevin Campbell”? Oh well. we lost another young black man! Except he’s not black. you got a smooth set of balls. but the damage has been done. There he is in his bathroom. What do you do after you’ve seen your homey ass naked? Do you discuss it. Do you wax?” Or do you pretend like it never happened? But then what if he thinks. sleeping ass naked in the bathtub with his eyes open. “I wonder how long Dewan stood there looking at me naked before waking me up. since you both know it happened? “Hey man. I start to panic. “Najeeb. nor is he dead.D E W A N G I B S O N find him. do you give him a compliment so he feels good about himself? “Hey man. 98 . I’ll leave all that in Los Angeles. I’ve seen his package. sorry I had to see your cock this morning. Why did my homeboy have to die so young? All because of a stupid Hollywood party! Damn. I yell his name.” Or since he’s your friend.

I pull over when they do. you can take my number. her four friends impatiently waiting. I am now more than open to further experimentation. Although I took a few puffs from a blunt during my freshman year of college and have fantasized about sniffing coke off a fat girl’s ass for years now. Her answers are succinct. She answers. I meet her after an unsuccessful night downtown. She is among a group of Asian-brown. I am unsure if she is interested. Still.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T BIG CHIEFA NOT ONLY AM I PARTYING. “Well. I’ve been a square when it comes to drugs.” Days later we meet for sushi and drinks. Giselle is my gateway drug. After an hour of our putting on our most likeable fronts. toffee and high-yellow colored women riding in the back of a traffic-stalling pedicab.” I say as we stand at the car. mainly because she has the kind of ass whose cheeks shift up and down in unison with her steps. To protect my ego. She asks if I want to smoke. The predictable questions flow easily as I search for commonality with Giselle. I hope I’ll see you again sometime. “Well. but her smile shows she wants the attention. but I’m also experimenting with marijuana. Feeling pressured by her thighs bustling out of a 99 . the conversation turns first to alcohol and then to marijuana. driving to Los Angeles for trouble and drinking in a desperate attempt to move on. But with the live-for-the-moment attitude that came when my moment with Haniyah was taken from me. walk the group to their car and narrowed my attention to her. I leave it up to her.

have you been there?” “No. As we come to a stop on a darkened side street. Which leads her to ask. The blunt is lit. I can also see an island at least twenty miles from the coast. “What are you doing with a razor blade?” I say. but it cracked me up for about five minutes straight.” Okay. We head to the beach at around 9:00 p. She’s trying to make the blunt. I’m high. 100 . After ten or twelve draws. My senses become bionic. she starts describing Catalina Island. We rest on two large boulders. puff. wipe the tears pouring out of my eyes.m. in great detail. damn near cough my lung up. I think it’s the noise of dolphins flirting. but is probably not the most comforting thing to say to a woman during a mid-evening date at a secluded beach. Influenced by a Discovery Channel program on sea mammals. “In case I got to cut someone. puff.D E W A N G I B S O N too-short skirt. Or in my case. the water below giving us a cautionary hint of its power. pass. Swisher Sweets and some special-edition weed called Purple Kush. an island that is nowhere near where we are.” which is true. out comes an assortment of drug paraphernalia including a grinder. There’s a few bars to go to …” “Oh. a dinner knife. cautioning her that I don’t have much weed experience. We walk up a rocky cliff to sit high above the ocean and smoke. not incredibly funny when you’re sober. When I tell Giselle. I hear a slight chirping. “Catalina Island is the shit. Puff. She finally gets the blunt rolled. I agree. pass. but I heard. puff. You take a ferry out there and they have nice restaurants and biking. but her knife is dull so I pass her my razor blade.

I’ll be fine. the police are probably occupied and won’t give chase. I can smell her lust.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T We laugh and talk. Damn. We share a kiss. but I’m not listening to a damn thing she’s saying. pay for the value meal and end up on America’s Dumbest Criminals. but first-date jitters prevent anything more. Cool. I’m so desperate. I’m going to snatch that burger. I’m going to do it. do I look like I’m about to rob the place? I smile and think to myself. As I drive off. This smoking fraternity is something else. or maybe that’s my cologne mixed with the weed. So yeah. “Thanks a lot. I’ll just go to the ATM. I guess he hooked me up with a free value meal because he sensed I had the munchies. I already paid for the meal at the 101 . She has deflowered my virgin lungs. the hunger pains arrive. I thought I had seven bucks in my wallet. “He must be a smoker too. but I find only a dollar and some change.” Who else would understand my predicament? I put the car in drive and he says. Our euphoria mellows as we take a short drive before floating back over to the sushi restaurant and then saying our goodbyes at her place. I order a Big Mac value meal through the McDonald’s drive-thru. but at the pick-up window I can’t find my money. reality hits. I might have to snatch the burger and speed off. If they do. “Hey. The drive-thru attendant looks at me and hands the bag over without asking for money. My sense of smell has also become ultra-bionic and it’s distracting. I’m starting to panic because I need this McDonald’s and I don’t see the little sign for debit or credit. Right as I leave her. you forgot your drink!” I pause for a second. I hate to admit this.” Wow. Besides. Forget the drink—as long as I have the Big Mac and those fresh golden fries.

The other couple decides to leave and I go with them to open the complex gate as Giselle stays in my place. Over the next hour or so. An officer hops out the car and says. “Don’t move!” 102 . nervously shifting from left to right like a white man try to do the Casper Slide at the Howard University homecoming. We smoke for a bit. Number of drinks purchased after these two: zero. Tired of pretending that I’m abstaining. Total price for two drinks: ten dollars. Once we’re there. If she offered me heroin. As I’m waving goodbye. and together they bring me to a Rick James stomp-your-muddyshoes-on-the-couch high. I stand in place. I completely forgot the order window existed by the time I hit the pick-up window. as usual. I’m also drinking whiskey. this time at a bar for drinks with another couple. I’ve left my debit and credit cards at home and. I’ll at least have to send back the whiskey and pretend I’m not drinking. three police cars roll up out of nowhere. But when the bartender returns. he tells me that happy hour has been extended for the whole night. Searching my wallet. Damn. I take out my wallet. grinder and knife come out again. Giselle flirts and drinks while I just flirt. I order my usual Jack and Coke and Giselle orders an apple martini.D E W A N G I B S O N order window—I gave the woman my money and she gave me change. the Purple Kush. I hope there’s an apple martini sale tonight or we’ll be drinking water with a lemon slice. I’m not carrying much cash. A couple days later. Giselle offers a blunt and I can’t refuse. Giselle and I meet again. I find exactly seventeen dollars. I let everyone know they’re welcome to come over to my bachelor pad to hang out. I probably would let her shoot that between my toes. So this is what it means to be high.

T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T Oh shit. at times. I ask the policeman in a shaky voice like that of a child with social anxiety disorder giving his first class presentation. I know my cranium is a large target and I don’t know who the crazy man upstairs wants to shoot. full-on laughter. but I figure I’ll be safer in the car than out. I lie there paranoid. They’re blocked in by the police so they can’t go anywhere. Then. Suddenly. how I’m asking to get locked up just to spend time with my family and friends. The guy in the passenger seat is yelling. Frozen in place. I dash for the other couple’s car. She rides me with her tilted back toward the ceiling in a weird wonderment of giggling and. I stay there for about five minutes before making a run for the back door of the complex. The driver finally opens the locks and I duck for cover in the back seat. “He has a gun! He’s on the second floor. although a bit less enthusiastic about Giselle and smoking marijuana. but it’s locked. someone from the second floor of the apartment complex yells.” Like many black people I’m apprehensive around The Law. most often. “Is there something I should be worried about?” The crewcut policeman says. trying to figure out what’s so funny. I’m going to jail. I’m home safe. at least it’s comedy for her. I’m always making jokes about how I can’t wait to go back.” I don’t have a gun! And then it hits me: they’re after someone else.” so when he turns his focus to the second floor. “Just be calm. Sometimes I don’t even know if I’m erect or flaccid. Well. 103 . especially when I hear “He has a gun. Giselle and I smoke from bongs. Now the police are here and I’m five minutes away from the booty house. get in!” I’m trying to open the door. I stand still and wait for the other officers to get out their cars. blunts and even an apple with a dime-sized hole carved into it. “Get in. we have comedy sex. But I continue with the same shit.

We connect as only weed heads can. I try to soothe the situation by saying. 104 .” But what birthed whatever sort of relationship we have also wrecks it. Not hearing from her for the entire night. she skips out on me to party with other tokers. So we’re done. Later. I unleash a series of angry and jealous text messages in drunken aggression. Fits of laughter and continuous naps cloud our days.” but that sounds false coming from an uncaring bachelor. “I was just worried. “get high as a muthafucka. Lacking access to weed and the skill to roll a blunt. as we change positions. Giselle quits her job to have more free time for smoking and watching music videos.D E W A N G I B S O N Then. I sleep ten hours a night and then skip a quarter of the workday. On an otherwise uneventful Friday. I realize I am up to the task and join her in giggling and grinding. or whatever women usually say when you question them without having a title on the relationship. I stay home and find my high with alcohol. in her words. We even plan a trip to Amsterdam to. The gate is closed. Giselle gives me a monologue about her independence. I’ve killed her buzz and ruined her high. Despite being a near insomniac most of my life.

each wear standard hip-hop attire: jeans as ill-fitting as the dress pants on the mobile phone salesman at your local mall and long white t-shirts. Her wide stance and slightly bowed legs remind me of the strippers I saw at Len Roc’s Cleveland’s grittiest strip club.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T CHOCOLATE FACTORY BUT I STILL HAVE NOT LEARNED my lesson and continue with my nighttime habits. The woman is wearing attached-to-the-ass jeans stylishly tucked into her low-cut Timberland boots. which was misguided enough to allow me in at age sixteen. It could be consid- 105 . my sixth sense tells me to call it a night just as I’m approached by three guys and a young woman. not knowing I was too shy to pay five dollars for a lap dance. On weeknights I put on throwback sneakers and a Vneck tee or a Henley and look for the hipster girls at the local dive bar. I start tabs I can’t afford and get phone numbers from women who like me tonight and forget me tomorrow. none older than twenty-one. The three men. or t-skirts as I like to call them. I begin my weekend searches for trouble and women on Wednesday evenings. Well after two o’clock one Sunday morning at the lonely end of San Diego’s nightlife district.” she says. On Friday and Saturday nights I sport shiny lace-ups. a fitted dress shirt and a skinny tie at the pricy night clubs. My routine is simple. I’m a bit taken aback by this statement. “You must be one of those pretty boys.

the alcohol either makes me lust for a shag or undergo a temporary religious awakening. We exchange numbers but three weeks later I have yet to hear anything from her. With option one. despondent times such as these. My phone rings and it’s Eve. I’m just me. We talk for maybe forty-five seconds and she says. but to me it conjures up images of something Big ’Los would say before asking to braid my hair behind the bars of San Quentin. comfortably holding her bow-legged pose. However. Maybe she’ll be just another one of the many who give their phone number and then simply disappear.” I contemplate ending the conversation at that moment but. think of Haniyah and scare myself to sleep. “Is it cool if I come over?” Briefly contemplating and then dismissing my attempts at change. I respond. this night is different. knowing that with behavior like this I’m on a steady pace to hell. I give her directions so precise that MapQuest would be jealous.D E W A N G I B S O N ered a compliment. phone calls and instant messages. With her inflexible military schedule. but I’m sure you can find him at your local penitentiary. I grab a copy of the Qu’ran or the New Translation Bible. she asks. each offering unfunny jokes and solicitations to those doomed enough to receive them. sounding as if she’s at a house party surrounded by drunks. “What’s your name?” Her name is Eve. Who is Big ’Los? I don’t know. In the mirror I see that my lips 106 . I’m up late finishing off a bottle of cheap wine. I decide I’d better remove the drunken prowler look from my eyes by washing up. “Nah. During drunk. dreading going to work in the morning. I make an incredible number of texts. we are unable to make plans. With option two.

I’d be bothered if you left. and we enjoy some preteen grinding. A couple laughs. Her Halle Berry-colored skin is slightly freckled and her short. silently looking into her eyes. She has a hoodness to her that I find appealing. She straddles me. “Actually. it’s hard being black. I think she is being sarcastic. an odd familiarity between two intoxicated people. it’s as if we know each other. the longer I last. using the bed for leverage and pushing back with her ass poked out sky high. I use my Phil Jackson-like reach to remove her clothes as she continues to grind. Be ready for round two in fifteen minutes.” I’m at Phase II and 107 . but I later learn she is honest. We sit on the couch and she tells me that she’s had a 40 and smoked a blunt. Maybe it’s finding the tenderness in a woman who’s been hardened by a tough upbringing.” I take her hand and lead her into my room. Not even fifteen minutes later. In case you’re unaware. As we walk up the stairs. but it’s not. I run the water and start scrubbing my LL Cool Js. curly locks are wild. relaxing breaths. I wish I could tell you the conversation is long and deep. Phase II is making sure my eyes remain open (for some reason the wider my eyes. Damn. Her thick. Finally I say coolly. Eventually I move to her side and she gives me her back. Damn cheap wine. How sexy. both us still clothed. Eve calls to say she’s downstairs. I can’t get the stains off. She looks just as I remember her. The rubbing against my sword is feeling so good that I move into Phase I of premature skeet prevention. Or maybe it’s just her big ass. a few looks of lust and then a question that catches me off guard: “Do you mind if I stay over?” I pause. athletic frame holds her weight well. Phase I is deep. so I often have sex shock-eyed) and Phase III is “Fuck it—I tried.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T are dark purple.

Throughout the night I feel her leaving the bed and figure she must have to pee a lot from the forty ounces of beer. but nothing happens. And I’ll 108 . I decide to let her rest while I take a shower and wake her a few minutes before I leave. I once had to pull over and shit in the woods after taking shots of bad tequila. I know it’s a humiliating experience to have a stomach so upset it needs anger management. daring me to flush again. Those resilient floaters are looking at me. I’ll fix it. We drift off to sleep with about four hours until wake-up time. I notice that she’s got her clothes on and they’re wrinkled. eyes as wide as Chris Tucker’s in the Rush Hour trilogy. prepare to aim and—hold on! I tighten my pelvic floor muscles like a woman practicing her Kegels. People might say. swaying like a dizzy prize fighter who refuses to go down. “Mind over body. I try to flush. man … she puts her face in the pillow … shit … Phase III is here.” but that doesn’t work when your dook chute is loose and nature is calling. I stare straight ahead. as if she’s been sleeping in them for hours. I awake at 6:30 a. raise the toilet seat. I flush once more and they take a weak circular spin. Eve is still asleep. I have to get ready for work. Little brown floaters fill the toilet. feeling hungover and parched.” I’m so embarrassed for her that I can’t even laugh. “Don’t worry about it. be quiet … that ass is jiggling … ah.D E W A N G I B S O N she’s nude save for a pair of plain underwear.. your toilet broke.” I’m feeling more empathetic than angry and reply. I’ve been in situations where I was two seconds from shitting on myself.m. Uh-oh. She’s really getting into it and I’m trying to avoid looking at her ass shake. she’s moaning … shhh. “Sorry. She quickly says. I go to the bathroom. so I close the toilet and decide to just piss in the shower When I wake Eve.

A thief has taken her stereo. I look at her like “What the hell happened?” and go into the bathroom. I’ll call the police.” More concerned with the wrath of Master/Uncle Sam. a subwoofer and her military clothes. It looks worse than a portable toilet at Ozzfest. Go back in my place and wait for the police.” She refuses. I get dressed and walk her downstairs to say goodbye. It wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t over here. My heart jumps and I feel terrible. “Try to relax. “You know what? I should pay at least half the cost to get your car fixed. the police have still not come to make their report. We’re about ten feet from her car when I notice that her driver’s-side window has been busted. because she decided to put on a DVD.” Okay. Evidently she’s made herself at home. “Don’t touch anything. My carpet is soaked.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T never forget being cocked over behind a bush as Terrell shined his car lights to keep the wild animals away.” Looking past my Euro-inspired outfit. I’m sure the Navy will understand that these things happen. but I’ll be back as soon as I can. with brown spots in some areas. which has some of retail’s most exquisite bathrooms). we’re even. “Well. Before she goes back up to my place. I tell Eve. she buys in to my manly tone. My point is that diarrhea outside of your home is a hell of a predicament (except at Nordstom’s. I broke your toilet. The floor 109 .” Trying to sound like a man in control I say. I understand how she felt. “They took my Navy bag! I can’t get back on base without my ID card and uniform. I see all my towels hanging over the balcony rail. saying. I have to go to work. When I arrive home a few hours later. I say. she replies.

Well. “Sorry. In a strong Mexican accent he says. the toilet flooded and I had to use your towels. she asks that I call her if I need help paying for my toilet. the chrome wheels on her Hoo-ridah still intact. permeating the whole the apartment. the toilet finally releases.” She drives off. but listen to her voicemail explaining that everything is okay and she hopes my toilet is fixed. it goes deep within the toilet’s pipes.” I try to hold in my anger and remain a gentleman. I buy a plunger at Wal-Mart and prepare to enter the Chocolate Factory. I call the maintenance man. I keep trying until the plunger’s wooden handle breaks.D E W A N G I B S O N is water stained and the smell is overpowering. Eve says. After fifteen minutes of snaking. but still nothing moves. too embarrassed for her 110 . Giving up. I don’t answer.” I explain the situation and he leaves to grab the toilet snake. “You put things down here. If this doesn’t work. We file the report and before she leaves. the cops are outside. he’ll have to remove the toilet and charge me for a new one. I give her the weakest hug humanly possible and say. Five minutes of plunging and nothing is moving. He tries his plunger. she could have taken a dump in the trash can and left the broken toilet alone. I assure her that I’ll take care of it. where she’s still sitting and watching Don’t Be a Menace in South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. I never call back. Hope you get things worked out on base. and try to compose my thoughts. I go to the couch. A large pumping device attached to a tank. Eve calls me two days later. It’s as if she sprayed ass-scented air freshener while boiling a bucket of chitlens—it is that strong. I know she was probably scared and didn’t really have any options. Her phone rings. “I’ll catch you soon.

She calls again and catches me during another lonely night.” she says. But yeah. me too. I’ll catch you soon.” “Yeah. maybe. trying to sound bored.” 111 . With unbelievable boldness she says. I ask her how she’s been. However. I haven’t seen you in a while. just chilling. I’m still suffering from posttraumatic shit disorder and cannot offer much conversation. but I don’t go out too much. “Yeah.” I say. “Shit. “We should kick it again. Got a little tired of all that. I haven’t really been doing that much.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T after seeing the death that her intestines produced.

wanting to belong but looking as if I don’t care. I have few close friends in the area. In a rare phone call she admits checking my email numerous times since we’ve been apart. Yet. although they frequently reappear when lonely and/ or drunk.” I welcome the invasion. I have not progressed much from where I started. In return she tells me everything I want to hear. Another Thursday night is passing. but out of embarrassment and hope I’ve held back details about my current life. Despite the constant socializing and bar hopping. Most tend to move on when they find my free spirit isn’t helpful to building a long-term relationship. who spins 112 . Most often I text or email her while drunk and say everything I wish I’d said when I was too busy putting on loafers and that cheap blazer. The place holds about fifty people and is decorated with retro seating and classic movie prints. share a crowded space with the DJ. “It was the only way I could still feel like I’m a part of your life. As for the women I meet. experimentation and insignificant women races by.D E W A N G I B S O N BAR NONE A THREE-YEAR HAZE of hard partying. despite my change. But she knows more. everything I hope she means. I’ve stayed in contact with Haniyah. Feeling restless with the empty company that television and beer provide. Most nights I end up going to bars and clubs alone. with forearm tats and experimental facial hair. they aren’t exactly friends. In her words. Terrell and Najeeb are both hours away. The bartenders. I decide to hang out at the local dive bar. Friendships with other guys are stunted when their girlfriends sense danger in my ways.

I reply. dressed in slim-fit jeans and a fancy t-shirt that probably cost more than my first car. “What you drinking on?” he asks. One white guy.” as I nod my head in agreeing admiration. Fully versed by Terrell on the shrewd behavior of the downlow population. I quickly throw back a Jack and Coke. Alright man. Women dressed down in jeans dance in groups or with short. glancing back and forth between the girl and me. This could mean I look strange standing alone or that there’s some minute level of interest. “What do I do now?” Should I stand near strangers and pretend if I’m with friends. “Dude. Sneaker-collecting men form a perimeter around the dance floor. I want to go over and introduce myself. “Yeah. approach a circle of young women or dance alone and pretend as if I’m comfortable enough to get down like no one is looking? I decide the best option is to stand at least three feet away from everyone and drink. but they tend to be male and gawk at women as if they’re looking for their next meal. and after a second round I’m ready. Then the typical but temporary uneasiness that comes when I’m out alone hits and I think. man. I notice a woman glancing toward me while she dances with her girlfriends. I remain polite but brief and say. I’m a head over here for a second. but breaking 113 .” and abruptly find another spot that provides three feet of personal space.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T cliché old-school rap that all the urban hipsters pretend to love and remember. An hour passes. thick guys who practiced their moves before going out. you see that chick over there?” he says. “Jack and Coke. There are other loners at the bar. makes an attempt at male bonding.

” I agree to stay away from the heap of ass not so well hidden in her jeans and we start our in-sync two-step. Not one to pretend she has an insanely busy schedule or needs to have a certain number of phone conversations before the first date. but you can’t grind on me.” I think. I need only to hide my personality flaws long enough to make a connection. walking nearby while looking as if they’re going to start conversation. golden brown skin 114 . scared shitless of rejection. “Yeah. without a word spoken. Now I’m single.” Again. a couple years ago both were true. She walks away from the group and looks as if she’s coming toward me. So I answer. for the next few days. I’m just hanging out. “Hi. She says. they end up giving you the Reggie Bush stutter step and go right about their business. at which point you finally admit that you’re inept with women and don’t even bother looking the next time an attractive women passes. She says. Mariah meets me for dinner the following weekend. “Nah. You end up standing there silent.D E W A N G I B S O N that circle of estrogen takes a bit more liquid courage than I have at the moment. Then. But this time it’s different. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have game. “Shit. Nor do I need game. but I remain calm since it could be one of those classic fake-out moves women do so well. Narrow faced with defined cheeks. you think about what you should have done—until it happens to you again. You either have a girlfriend or you’re crazy. but as soon as you get excited about Sadie Hawkins. I don’t have a girlfriend. got bored inside.” I then go through the typical introductory questions before asking Mariah to dance.

thanks to her laughter at my redundant stories and her response to my well-refined. The drink prices are so inflated that only their highly educated target population can afford them. still not quite getting the hint. Buzzed and more confident by the minute. I crave a whiskey high. They even have the same aloof walk. but again. The dinner is going well. After dinner we walk around the corner to a stylish bar in the gay neighborhood. but there’s probably not much to do now. She responds to every question like it’s the most profound thing she’s ever been asked. I become as socially comfortable as George Clooney on Letterman. Her gentle disposition and stylish but conservative clothing remind me of Haniyah. she asks. I feel this might be a long-in-a-good-way night.” A few minutes later she says.” I reply. In other words. but with the lure of good female conversation. “I don’t know. but decide to maintain some level of first-date tact and get her home at a decent hour. she again 115 . “I don’t feel like going in already.” Sensitive to those with fewer mental capabilities. It’s getting late.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T and curly hair slicked back into a ponytail. she’s the type of woman who doesn’t need a man for shit. “What are you going to do now?” I play it safe and assume she must also want to leave. unlike most of the tits-out girls I meet in bars. I refuse to discuss the woman of whom we do not speak. Sensing I’m ready to go. I start with a beer. She is an Ivy League alumna who will soon be going on to graduate studies. she looks like a woman. chivalrous behavior. but I dare not say that. just go home. “Yeah.

but what do you want me to do?” I think. Mariah begins fidgeting to find a comfortable position on the cheap leather.D E W A N G I B S O N asks. My hands grip the unexpected thickness of her lower body. “Sorry.” Now that I’ve moved to a neighborhood far away from payday loan shops and storefront karate schools. I say. since you asked …” After her performance we sit on the couch. careful not to enter her personal space.” 116 . “So what are you going to do now?” Finally I find an instant cure for my mental retardation and reply. “I thought he was your ex-boyfriend?” Quickly correcting herself she says. Still trying to maintain first-date manners. She comments on my neatness and takes a seat on the couch. Her cell phone begins ringing every half minute. barely glance her way. After a few minutes she comes inside. I watch through the blinds as her head shakes in angry disbelief and she shifts her weight between her left and right legs. She’s soon in thong and tee. “I can’t have sex with you. I don’t immediately make a move and. both enhancing her hard-earned physique. my ex-boyfriend. well you should come over. “Yeah. “Well. A condom with my initials printed on the wrapper would be less obvious. She ends up lying down with her calves resting on my thighs. I slowly move on top of her and then pull her up off the couch for a better view.” Not sure if she misspoke or lied. my boyfriend is getting pissed right now. She whispers. unsure of what’s next. “Okay. Talk about a hint. I’m happy to have Mariah over. She dresses and excuses herself to the balcony. I stay a cushion away. We watch Jamie Foxx—this time a standup comedy DVD—and our laughs begin to loosen the tension. in fact.

“Is he here in town?” “No.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T “What’s the problem?” I ask. looking hurried.” Cautious of getting my ass beat.” I walk her outside and she drives away looking ashamed. as if she needs to clock into a job that rounds up her start time. knowing it probably has something to do with me having a fully functioning penis. “He’s mad because I’m over here right now and not inside doing nothing. 117 .” Then. “I can’t stay here tonight. she says. I say. he’s in the Bay Area. I’m really sorry.

that is. But when I feel her words. I halt my two-step midchange from left to right and say in a deep whisper. While wandering around I call Terrell at some ungodly hour 118 . I enjoy the attention and being depicted as a nice guy. So far I’ve been able to look past her intelligence. We do everything together. She even shows me off. I’m fine. to her girlfriends who visit throughout the summer. I only know that my reaction is full of kicks. screams and estrogen. Mariah says that treacherous statement.D E W A N G I B S O N D-LIST DESPITE THE DANGERS associated with angering jealous ex-boyfriends. and during some unimportant small talk while dancing. among other things.” I have no understanding of the statement’s context or why it pricks a nerve I didn’t realize existed. from dinner dates to watching Kathy Griffin in concert. I continue to see Mariah. which at first listen sounds benign. We’re in a bar with her friend. “I can’t do this anymore. although at this point I’m actually a nice guy with a philandering instinct. “I don’t think about you when I’m with my boyfriend. or so I like to believe. will prevent us from progressing into a real relationship. storming out the bar and onto the downtown streets. until she says. sense of humor and soccer-ball-sized ass to feel completely fine with this being just a summer fling.” I throw a fit like Naomi Campbell on British Airways. who is visiting from Oregon. But I know Mariah’s impending move out of state for graduate school. which can include revenge murder and assault with battery acid.

woken-by-the-phone voice.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T on the East Coast and say. Shit. “Man.” He replies in a hoarse.” I then call Najeeb with the news and he too lets me know that I’m getting a bit worked up over nothing. “Huh? Fuck her then. Considering that neither of them have met Mariah or heard much about her. I know they wonder who the hell brought the bitch out of me. 119 . she just said she don’t think about me in front of her boyfriend.

she says a lot of stuff really fast. Mariah tells the front desk worker that I’m here for the special guest membership. short women rush from machine to machine. black pajama pants and a gray V-neck t-shirt. just in case my chest gets bigger during the workout. trying hurriedly to get their workouts done. poking out my lips and scrunching my nose while curling weights that are a bit too heavy. I’m immediately hit by the overpowering stench. but settle on going to the gym together.D E W A N G I B S O N MUSCLEHEAD AFTER EXORCISING THOSE FEMININE DEMONS from my soul. Feeling one part embarrassed and two parts dumbass for my behavior. I’m ready to resume the summer fling with Mariah. which may or may not be a stab at my bony shoulders. Mariah walks me upstairs to the free weights. and then leaves to go kickboxing. But there’s just too much activity going on for me to focus. Everything is fast—lots of speedy. Unaccustomed to any kind of fitness center other than indoor basketball courts. While admittedly not the most romantic or sweet thing to do. I don’t know what to do next. I grab the dumbbells to do a few curls. In reply. working out is her favorite hobby. I look in the mirror. I arrive at the gym with my workout clothes: blue/green Pumas. 120 . I try to redeem myself. Everyone is either looking in a mirror or in a steroid-induced zone. which I later find out is typical of workout culture. I think about taking her to dinner or for a night out at a nice bar. We proceed through the fingerprint-ID access bars and enter the Mecca of sweat. The gym smells of Cheetos and ass.

I’d like to see a neocon tell this guy he can’t marry his man. each with three sets and each focused on the chest. I also think that if there is such a thing as an effeminate gay UFC fighter. Basically. we’re each making sure that the other one is heterosexual before working out more. one day on the arms and one day on the abs.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T I then spot a guy about my size doing the bench press. I’m not sure if he’d be into all that punching. Jeffrey doesn’t sound French to me. I finally take a rest and go to the water fountain. but I’m sure he’d slap the shit out of somebody. A guy with a rooster comb of blond streaks and muscles that belie his feminine mystique prances by. We talk of titties in Tijuana strip bars as we slyly glance at women bouncing on workout balls. but remain there to give a spot. He has only twenty-five-pound weights on each side and I can do that easily. Jean-Luc says I should spend one day on the chest. However. but probably not realistic given my level of laziness. Sorry. I don’t make the rules. so I think of him as Jean-Luc. A Charles Barkley look-alike comes by and rudely asks how many sets we have left. I max out at 135 pounds. I figure it’s good to have a workout partner so I ask him if I can get the next set. we engage in the usual type of talk you hear when guys first meet. Possessing no tact 121 . Good advice. I disagree. Before moving to the next machine. I introduce myself and he tells me his name his Jeffrey. We complete about eight more exercises. it would have to be him. I think of all the talk you hear today about gay marriage. what I don’t realize is that this is the warm-up set before he puts 140 pounds of iron on the already somewhat heavy bar. My new workout partner has a strong French accent so everything he says is pretty damn funny. I go back to one of the many chest machines with Jean-Luc and begin lifting.

I’m motivated by having once read that women become aroused after workouts as their endorphins rise. bitch-ass Musclehead would be silent. Every city has a club like Vel’s. Already sore from my workout in French. when they get to the front of the line. They’ll ditch you without a care and. and these guys were there to administer justice.” with a fearful look on his face. feeling back to my normal self. we reminisce about our simpler college days. as if his sheer size gives him authoritative privileges. mixed with an element of respect. I always had a dislike of these guys. Then. I shower and change. but sometimes people deserve a humbling pounding. Usually apprehensive about group showers. I talk of my relationship with Rocio and how typical male immaturity made me 122 . It’s cowardly to jump someone. they tuck in their shirts and tighten their belts to the point of asphyxiation in an effort to meet the club’s dress code before going in to start a fight. you don’t dare say anything. he verbally barges in and messes up my flow.D E W A N G I B S O N whatsoever. “Just one more. I think back to Cleveland’s legendary Vel’s On the Circle nightclub. where at least a quarter of the guys are there just to fight. “You almost done?” Pride prevents me from responding. a situation I should at least be clean for. We go to the showers—separately of course. They tend to hang in groups of eight or ten and don’t bother waiting in line. We go to a pub for dinner. sitting hunchbacked and eating fancy fast food at a stained outdoor table. I catch up with Mariah. out of fear of a public beating. Typical of young adults facing career confusion and quarter-life crises. Musclehead smugly asks. She’s bright and lucid from an exhausting kickboxing class. but Jean-Luc replies. If they were in the fitness center right now.

Then. Nebraska. But Mariah. I just liked sex. “Was there something going on? Or did you feel bad about yourself?” Looking not the least bit ashamed. “I was a whore. “Did you date a lot in college?” In a straight-laced.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T unready for a serious long-term relationship. for that matter. I search for some external factor that caused her disappointing pussy policy. She’s soon driving off to graduate school and I do not miss her. I don’t want to believe she was once as she claims. was it that many guys?” I no longer see Mariah in the same light. dry taste in my mouth as I search for the right reply. However. matter-of-fact tone she replies. I ask. who want to hear about your past lovers for the same reasons that curious and then disgusted readers open chain emails about car accident victims. before my stroll through Lincoln. “Woah.” I get a foul. she says. unsure if going into too much detail about Haniyah would be rude. Unlike most women.” Trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. probes for more. secure and modern—or maybe uncaring about my past. since my relationship history before Haniyah or. 123 . I try to shift the conversation. Mariah seems genuinely interested in what I was doing as a goofy undergraduate. I was a whore. I turn the questions back to Mariah. is short and uninteresting. but I cannot stick around to prove her wrong. “No.

Since then I’ve had over one thousand days of decreasing personal achievement. I’ve just always expected women to be better than me. in and out of town. especially since Haniyah left. couch.” I even posted them. travel to three new places. Just the previous year I wrote a list of goals: to “increase income by 15%. but often quick. That is completely sexist. in twenty-four-point font. closed toilet seat. I’m a slow-moving value stock without a dividend. Now that I’ve heard someone who is so educated. but instead. buy a house and start a business. with or without the potent influence of Purple Kush and alcohol. the partying continues in a sad cycle of flings with unimportant women. gain 10 pounds of muscle. I know. I thought the list would also allow me to distinguish between visiting women who actually cared about my future and those who came over only for the unique. but I’m actually a tragic sideshow. I start examining my own behavior. The male bravado and chest thumping that come with sexual conquests now seem crude.D E W A N G I B S O N DOG OF THE DOW IT’S NOT THAT I’M MORALLY RIGHTEOUS. recliner or less-than-plush living room carpet. on my fridge so my friends could inquire about and therefore challenge my progress. but it’s unabashedly how I feel. Careerwise and financially. Admittedly I’ve enjoyed my friends’ near idolization and encouragement of my behavior. talented and worthy of more describe herself as an ex-whore. I know my time would be better spent accomplishing something besides a meaningless release. despite my intentions of recovery. experience taking place on the platform bed. Haniyah left three years ago. or in the 124 .

Sure. If this cycle of alcohol and temporary women continues. but I actually have nothing. join Neighborhood Watch or maybe even have a religious epiphany. By late in the year the list was trashed. I thought that one day I’d settle down and buy a house in the suburbs. This lifestyle has grown tired. and have a cool-ass car and a nice bachelor pad. I’m single. But the brief exuberance that comes with a whiskey buzz and loose women makes it tolerable in three-hour increments. my lack of discipline with the two—made the goals impractical.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T shower (which decides when it wants to release hot water) or kitchen sink. live in the same rented bachelor pad and probably have a forehead that has outgrown my hairline and glistens with sweat as I solicit dances in the nightclub of the moment from women twenty years my junior. as I knew alcohol and women—or. It turns out that not one woman inquired about my progress toward my five goals. or decide to pursue a career in politics. With Haniyah left my inspiration and in its place has come my slow demise toward irrelevance. ten years from now I’ll be single and employed full-time in the same mid-level position. Or when you meet the one and don’t let her go. employed full-time. But I guess that comes only after you do a little coke and get caught in cheap motel rooms with dildos and hookers. 125 . have the same damn car that’s no longer so cool. rather.

for five months of study. social diversity and femininity. a group not known for its contributions to Black Tail Magazine. she sounds interesting. she is Danish. the first stop on my short European vacation. but her name signifies something unique. unknown and alone. I fell in like with the surroundings. 126 . I traveled to Odense. xenophobic peers with worldly associates. Yes. Browsing through profiles looking for the right combination of English language ability.” Although her nickname is likely self-selected. It was an opportunity for calm progress during an uncomplicated time when intended throat babies became flaky stains and then a national uproar. pop with wine and beer.D E W A N G I B S O N ARHUS AIN’T FOR LOVERS PEACE WAS ONLY IN DENMARK. so different from those I knew at home. not bestowed by a resident derriere expert like me. Since I have not visited the region in six years. A year before moving to San Diego. Now I’m returning to Denmark. It was a time before Haniyah and her lingering taste. oversized jeans with fitted slacks and monotony with the unexpected. I was curious. I decide to try to meet natives via MySpace. I spot a young Danish woman with an eye-catching screen name: “Miss Booty Mama. as if she is the Hottentot of that tiny Scandinavian country. Already emotionally separated from Rocio but lacking the courage to end the relationship. Denmark. Cars were replaced with public transport and bikes.

I board the direct flight to Denmark with a host of tall. whose beauty appears to have been drained by this poster child for Ritalin and corporal punishment. Mom. I glance over to give him a dirty look. I send her a message describing my past studies in Europe and how I plan to return. he’s just in need of one of those reportable-to-children’s-services ass whoopings that would put him on his best behavior for a couple months. She is unabashedly down with jungle fever. pretending as if this future prison inmate is not getting on my nerves. which lead to twenty-eight visual-Viagra JPEGs over the course of two months. He doesn’t have Down syndrome or autism. She gives a few I’m-too-esteemed-to-yell commands in Danish. He responds in English with a hilarious and dismissive “For Pete’s sake. I manage to ignore him for the next hour 127 . he passes. Seated next to me are a bilingual Danish boy of about ten and his stringy-haired mother. One message leads to another. His mother looks at me with embarrassment and I smile back. After a five-hour flight to Chicago and a short layover. The young boy is a bothersome ball of energy and won’t stop flapping his arms and kicking toward my seat.” a phrase he continually repeats. The kind of beating where your dad hits you with the one of the 2x4s used to hold up your bunk bed and then puts you in the full nelson after you try to run away. Okay. much-too-fashionable-for-a-longplane-ride Europeans. I’m officially leaving the country. but find myself staring at him as if I’m doing some sort of mental-health assessment. good. which leads to instant messaging. which lead to plans to meet in person. which leads to phone calls.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T Her top friends list includes more black men than a Nation of Islam Savior’s Day celebration. but he does not relent. The boy argues with his mother as she tries to settle him.

I start to feel extremely uncomfortable. like I’ve done something wrong. And here I am. I stop in the bathroom and fall in love with the privacy offered by stalls 128 . Despite the fact that we’ve chatted online for hours on end and held fairly long phone conversations. Eventually. the terminal in Copenhagen resembles the W Hotel or any other high-fashion stay that allows white males wearing flip-flops and baggy cargo shorts into its bar while turning away black men sporting Timberlands. Considering I don’t moonwalk or hand out Jesus Juice. heading to Europe for ass and adventure. I’m getting bubblystomach nervous. The ceilings are heaven high with white arched awnings that serve no purpose other than to please chic travelers. Niggas … Landing in Denmark. the more I wonder if I’ve made a wise decision. I look over at him and he holds my stare. until he hikes up his leg and farts right toward me and laughs. I will soon arrive in Denmark. He soon falls asleep with half his body on my lap. Ever since I burst the tire of my old 1987 Plymouth Horizon driving to the hood to visit an obese and lonely single mother when I was eighteen. daydreaming and watching Alfie for playa inspiration. I give him a firm but tolerable knee to the ribs and he moves over to rest on his mother. Damn. I instantly get reacquainted with the luxuriousness of its capital city’s airport. What if she is actually a he and attempts to take my anal virginity? What if it’s a setup and she wants to take my valuable African American ligaments for transplant into Eastern European athletes of lesser ability? I’m not crazy—that shit could happen. The closer I get. I have no idea what Booty Mama is really like. After hours of flying. I’ve had bad luck traveling with lust in mind.D E W A N G I B S O N or so. With its contemporary design and architecture.

Oops. too late. Booty Mama is here in the flesh. It’s as if each stall is a luxury porta-potty complete with turbo-flush toilets. However. I don’t get too comfortable. I softly pat my hair and rub my eyes. I’m already smiling. No glitz here—just rugged travelers not looking forward to going to work in the morning. My luggage is here. pull yourself together. What will she think when the tall. Dewan. I’m five feet away from her. I think that’s her behind the security glass. okay. As I walk to the baggage claim. My usually bright eyes are dull. I board my last flight and after forty-five edgy minutes I arrive in the smaller city of Arhus.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T with partitions that start at the floor. soft-featured. caramel-colored. time to meet her. My usual understated smell of Hugo Boss cologne has been replaced with the tartness of a marathon runner’s blocked armpit follicle. actually. Ah man! I hope my lip isn’t too rough. I need to act like I’m on a European back-to-my-future trip. making it impossible for others to see even your feet. Ms. I’m smiling hard as hell. If my grin stretches any further I’m going to split my chapped bottom lip. I look too excited. The jeans and sweater that fit perfectly when I boarded the plane now feel stretched and flabby. Alright. 129 . At any second I will meet Booty Mama and I am. What if she comes in for a kiss and my soupcoolers feel like Velcro? Okay. Yep. okay. not an international chickbanging mission. Arhus’ is working-class Denmark. curly-haired guy she saw in numerous pictures appears as a tired sack of bones with a worried smile? Shit. Copenhagen is not my final destination. In contrast to the sophistication of Copenhagen’s airport. Fuck it. unprepared. hoping to regain some of the luster lost during my long day of travel. She said she loves my smile. so I guess I should give her the ear-to-ear grin. no doubt—she’s smiling right at me. without question.

After a thirty-minute bus ride. Booty Mama is wearing black leggings that accentuate what has likely provoked sexual advances since she was fourteen. please know that the overwhelming majority of these pictures will be shared. I begin to talk more about my 130 . a mirror and her backside combined to produce a work of art. I reply. She is undoubtedly a woman and is identical to her pictures. As we take a seat on the couch. stalling the conversation that flowed so freely over the internet. Which reminds me. So. slumps on the couch awaiting my move. Booty Mama. “Yeah. who was sexually brazen online. she is atypical of Scandinavian women. She’s also bundled in a hip-hop style. “Do I look like my pictures?” The shot she took while kneeling on all fours comes to mind. “Let’s find your bags. her thick thighs and shapely calves are more noticeable. With her reddish hair and strong cheekbones.” She laughs with admiration. the awkwardness hits. you look just like the pictures. Her dimly lit antique apartment reflects the mood of this grumpy Danish city. fur-lined bubble coat that pulls in tightly at the waist. unless you want his friends to see you in your good underwear. shall we?” My eyes and then my legs follow her to the baggage claim. A timer. Wow. Although her smile is pretty. we’re also likely to laugh at your attempts to make a sexy face. I showed this picture to close friends so they could understand why I was travelling so far.D E W A N G I B S O N We introduce ourselves with a quick kiss on the cheek. this is funny. She says. And while we’ll be somewhat turned on. please send with caution. ladies—if you give explicit pictures to some guy you’re dating or interested in dating. we arrive at her flat.

Forget promoting condoms as disease and pregnancy prevention. I look like I went swimming. They have no time for catcalls or innocent flirting. removing her clothes. Damn I’m ashy. Although my dad warned me years ago to stay away from white women with red hair because they have pink asses. who should’ve been in the “Tip Drill” video. She has the look of a woman whose confidence stems from sex. put baby powder on after I got out the pool and then spent the rest of the afternoon picking cotton. Booty Mama is reaching toward her goal. but quickly shut up when I find myself sounding like the teacher who reads the entire syllabus to you on the first day of class. They are on a mission. and a young red-headed British woman named Emma. No really. I go ahead and consummate my trip. as if such a simple document is in need of detailed examination. They usually have a no-nonsense appearance and wear heels to highlight the gap between their legs. pump. who is somewhere between metrosexual and gay. 131 . She’s lying on the couch. I’m ashy as hell.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T long flight. without even thinking of a little half-Danish zygote that would likely be aborted or the chance that my dick could now double as a flamethrower. a guy named Hans. oops. She likes to be watched. Her expression changes as I move closer. They look straight ahead when walking and pay little attention to their surroundings.” The following evening Booty Mama and I go to a nightclub with two of her friends. I start removing my clothes. an expedition for dick. You’ve seen her type before. But I do think of the embarrassment of reaching orgasm after three pumps and decide to grab a condom from my suitcase. But she doesn’t seem to mind. Let’s recognize them as security against “pump.

She gives me her back. in some strange Danish city. I don’t care if she is friends with Booty Mama. but it’s obvious Booty Mama is not into the club scene tonight. I can sense the thanks-for-the-pussy vibe a mile away. Booty Mama excuses herself to the bathroom. We don’t stay at the nightclub much longer. Even Booty Mama recognizes the supremacy of that booty. She begins dancing with Hans as I awkwardly two-step. doesn’t she?” My answer: “Oh. which leaves Emma and me together on the dance floor. whispering. By this time all tact is out the window. “She has a nice ass. amazingly agile asses that settles into a Jello-like shake once she stops walking. I was so amazed that such a freak of nature existed that I completely disavowed all rules of social etiquette. All I want is a couple of grinds to get my poke action going. She has one of those huge. As someone who runs into ex-lovers fairly frequently. I don’t give a damn if I end up homeless at 4:00 a. We have a few drinks and dance. I am simply a man in search of his next conquest. Too late—she’s back. She asks to leave and we don’t even bother to say goodbye to Hans and Emma. I didn’t even notice. The next two or three days are spent doing what most people 132 .D E W A N G I B S O N I can’t stop looking at her. I know it’s ungentlemanly to stare.” Booty Mama knows every African immigrant at the nightclub. All the men stop to say hello and many have a certain air about their greeting.m. but quickly spins away and again moves toward Hans. but how can I avoid looking? It’s like that time I saw an Asian albino dwarf at the mall. I am no longer a gentleman. But we’d better hurry before Booty Mama returns. She returns and continues this tease routine for the next five minutes. And she does. hoping she makes a move toward me.

but my mental clumsiness won’t allow me to follow his words. in the winter—nothing. He tires of our excluding him from the hip-hop conversation and in a 133 . To make things worse. Another one of the guys wants to have a discussion about underground American hip-hop. Impressed by my status as a traveling American (they thought we all stayed in our own country and plotted hegemonic schemes). already mentally distant. I’m up until five o’clock every morning and can stay asleep for only four hours. Tired of the repetitive routine with Booty Mama. blabs on about how he bought his girlfriend a Christmas tree but she’s still upset with him for going out. but until then I need to make the most of my trip to Arhus. Alone in a city of few blacks. Outside of a few trips downtown for food. I’m jetlagged. I decide to find a bar—alone. Basim continues to drink and wants us to join him.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T would do in a country where the sun sets at 3:00 p. I’m hoping that the days pass quickly. as if he should take some of the blame simply because of his background. Basim. With the nine-hour time difference. We both realize there’s no connection and. I finalize plans to go to Portugal next. I’m instantly approached by a group of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. It’s a weekday night and downtown is dead. they offer me a few beers. I find a place where a few people are dancing to Top 40. I leave with some of my new friends to find another bar. a burly Arabic guy. I sit and watch repeats of American sitcoms as Booty Mama satisfies her internet addiction. Soon I’m joining in with nearly four-year-old complaints about Haniyah. It’s cold as hell and I’m loitering around dark cobblestone streets that look like they could hide Jack the Ripper. A few beers turn into more beers and after a couple hours we’re all drunk.m.

She dryly asks if I had fun and I reply. “Okay. it was silly of me to even stay here. we don’t have to be mad at each other. I size Basim up in case we come to a fight. “I already told you. In my polite. when are you leaving?” Bad timing. Woah. I start the trek back to Booty Mama’s apartment. disturbed that my rectal exit-only policy has been threatened. “Have this beer or get fucked in the ass! I’ll fuck you in the ass!” Huh? Talk about a buzzkill.” Despite knowing full well that I’m leaving early to go to Portugal she asks “So.D E W A N G I B S O N thick Arabic accent yells. he’s a big dude—a big dude who’s joking about fucking guys in the ass. I try to sober up to make sure my automatic asshole lock powers on. Booty Mama seems to be asleep and I join her in the bed. Man. “It was okay. I’ll be gone soon. suck-up voice I say. “You can leave right now!” I think better of getting kicked out and walking around cold and ashy. the day after tomorrow. careful not to enter her intimate space. but that’s okay.” Irate. she yells. It didn’t work out. It’s time to go.” 134 .

During my semester abroad she volunteered to help me get settled and rid myself of typical American ethnocentrism. The low dollar prevents me from straying into the boutiques. Unassimilated Turks dawdle near kebab shops. asked if I “would like a Danish girlfriend” and encouraged the corruption of my virgin kidneys. Danish women in calfcovering boots.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T L I S B OA TWO DAYS PASS and I’m ready to get the hell out of Arhus. I walk along the bumpy brick streets in the city center and past a tacky McDonald’s. I’ve drifted between regret at my lack of aggressiveness with such a likable woman and honor at my faithfulness to my Rocio. I’m able to spare only a couple hours before reboarding the train. Agneta. skirts and leggings skillfully pass by on bikes. In the years since. I remember her as a petite Danish woman with wide eyes and a stylish blonde cropped hairdo. Although she added a stop to her apartment during my orientation on that long-ago first night in Odense. so I temper my consumerism with people watching. Besides an influx of brown and blacks. Odense has not changed in six years. so I cut short my observations and search for Agneta’s 135 . as do men wearing trendy eyeglasses and fitted wool jackets. we were never more than friends. I make a quick stop in my former city of Odense to see my cultural mentor. and Somali teens with basement-tapered haircuts control the sidewalks near the taxi cabs. But I was better then. Before going to the airport for my flight to Portugal.

” she says. “Oh. but it cool. she’s reddened. Hoping to sound revived and emotionally independent.D E W A N G I B S O N flat. I try to think of a lie and then decide to tell the truth. with slick tables and odd-shaped furniture that will probably be imitated by IKEA two years from now. I’ve gotten tired of just sitting in here. I wonder if I look worse than I did six years ago.” We sit down for tea and try to summarize six years in sixty minutes. I end up lost and walk past my destination at least three times. but she’s still pretty. work and general questioning of one’s reason for being. I talk of Haniyah and make sure I punctuate our story with a laugh.” I think of a question before my lie rots and starts to smell. The year has been tough.” She asks. She looks fatigued and. before finally determining a lie will be much simpler. 136 . I haven’t grown. including her boyfriend. “I remember you as being shorter. the years before better. Agneta opens the door and we hug. For a while it was too much for me. She talks of her recent stresses. The apartment is a minimalist’s dream. I change the subject to the present. her head nearly pressing against my chin. Pausing in front of a bicycle shop window. I stayed with a friend I’ve known … known her for a while. “Oh really. Thanks to a wrong-hole sense of direction. I finally find the building and climb countless stairs to get to her unit.” She laughs. “So what’s going on with your job?” “I’ll be back to work soon. “It’s kind of weird to be back in Denmark. “So who did you stay with in Arhus?” Embarrassed at my online searches. despite the Scandinavian lack of sun.

just as I remember. She speaks to me in Portuguese and I don’t bother to interrupt. My octoroon features enable me to blend in well among Caribbean folks. But I’ve gotten tired of going to work.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T “I know what you mean.” Cautious of intruding and needing to allow time for the likelihood that I’ll get lost returning to the train station. I doze off and reawake continuously during the four-hour trip. I’m dead tired from living out of a suitcase. I have to make my trip across America. — I arrive in Copenhagen to catch the flight to Lisbon. it can’t be that bad if Haniyah visited last year. You gotta come visit sometime. take care. Finally de- 137 . “Okay. tired of a lot of stuff. She’s always been a bit prissy about hanging out in less-than-desirable areas. South Americans. But I do notice the flight attendant. Though I’ve read online that the city can be somewhat dangerous for tourists. I keep to myself. whose beauty shows through her outdated uniforms. Plus. East Africans and various other people close to the center of the racial color wheel.” “Yeah. My destination was chosen primarily because the last-minute trip was on sale. I leave earlier than planned. not even offering a smile to my fellow passengers. I guess we’re at the age when you wonder if you’re doing enough or doing what you should be doing. My eyes are lined with red.” Her long eyelashes flutter as she smiles with her head slightly tilted. She walks me to the door and we embrace in a friendly hug. Well. I’m not too worried about a random mugging or fight.

I check into the hotel. my face is near her hips. I mistakenly think I’m a baller now.” When I arrive in Lisbon. glad that I decided to splurge a little. In the habit of entertaining myself on this solo trip with corny jokes. I laugh and reply.” “Okay. the stewardess is my introduction to Portugal. Let me sum it up this way: there are lots of fine-ass black. with a great mix of classical architecture and modern renovation. federal government. Okay. “Oh yeah. or at least it should. “Can you let me go this one time?” We smile as she hands me the meal. “Would you like a meal? I look around and notice most of the other passengers are eating. It is then that I smell her scent. that’ll be 150 euros. catch you next month and the 359 months following that. “Does she put perfume on her ass?” Graceful and charismatic.” I briefly think she is serious until I realize that would be around $250 for an airplane meal. I guess I slept right through it. I go back to the 138 . Something has to give. The front-desk clerk has given me an upgrade to the top floor. “the West Coast of Europe.D E W A N G I B S O N terred from her mother tongue by my failure to respond—at least verbally—she says. You can pay me. I wonder. Jacuzzi bathtub and sheets so soft I’d be perfectly fine dry humping them all alone for the rest of the weekend. Wall-mounted television. That is until I remember I didn’t pay this month’s student loan bill before I left. so like a young hip-hopper with a brand new Chrysler 300C. brown and white women here. I’m immediately attracted to the diversity of Portugal’s people. After a short walk to the market and mall. Oh well. As she passes. The city is also picturesque. enough of the Frommer’s travel guide bullshit.

with plans to go to Lux. giving me a final chance to change my decision.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T hotel for a nap.” He turns around for a second or two. but it would put me out of commission before the crowd even arrives. “Would you like to participate in the international sex trade?” After briefly thinking about paying for the ever-elusive threesome.” That renews my enthusiasm and I yell. I confirm this with the young front-desk man. I ask the waitress if she expects a large crowd tonight and she says “For sure after two o’clock. I wake around 11:00 p. bring me something Brazilian to drink!” She laughs at me as she probably does at many feeble-minded tourists. by all accounts the nightspot in Lisbon. Then it hits me: wrong country. I down a few Sagres. After the usual Jack and Coke. “Do you want women?” Living only twenty minutes from Tijuana. “Oops. I kind of just want to check the nightclub out. I decline the pleasure.m. However. I mean bring me something Portuguese! Please” She returns with some sort of golden liquor that I don’t finish. Portugal’s hometown beer. the tables are open so I decide to sit down and order from the barmaid. By this time it’s after 1:00 a. “Okay. It’s a little after midnight and the club is dead. I answer. The club gets packed as the techno music blares from the speakers. The nightclub is a two-storey warehouse with high 139 . and my buzz is starting to hit. I understand he’s actually saying. who agrees that Lux is the best club in town. We reach an agreement and the driver then asks. “Well. It doesn’t taste half bad.m. I grab a taxi and haggle over the price in an attempt to avoid being tourist gouged.

That’s really nice of you. Still. as usual. I focus on the positive. I notice she’s a bit older than I first thought—at the very least in her early forties and maybe even near fifty.” Not good. So what if there might be a few gray hairs sticking out of their tips? I’ll suck the wisdom out them titties. Giving up. but not anyone old enough to have fought off Napoleon as he invaded Portugal. showing very little skin. The bump-andgrind dance boner I’m likely to get will say much more than I can explain through words.” We try to continue talking. “Sex machine. 140 . I grab her hand and pull her toward me to dance. I go into third-grade shy mode and can’t think of much to say besides “Thanks a lot. tan with brown hair. Guys wear ties and women are in layered clothes. “Handsome. I’ve dated a couple of veterans before. do you speak English?” She says only. but he can’t communicate my sarcasm. “Sorry. but kind of funny. long tables surround a now-crowded dance floor.D E W A N G I B S O N ceilings. I hit the dance floor and I’m doing a techno variation of the two-step when I spot a group of two girls and three guys. she has an easy spirit and a nice smile and. Have I also mentioned she’s not wearing a bra? Her nipples are on swoll like Rosie Perez in Do the Right Thing.” while tapping her friend. We join her friends. As usual when I get a complement. One of the woman. The crowd is dressed more conservatively than I expected. I reply. but the language barrier prevents us from communicating much of anything. This United Nations-style of communication tires me out. One of the males speaks good English and he translates between us.” but I figure it might translate to “I make sex machines. She asks what I do for a living and I’m dying to say. grabs my chin and says something in Portuguese.

but being alone in dark foreign places makes me feel mysterious. leaving no clue as to when or if I’ll return. Her friends are both English and. Sonia the Supermodel. After thirty minutes of flirting and dancing with a few women. are studying in Lisbon. and maybe even a bit suspicious that I’m alone. I walk away. Nice to meet you. with brown skin untouched by damaging sun rays. Apparently chicks love hypnosis. like Sonia. They ask more questions about my background and I start to feel as if I’m expressing a shadowy Jason Bourne-type aura. in my mind. Well. I’m going to grab a drink. See y’all around. I guess women enjoy mystery. drink in hand and smile on face. I should be wearing all black and speaking in a slow. She is called Sonia or. I spot the one. 70s-style curled hair and playful eyes. Maybe I’m going a bit too far with this Criss Angel and Blacula thing. She’s wearing skinny jeans. I join them as they dance in a circle. She has short. Her features are soft and probably match the scientific specifications of facial symmetry. a club top and ballerina flats. saying only.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T so I walk through the crowd. deliberate manner like the Mindfreak. I figure I’ll just talk with everyone. I introduce myself to everyone and find out that Sonia is Swedish and Cape Verdian. Sonia is with two female friends. Instead of pushing up Sonia too much.” I disappear like Blacula. 141 . I stay with the group for about fifteen more minutes. She’s just a few inches shorter than me. both of whom seem accustomed to her taking most of the attention. spending as much time dancing with her friends as with Sonia. They appear surprised that an American is traveling. and if they’re interested they can figure it out amongst themselves. “Okay. Criss Angel.

We’ve been talking for about twenty minutes when some guy comes over and interrupts the conversation. I take a seat and Sonia and the crew ask more about my trip. and I’m right. Not sure if a man’s lips should be juicy. take her phone number and say goodbye. I mind my own business and talk with the other girls until he leaves. So much for being mysterious. Just in case. Sonia and I talk for about half an hour more before her group is ready to leave. Sonia is even softer. Hugging Sonia. I decide to linger a while before retiring for the night. It’s Sonia. Maybe we’ll go back to my hotel room. with an irritableness rating north of Steve Urkel’s. “Hey!” with pleased excitement. I try to explain that I’m just hanging out because I heard Lisbon was a cool city. I turn around. We dance some more and I get the feeling she wants it. he starts talking to Sonia. He’s working so hard to impress her that his friends try to physically pull him away. 142 .D E W A N G I B S O N I run into the veteran again. Sonia gives him the “Go away” sign with a flick of her hand. I yell. I sneak in a kiss on the cheek. Walking through the crowd. I’m clean shaven without any stubble and my lips are juicy. I feel someone pull my shirt. I smile. I can tell from her grip that she feels an attraction. Peeking at me every few seconds. drink some Metamucil and play a few games of bingo before she shows me everything she’s learned in bed over her fifty years. but it is indeed a girl. We kiss. hoping it’s a girl trying to grab my small but round rump. Not right about her trying to grab my ass. She’s sitting with her friends on a couch at the private make-out end of the club. He reminds me of an overweight Ralph Macchio. but what I mean is that I’m well hydrated and moisturized. I get her phone number and tell her through her friend that I’ll give her a call later.

T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T RYAN LEAF THE NEXT MORNING I oversleep and miss my ten o’clock “Experience Lisbon” tour bus departure. I return to the hotel and sleep for a few hours. “My girlfriend and my boyfriend. so I’ll have a good time no matter what. which is named after the capital of Angola and inconspicuously located in an alley off a side street. money. Other girls will be there. even if they can’t match her damn-near supermodel looks.” a young boy plays an accordion while a Chihuahua wearing a party hat sits on top of the instrument and a man with a Beatles-style mop-top and long trench-coat kisses every seat on the subway before crying and running back and forth as if he’s being chased. She tells me I should check out an African club they’re going to that night. I fall back asleep and call again forty minutes later.” Huh? Run that by me again. or boyfriend as in male friend?” But I don’t bother to ask. I wake to call Sonia. I’m so focused on getting into the club and out of the 143 . as no one else seems to notice. Apparently this is normal. I ask who she is going with and she replies. As I’ve mentioned. but Lisbon’s old-city feel and colorful people keep me interested. money. I end up at the Tagus River near the shops and restaurants. who asks that I call back in five minutes because she has her mom on the line. “Do you mean boyfriend-boyfriend. I want to say. I decide to hop on the subway instead and get off at various stops to walk around and sightsee. The club sounds cool. I grab a taxi to Club Luanda. A woman follows me for three blocks repeating “Money. I’m not much of a touristy guy.

as if I’m above being searched. then they quickly raise their hands in the air as if tossing a flower to the heavens. but she’s doing her thing. forbidden dance of Angola. There’s nothing wrong with a few kukabuds on the neck. The guard is looking at me like “Who the hell this nigga think he is?” Suddenly realizing that I cut the whole line and skipped the metal detector. visually answering my boyfriend-or-malefriend question. She sees me and looks nervous. I see Sonia with a new crew. the couples on the floor are slowly grinding. And somehow they manage to make it look graceful and much less gratuitous than what you see at your average American club. There are so many black people that it reminds of Cleveland. all while moving their asses at 125 miles per hour. I pay my eighteen euros and I’m in the club. I even go straight around the metal detector. Everyone is looking at me. They’re shaking. They go lower and lower until one hand reaches the ground. People are gathered in circles separated by gender. His firm handshake dominates my bony fingers and he turns 144 . I try to play it off and say “How much to get in?” It works. the British girls are absent. As soon as I see a girl with greased baby hair on her forehead. Then the African music starts and I see the secret. No matter how fast the music is going. but I figure maybe I just look strange and continue walking. but it goes with my mysterious mood of that weekend. Her kitchen in the back is a little dry.D E W A N G I B S O N alley that I accidentally walk past the entrance line. I just smile at everyone. I feel completely at home. It’s probably not called that. say hello and introduce myself to her boyfriend. almost twitching. A guy holds her close. to the music. I get a drink and check out what’s happening on the dance floor.

“Thanks for telling me about this place. Musculo. my big opportunity to show “I got love for New York. Imagine coming back home: “How was your trip?” “Well. my pre-Hollywood audition on American Idol.” Sonia and I make small talk for a bit. The last thing I want is an ass whooping on vacation.” If only I can think of something witty and kind. met some nice people and—oh yeah—got my ass beat. I’m not exactly sure how we start talking.” Next up. and I saw 145 . Dude is big.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T away quickly. I then walk through the hallway to the other bar. and then I decide to walk around. it was cool. Went sightseeing. My million-dollar shot at half-time of the NBA All-Star Game. so I just look the other way. about six foot three and easily over two hundred pounds. or maybe the decision is made for me. but they seem really open and invite me to sit down. Yeah.” No response. or maybe romantic without sounding overtly romantic. Well. I meet a group of six guys and girls. But before I get out of the hallway Sonia is standing next to me with her girlfriend. “This is the guy from California. It’s a nice spot. but she looks just as good as she did the previous day. This is my chance. flattery: “You look nice tonight. looking as sexy as ever. passing Sonia on the way. It’s as if Musclehead has followed me from the gym to Portugal. I’ve only seen her twice. I start with kindness. I don’t want to go into stalker mode. She introduces me to her friend and says. so I relax and have a drink or two. obviously unwilling to dabble in awkward conversation. perhaps she’ll leave Mr.

when there’s actually a lot of downtime spent fiddling with a foreign beer that you want to like because it’s different. moments. grab his nuts and stone-cold mack on another of the many women in the club.” Shit. Right now I’d give my middle finger to laugh at Sonia’s diss with Najeeb or Terrell. maybe getting down is not a standard part of English here.” She responds with a nod of the head and a soft hug. maybe we’ll catch up if you come to the U.” The conversation is on life support. or at least interesting. what y’all doing after you leave here?” Sonia seems hurried. “Let’s hang out after then. “Okay. She answers. Well. Damnit. 146 . At least she cracked a smile. as if it’s a nonstop party or journey toward self-actualization. or better yet. but rejection tends to put a damper on the experience. I can’t think of anything else. I tried. Traveling alone has just become a lot less cool.S.” she says. get some food or something. as tall white men and scarf-wearing women speak in a throaty language you can’t possibly understand and pay you no attention at all. I throw the Hail Mary. But I’m done—time to go. there are bound to be exciting. as if she can’t talk for too long.” It goes but fifteen yards. Its funny how people seem to respect your sense of adventure when you take the clichéd solo trip across Europe. Of course. Maybe a better guy would man up. “Humm. “We’ll be here until close. But instead I throw incomplete passes.D E W A N G I B S O N you getting down out there. “We’re going home shortly after. I’ll email you. to walk drunkenly through the Lisbon streets with a woman I care for.

Yes. until she yaps incessantly about the money men she’s around at her biotech company and responds with a disappointed “Oh” when I discuss my work in community health and public university education. My dating life is stale. I do have a good conversation with the receptionist. she didn’t seem to go to crazy. but we’re only eight years apart. peppers their speech with slang like douchebag. she’s a bit younger than me and was in the eighth grade when I was in graduate school. I hope she gets stock options for making copies and coffee. but my spirit hasn’t aged in ten years. she warns that the smell from her lunchtime fried chicken might linger in her clothes. She just hung out buzzed with her girlfriends and circle danced. There was no freak dancing with corny guys wearing shades in the dark. She considered changing. things are not going so well. We actually met a week or so before I left for vacation. Only a young college student has caught my attention. That night she seemed just as mature as any other girl at the nightclub. Since my return I’ve met a tomboyish babysitter and a money-loving receptionist. courtesy of a rogue bouncer. On the first and only date with the tomboy. I no- 147 . describes sex as “swaking” and on an everyday basis ruins the ability of musicians to make a living. but decided to keep it real—too real—and causes my car to smell like a grimy Fry Daddy. Although she was there illegally. She’s from the generation that uses funny email addresses.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T VIRGIN IN THE BOOTYHOLE BACK IN SAN DIEGO.

The kind of panties that you’d find when. Do you wanna dance?” We proceeded to get low for several songs. “Hi. just call me D. “I’m Dewan! Well. as a curious boy. So low that I mistakenly believed she was only five feet tall. okay. especially after she told me she was twenty-one. Deluded 148 . only to be surprised later by the additional five inches of height that contradicted my stereotype of tiny Filipino women.” After I found out her real age. Divina and I are spending time together. go and reappear at the same bar weeks later grinding on that night’s lucky guy.” She shouted back. only to clarify via a later text message that she was “twentyone minus two. not underwear or thongs. I didn’t expect to see much of Divina after that night. I introduced myself. you sifted through your little sister’s dirty clothes. But now that I’m back. People call me D too!” “Woah. Still. Her style of dance was more modest than the common simulated sex that leaves men self-consciously hiding their pelvic region with beer bottles. plain cotton panties that are sold in a large bin at Wal-Mart. I was aware that most women in nightclubs come. I mean. I was unsure if should call her again. I’m Dewan.D E W A N G I B S O N ticed her big eyes and seemingly but probably not veneered smile. “I’m Divina. despite not only her age but also my nearly ruinous behavior during my first late-night trip to her house. quickly throwing them back down when you realized that girls are also not the most meticulous ass-wipers and leave motorcycle tracks in their drawers. come on—what if she wears panties that come in a three pack? Panties.” She was unable to hear me clearly over the noise so I repeated.

It’s a body that would undoubtedly pass the toilet test. that’s an A+. allowing me room to administer the test. If it looks like she’s sitting on a soup bowl. the conversation unexpectedly turns to sex. But my slickness has been forgotten and tonight we’re having dinner at an Indian restaurant. between bites of mango curry. I was afraid that she’d be more accustomed to teenage-style group dates and feel a bit uneasy hanging out with a man approaching thirty. if she needs to hold the sides of the toilet to stop her skinny ass from falling in. her ass and thighs should engulf the seat. “Are you a virgin?” 149 . To put it simply. her hip Bruce Lee bangs and a body that’s curved like the Lycra-wearing women on ESPN’s extra-early-morning fitness shows. her curious visage. Divina has a sharp wit and raunchy sense of humor. But the conversation is going well. her positive persona. In fact. To top off all her physical attributes. that’s a B. invitation to her place means make-out time. that’s a failing grade. when a woman sits on a toilet. I just enjoy my meal and sneak peeks at her while she pretends to like the pungent food. when. she asks. I don’t feel forced to come up with a question a second. She suddenly gets very sleepy and lets me know I should be on my way.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T by the easy women of my past. The night is going better than I expected. if it looks like she’s sitting on Caesar salad bowl. Our guards are down and we bounce questions off each other about typical first-date topics. I find that I’m attracted to her giggle after every sentence.m. I wrongly assume that the 3:00 a. every woman gets comfortable enough to leave the door slightly open when using the bathroom. so I lay a soft kiss on her stomach and one on her hesitant lips. Even the momentary silences between thoughts are comfortable. At some point in the courtship.

D E W A N G I B S O N This is like asking Bill Gates if he’s worried about having enough money for retirement. “in the bootyhole. I answer with a simple “Nah” and return the question. 150 . she adds.” My type of woman. “I’m a virgin …” Before I can give her pretend props and run out of the restaurant. She answers.

Restless on the living room couch. I think about going to a café. clicking the television off and on. We end up going to a park that’s near art museums and the city zoo. An hour passes and we’re still there. After the holidays I take advantage of the travel discounts and fly to Cleveland to visit family. But I feed off Divina’s enthusiasm for the botanical gardens and her playful slaps and arm grabs. We try watching a DVD. numerous families and couples relax under trees and browse through the artistic flower gardens. but she’s already eaten. I offer her food. But I receive a call from Divina saying that she can stop over early that afternoon. but everything is closed. We are not yet at the level of comfort where we can sit around and do nothing. I fear the itchy feeling that comes when I’m surrounded by grass and plants. Far away from family and not wanting to intrude on others. or being jumped by a loose dog owned by a careless hippie couple. so when she arrives I become anxious. but it seems strange to be locked inside with the Southern California sun bright and the springlike temperature outside. Stuck in that odd area between 151 . I cover my head with sheets to try and sleep despite the three-hour time difference. The initial excitement of seeing my increasingly hip younger brother and ageless parents passes and I’m soon stuck doing what I normally do in Cleveland: nothing. I’m definitely not at one with nature. hanging out with tulips and birds of paradise. Although most of the venues are closed.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T THE OTHERS THE HOLIDAYS ARE HERE. I plan on spending Christmas day alone.

“Maybe he has a lot going on. We don’t know each other that well. She asks for advice. “You knew that since we started hanging out. but figure its better to play teenage games. I write back.” I don’t text her again. I tell her. how she adds “dude” to her text messages. I like how she asks questions with such a sincere curiosity and sighs when you give a surprising answer. I begin to think of Divina. I send her a text message.” Later that night I’m browsing the bookstore’s self-help section for needy women when I see I’ve missed four calls from 152 . but is now involved again with her ex-boyfriend. I’m pissed. Minutes later she calls. She’s found the on-again-off-again boyfriend is more in love with weights and working out than with her. “I like u.” She quickly shoots a reply back: “No we just got back 2gether. I want to answer. She does answer and we’re soon going back and forth with small talk and flirting. but I’m already attracted to her idiosyncrasies.” She writes back and says she likes me too. although I figure she’s probably sleeping and won’t reply. Avoiding the obvious fact that she should consider a skinny guy who doesn’t give a damn about gyms or breaking a sweat outside of the bedroom. how she says big words really slowly to make sure they’re pronounced correctly and how her mouth twists slightly to the left after she makes a joke. Talk to him about it and see if anything changes. I’m somewhat surprised to receive calls from Divina. I try to play up to my 8:00-to-5:00 image as a young but mature university instructor and professional. She hangs up after three rings and doesn’t leave a voice message. Back in San Diego.D E W A N G I B S O N dosing off and complete sleep. I cut to the chase in the most elementary of ways and write. I feel like a fifth-grader who just got the “no” box checked.

I chew a bit more of the sautéed mushrooms.” “Are you okay?” She answers.” I figure Divina left the now ex-boyfriend in anticipation of starting a relationship with me. Considering my history. self-righteous fool. “It feels so nice to be single. eating dinner off the coffee table. “Well. sometimes guys are ready to move on. peppers and catfish and answer right at the fourth-ring hang-up time. But I continue to spend more time with her and less time trying to meet other women.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T Divina within fifteen minutes. haughty ladies’ man. what’s up?” She quickly gets to the point. It’s Divina again. a temporary enjoyment. I give a political response. He’s an asshole. 153 . a sexual freedom that usually includes more than one man. She’s not even thinking of me in that way. Then she says it. I can do what I want to do whenever I want. “I broke up with him. completely unprompted. “Hey. A text message pops up: “What r u doing?” I call her and she again wants advice on her dying relationship.” Okay. I’m a hired gun. I’m not sure if I can handle the potential commitment. “Yeah I’m fine. Arrogant bastard. I want to tell her. “Can’t you get the hint? He probably has somebody else!” But I don’t break the code. I just feel relieved to finally be done with all that shit. The foul vibration of my simple cell phone disrupts the meal. Plus she’s only about to turn twenty and is just entering that age of sexual freedom that most women in college tend to go through. I don’t have to worry about anyone. but don’t know how to say it. In her usual spontaneous manner. she says. I get the hint.” Only days later I’m sitting cross-legged on my living room floor.

in person or online. But over the past year we have gotten into the habit of ignoring each other. But this time the tagline on her screen name has changed. There was a time. My tactics would have typically included sending text messages while we were out on dates. have a brief conversation or occasionally get into a drawn-out discussion about what went wrong. “You must like those pretty girls” and the other types I’ve chased after. For the first three years after she left we’d send a quick hello. All of this just so she could better understand that I was wanted by the tall Latinas. I’m logged onto instant messenger when I spot her online. I did try to reach out with the occasional message. Haniyah returns. Just as I move forward with Divina. the white girls with black-girl asses. but her responses were short. despite the two of us sharing secrets and a past. or nonexistent. I would have emphasized the feminine pronouns. So over time. or canceling plans to hang out with my “friend. maybe even a few months ago. the black girls who say.” And if she asked about my friend. But I understand Divina’s reasoning. She’s young and has just left a sorry relationship that didn’t even seem to be worth the learning experience. Pride then prevented my initiating any more conversations. this explicit disregard has become strangely normal. I never would have believed we’d get to a point where we wouldn’t acknowledge each other. when I would have flaunted other women in front of her to combat her stinging pronouncement of relationship freedom. So my focus stays on her.D E W A N G I B S O N OLD SCHOOL DIVINA’S REALITY CHECK doesn’t change my feelings toward her. 154 .

especially considering I showed up unannounced at her aunt’s house and hid in closets. She smiles plainly. I think more of the probable Arab man who sees this face every day. premarital sex and early morning walks of shame down Fraternity Row. Does he know of her past? She is intensely private and often introverted. neither happy nor forced. Not out of any expectations of meeting. Maybe she feels I’d overreact to her return. but still eclipsed by that wild bunch of curls. I would at least let her know I was close. But does she really think I’d be on the next plane out to New York. I doubt she would even mention the shame of our relationship. maybe I would have some expectations of seeing her. It leads me to a webpage featuring brief biographies and pictures of graduate students in her department. I click it.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T It carries a link to a university in New York. That would be determined only after we knew that we were only hours apart after such a long time. Well. that I would step off the runway with fresh flowers in hand and determination on my face? 155 . all to see her. I thought she’d have the courtesy to say she was returning to the United States. I think of the men at the university who are transfixed by this face. If I were anywhere near her tumultuous region. In the headshot Haniyah appears mature. and her spacious eyes seem confident. I assumed she would do the same. even more so than she did as a rather sophisticated young college student who abstained from alcohol. Her face is slightly more rounded. but simply because people generally do such things. I browse the page further and find she’s in the second year of a graduate program in New York. Since she’s better than me in many ways. Haniyah is only a five-hour flight away and has been for at least a year.

In reality. I deserve to be called or emailed. This time she needs to reach out to me. but rather something else that I figured was. we thought she was going on a short vacation and then she was gone. 156 . If I received what my arrogant mind believes I deserve. we all know it hardly ever works like that. just as I deserved to be known to her family. Or maybe it’s not curiosity.D E W A N G I B S O N Four years ago I likely would have. I’m no longer the guy who had one pair of dress pants for work. high-waisted joints with the double belt loops. I’m not the guy who waited on her every move and sought approval from a family that claimed to speak a holy language and have a moral standing above all. the early-90s. you deal with the situation presented or you move on. I don’t flinch. She was here. or just as she deserves to be with a more faithful man. I’m not the guy with the depleted funds who specialized in getting burnt with overdraft fees and late payments. We never had that Titanic moment or some sort of pass-away-in-my-arms catharsis. But curiosity demands that I know how she’s doing. I’ve grown. I’m not the guy who begged her to give us a try when I didn’t have the strength or will to do so. Whatever it is. I justify it as the need for closure. However. gone by now. I’d have money coming out my ass and a harem of beautiful women from various Third World countries. or at least should be. Still. but things are different.

Believe me.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T FOUR-YEAR ITCH WITH THE AMOUNT OF TIME Divina and I have spent together the past month. Divina and I are talking on the telephone when she starts and quickly ends an unclear sentence. From dinner to movies to cheesesteaks at Hooters. these unfaithful heathens do make 157 . I need to be sure that she’s the type of woman who is honest and faithful. and I feel my legs shaking rapidly. I should have known this was coming.” But then a feeling of anxiety overcomes me. underneath the covers. sutured and stapled. from afternoon bang breaks to late night talks about nothing in particular to laughs about our age difference. The text pops in: “So are you going to ask me to be your girlfriend?” My initial mental reaction is “Yeah! I think I’m finally ready again. To be more specific. as someone who has been the secret other. Of course I’ve sewn my wild oats. I’m sitting in bed. But maybe that’s not enough. we’ve shared a lot in a fairly short time. a fiancée becomes a wife and a wife becomes either a lifelong partner or a disgruntled diva taking half of what she might not have earned. stitched. I ask her to repeat and she can only giggle. unlike those who are as untrue as most men. Now the possibility that I might have a real girlfriend for the first time in four years hangs overhead. Considering I’m almost at the age when a girlfriend becomes a fiancée. I’m a bit cautious. as they say men should before settling down. my untamed and rambunctious oats have been sewn. She then says she’ll text me her question while we are still on the phone.

will you be my girlfriend?” But if I say this right now. You’ll tell yourself. Understand that even though she loves you. Chances are you’ll never find out. Then I wonder what will happen if she tires of my indecisiveness and another guy tries to slide his punk ass in. Shit.” I spend the following day thinking about what it means to 158 . perhaps one of the slick-haired guys leaving comments on her MySpace page. Maybe I should just go ahead and say it now. I gather my bearings and start to believe that Divina is honest. you block it out until you do the same thing to her.” even though the circumstantial and irritating evidence tells you otherwise. “Okay. You’ll have a hunch.D E W A N G I B S O N up the near majority. but the image of her face when that pretty boy slides inside her will be too much to stomach. she may also love the excitement that comes with attention from a new man. Don’t for a second think that love will cure and prevent all. I think to just say. “She wouldn’t. it will seem as if I’m saying it only because she asked. her best male friend who listens much more attentively than you do or the pretty boy who actually wants to flaunt her at that expensive nightclub you’d never pay for. Well. she has that extra “it factor” that will keep me interested in a long-term relationship. So you block it out. I’ll ask you when you least expect it. Just as importantly. That is. she has a certain aura that will make me think twice about picking up and moving away or inviting shapely co-workers over to watch Jaime Foxx DVDs. she will stray. I end up giving a diplomatic answer: “Yeah. Whether it’s her mysterious co-worker that you hear about every so often but never meet.

There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m in Vegas. I was really close to making the six-hour drive to Vegas for the night. Then I’ll squash it in the trunk and maybe she’ll iron my clothes for me when we get to the hotel. women from months and years ago just seem to pop up out of nowhere. First. It starts off as an innocent phone call: “Hey. I’ll put all my stuff in a white trash bag. Wait. how you been!” Then next thing you know. I probably won’t hear my phone so I’ll text you sometime after the club. Uhmm. Okay. we can work past that. And how do I handle women from my past? When you’re single. disappearing for the day and calling that night: “Hi. Women don’t need men for anything.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T have a normal relationship with a girlfriend and a number of questions run through my head. To be honest. Okay. I’m not sure that will work in a relationship. Damn. like the parolees do on the Greyhound bus. problem solved. don’t they need to pack at least three bags no matter where they’re going? My trunk holds only a bag and a half. as long as she can leave town on a few hours’ notice. You want some pussy?” It’s kind of like finding an old Skittles wrapper when clean- 159 . I’m not sure how these things work. See you in a couple days. I didn’t say anything about the trip to Divina until I was already 150 miles away.” What! Nope. Just seeing what you’re up to. Divina. right? Well. Imagine that. I’m a little bored tonight. Goddamn sex toys. But are women even capable of doing that? Besides. “That’s good to hear you’re doing well. She should come with me. Just last weekend I got in the car and took a day trip out of town. She can bring the suitcase. do women still iron clothes for their men? Did that die with the advent of equal employment opportunity and the advent of “the rabbit”? Goddamn Gloria Steinem.

But just wanted to let you know that nurse on the second floor. And although we did exchange glances. we can work past that too. I didn’t feel the need to talk to her. she said hi today! Man. if I didn’t have a woman. so you start thinking. “There was a time and maybe that time has passed. Yeah. I’ll be out for at least a beer and a basketball game. my face said only. just the other day at the natural food store I saw a young mother with a pretty face and a horse ass. You grab the wrapper thinking there’s nothing left but deep in the corner you find that one last red Skittle. I have more questions. you still eat it. Her jeans were so tight that they were actually sucked in by her ass crack.” Without saying a word. “Hey man. allergic to anything related to male bonding? The type of guy who won’t go out with his friends and calls only to say. 160 . did I tell you about those twenty-gallon trash cans at Home Depot?” Hell. By the way.” Or who interrupts you midday at work with “Hey man. It was like she was wearing a denim thong. I knew she understood. I forgot how good this shit tastes. Specifically. no! That won’t be me. maybe my face also said. Look. Okay. my fault for not getting back to you about having a beer. how will this change me as a person? Will my free spirit be replaced with that of a boring domesticated pussy-whippee.” Well.D E W A N G I B S O N ing the inside of your car. And even though the food coloring has rubbed off and it has a bit of lint stuck to it. I can be faithful. I just wanted to tell you they got a sale on twenty-gallon trash cans at Home Depot. That last Skittle is a sweet-ass piece of candy. I’m not going to wait four years for a girlfriend and then fuck it all up. “I might wanna eat some more Skittles. “Damn you got a big ass! Congratulations!” But you get the point.

I then call Mom and tell her.” She goes on to say. Shit. So my plan is to not have a plan. Yo’ ass ain’t ready for that. it’s not cool to sound like Sling Blade speaking Ebonics when asking a serious question. With my speedy Midwestern mumbling and stuttering. that’s not so true. After all. I bet a lot of black women would email you if they saw you in the magazine. although Terrell complains that I should have called instead of texting. Did you meet her parents? If you mean something. I do plan to speak clearly and project well when I decide to ask. and I was just gonna send in your picture to Essence magazine. Both send tentative congratulations.” I re-explain to Mom that my love and lust are multicultural and international in scope. “That’s good. She’s happy. but rather a brotha with a large-ass potential pool of women. Right. Mama? She understands and gives me the feeling that she’s happy for me and doesn’t care about race—unless Essence magazine calls. I went to the second Million Man March with a Vietnamese girl and have lusted for women both black and nonblack. Well.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T These questions continue to run through my head as I tell Terrell and Najeeb about Divina. They’re having a contest for single black men that’s doing stuff in the community. Divina and I are in the shower to- 161 . they bring you home. Then I realize I should probably feminize that notion and ask when I feel like it. Next I began thinking of the right moment to ask Divina to be my girlfriend. with one slight caveat. The moment is here. “Oh. Of course. At first I figure I’ll just ask when we happen to stumble onto the topic. this makes me no less African American. Divina’s most common reply to my rants is “Huh?” And. of course.

That thing called romance that women love. I think of turning the showerhead away. I guess to be environmentally friendly and save water. Oops. “Hey. I look at Divina. you wanna be my girlfriend?” She replies. I’m more slightly amused and surprised. but I hate water anywhere near my face so it’s likely I am squinting. which is only two days away. We’re a few feet away from the shower head. maybe one of her jokes about “Dutch ovens. Valentine’s Day arrives. I would love to say I looked deep into her eyes. I feel a slight tickle near my perineum. I’m not sure what we’re giggling about. So much for “I’ll ask you when you least expect it. We’re smiling and I say. “Yeah. A small splash of seafood pasta stains my white dress 162 . but my arms are comfortable where they are and my dong is just a tad too short to reach the spout. but can you ask me again on Valentine’s Day?” We both laugh.” So I go back to the drawing board to prepare for Valentine’s Day. I should’ve known. I can’t say I’m disappointed in having to ask again to make things official. We’re having a romantically clichéd night at an Italian restaurant.” which apparently means to fart while in bed and then pull the covers over your partner’s head. which causes the water to lightly touch my round but somewhat stretchmarked and chickenpoxed ass. Stuffed together at the table and surrounded by standing couples who didn’t make reservations.D E W A N G I B S O N gether. which a less heterosexual or “gay when drunk” male might enjoy. we try to enjoy what restaurateurs refer to as an intimate setting. I embrace her as we giggle. kind of like when I found out the Fonz was actually a balding guy named Henry.

163 . “So. I laugh to myself. but she’s too focused on her own meal.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T shirt. will you be my girlfriend?” After four years I finally have a girlfriend. I ask her. I look to Divina in embarrassment.

I’ve never been the jealous or possessive type—at least not outwardly—but every now and then. Of course we have our ups and down. Friends for her are guys and girls she goes to bonfires or drinks coffee with. which. Friends for me. But I’m not alone in my jealously. “I know my package is big. are generally women I’ve either had sex with or planned to penetrate before my thirtieth birthday. Divina expresses her displeasure through a short series 164 . I speak up about supposed male friends who leave her “Miss you” messages. as usual. she has long since returned home. So far the biggest adjustment has been with friends. means making a swiping motion in the crack of the other’s ass just because making a swiping motion in the crack of someone’s ass never gets old. with some exceptions. Divina is concerned with the lingering Skittles. but it can’t stretch to Brazil!” I guess my attempt at humor didn’t work because.D E W A N G I B S O N SHIFT + F7 DIVINA AND I ARE NOW JOINED at the pelvis. We spend every day together. perhaps due to good ol’ male ego or a perception of intersex friendship corrupted by unfaithful women and selfish young bachelors like myself. usually making jokes about the people on Judge Judy. for the uninformed. As I tell Divina. such as the Brazilian restaurant hostess I met over a year ago while she was in San Diego studying. even if I haven’t talked with them in months. Although the Rio-based hostess did stray from her boyfriend for a brief night at my place. plotting our path to financial freedom on the stock market and seeing who can credit card the other when least expected.

She still thinks I want Haniyah and at times loathes me for having been in love. but it was over four years ago. but also the entire Middle East region. Divina refers to her as “Arabia” with such disdain it seems like she despises not only her.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T of “bitches” and “hoes. occur more frequently as we progress in our relationship. If I do respond to Divina’s questions. Of course I understand the uneasiness that comes with dating a man who had a long-term forbidden relationship snatched from underneath him. suspect. I even allude to how she was looking forward to finishing middle school when the relationship began and worrying about the junior prom and listening to the Spice Girls when Haniyah and I ended. most of all it’s Haniyah. 165 . type perfect and then press shift-F7. which quickly become arguments. I don’t hold Divina’s insecurities against her. I end up sounding like a crooked politician who is hiding something. Regardless. but my chronological distractions are of little use. In trying so hard to politicize the well-known fact that I once did love Haniyah. Discussions about Haniyah. just open up Microsoft Word. Combine this with the fact that I met a fair amount of women after breaking up with Haniyah and I look. in a word. Scroll down through all the synonyms that don’t describe me until you reach that sinister antonym at the bottom. as we continue to enjoy time with each other. the suspicions will pass. it looks as if I’m hiding feelings that I’ve sworn no longer exist. If I refuse to talk about Haniyah. my answers never come out as intended. especially knowing I also suffer from numerous flaws and faults. In fact. And I’m left in a winless situation. I try to make Divina understand this. There I am.” It’s not just old Brazilian flames that Divina is worried about.

as if we are already in the habit of including them in our goodbyes. Divina. too disillusioned ever to be with one woman. knowing for certain that my relationship with Divina will be decided by the two directly involved in it and that I need not worry about changing inflexible attitudes.” Or Barack Obama style: “You know. I have told her those three words which I had not spoken in years. So I just blurt it out. They said I was too divided. most of my sweet words are expressed through email. Love is what led me here today. I feel a more complete comfort than I’ve felt before. I love you. they said this day would never come. I send her messages describing something I felt during an otherwise meaningless interaction.D E W A N G I B S O N But more importantly. “Okay. but can’t be avoided in a true and honest memoir. But on this night—at this defining moment in our history—we have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do. “What?” 166 . openly talks about and appreciates what I write as I look away. They said my sights were set too high. Not one for verbalizing my feelings. flushed. love ya” as she buckles her seatbelt. as I walk her to her car after a long evening of reality television. With her anime eyes even wider than usual. When I’m at my most contemplative. My words are unrehearsed and normal. Startled and ecstatic. And God bless America. I’ll get to the point. unafraid to speak her mind. But one night. The three words that make the ending of any work of fiction cliché. but lacked the nerve to speak up about at the time. shit. she is left speechless. too horny. she says.” But instead I simply say. I could have said it hip-hop style: “I got love for you girl” Or gangsta style: “I ain’t neva had a bitch like you. Okay.

she gives a thirty-two-tooth smile and replies.” Divina drives out of the apartment complex. But this time I overcome my anxiety and repeat. I just go to the place down the street. I don’t usually do laundry here. her eyes on me and not on the slight hill leading to the cranky iron entrance gate. “Nah. It lies in my bedside drawer. “Do you have a key to the laundry room?” The faded. She gives a neighborly hello and I reply with the same.” 167 . As I near my door a young brown woman with makeup-covered moderate acne and the body of a go-go dancer walks past. I wait for her to pass and walk up the stairs in my shrunken pajamas pants. “Love ya. Sorry about that. home keys and keys of old comes to mind. too. She asks. next to the food stained GQ magazine.” Looking as if she is near tears. rusty silver key ring that holds an assortment of work keys. “I love you. my basketballgame feelings return.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T Figuring that maybe it was too much too soon. Scratching my head I answer. She wears red 80s-style short shorts and house shoes.

He says to me in rapid fashion. Not because of some missing social skill undeveloped during childhood. glistening with spit. smarter or prettier—just fresh and different. I was confident that I would fail in any relationship. It was as if my libertine spirit could be contained only by the temporary excitement of newness. or been close to one. “Can I talk to you for a second?” His bulging eyeballs are marked with crooked red lines. His hair shines with gel and his skin is tanned Latino gold. I walk toward the magazine rack that holds the British editions of GQ and other men’s magazines. but mainly because I could. I’ve always preferred these editions over their American counterparts. But with their ten-dollar price tags. instead reading the entire issue while standing hunchbacked. I’ve ruined or run from it. sexier. I never buy them. I believed this was the only way. This all goes through my mind as I loiter in the bookstore on a boring Sunday afternoon. Not thinner. His teeth. He’s accompanied by a young boy and girl that look to LIFE IS FOR 168 . fight for space in his smallish mouth.D E W A N G I B S O N LIVING BUT WHAT MAKES THIS TIME DIFFERENT? Each time I’ve had a relationship in the past. mainly because they don’t hide the occasional bare ass or breast in their larger and glossier layouts. A teenage boy wearing dirty white sneakers and pants that might be unintentionally hanging off his waist walks near.

although seemingly more focused than children at that age should be. He continues. I look at the preschoolers and make sure everything is fine with them. such as the married ex-crack addict who professed love for his family and then tried to get at my mom at the grocery store. But these kids seem pleasant. God wants you to give to the church ’cause it’s my birthday!” I’ve also heard them from the Jesus freaks who want you to ride on their one-way private road. smiling only when I stare at them longer than a few seconds. Isaac says. A second strange move and I’ll have to swing on his skinny ass. He told me to talk to you. Mostly from unscrupulous preachers. Somewhat aggravated that I’ve been distracted from my mission I pause and say. Isaac and I sit at a table in the bookstore café. The children remain standing. God wants you to give to the church ’cause the holidays are here.” 169 . “Is it okay if we sit down?” Feeling concerned. albeit a bit strange. They’re neat in their appearance and seem to lack the curiosity of most children when surrounded by books and other items to pick with. They seem healthy and well taken care of. “He did. This was the same preacher who said.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T be preschool age.” I’ve heard similar things before. I usually prefer not to be around children because they walk slowly and have trouble holding conversations. what’s going on?” He introduces himself as Isaac. a road off limits to those who give God a different name. “God wants you to give to the church ’cause it’s Sunday. Isaac affirms his statement. One strange move and I’ll be jumping away from the table. “Yeah. “But God told me to talk to you. “I know you might think this is weird …” My adrenaline bursts to fight or flight.

And then you’ll have a spiritual move.” I look at her in confusion. “God loves you. Right now it seems like you can’t believe. She says to me. You need to use it. What do you do? You need to use it. buy a flashy new laptop. “God is one hundred percent. The words do not come from his mind. “You’re going to have a physical move soon. he covers his face and runs a few steps away.” he says. but her smile returns. go to Starbucks and write a novel? As you probably know by now. You can tell him. Just know God is with you. stepping closer to me. I end the conversation. but it will happen.D E W A N G I B S O N Laughing nervously. His words twist together. Isaac continues to talk with an intensity that belies his age and a purity more often seen in tiny children. “Don’t be afraid. She too covers her face and runs off a short way. Isaac speaks even faster. It was good talking with you.” A creative talent? Does this mean I can put on a fedora. what did he say?” The stern look on his face leads me to believe it’s not good. I have no words in return. “Thanks a lot man. writing is not my calling.” Overcome with shyness.” 170 . You’re going to dream about this. He giggles and says.” She says nothing. well. “I saw the gold dust come off my hands and I didn’t believe it either. listen and suspend judgment. “He says that you have a creative talent you need to use. Isaac tells her. He goes on without looking up or pretending to mentally search for more as the television psychics do. I reply. I look.” I have trouble believing He’s with me. The little boy interrupts. “It’s not about the religion. “Okay.” The little girl smiles.

If not. I want to tell her how I feel. As I look at her. She rolled her window down and asked if I was okay. I believe. “If you want to talk again. In relationships my conscious has been mute. I leave the bookstore and meet Divina.” I think of one day when I rode my bike to school in the seventh grade. when I come home and find a note on my apartment door that says the building is being demolished and I have thirty days to move. I keep the feelings to myself because the same restless roué spirit could still be within. I’m at the library on Saturdays. I dragged the bike to school and continued my day. and then squeezed her Jeep past me and sped off. But now I want to believe? Weeks later. The bitch hit me and folded the bike in two. Okay. Whatever my senses called for they received. just know that He’s with you. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I tell her about Isaac and the children. A middle-aged Good Samaritan gave chase. who has just finished shopping with her mother. You have a good heart. I saw her coming. but it certainly could have been worse. 171 . I was crossing the Burger King exit when a teen driver coasted right through the red light. but she was gone. I consider telling Divina more. but didn’t even have time to flinch.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T Isaac answers. I’ve been critical of everything and I’ve believed in nothing. but see danger in creating unrealistic expectations. it’s not exactly 50 Cent getting shot nine times and surviving or Travis Barker walking away from a plane crash.

for that matter. I’m broke right now. a few beers and a half-awake girlfriend could be fun—actually more fun than an evening chasing women. a DVD. After all that. As a result. And. alcohol. Just think of the cost of clothes. We spend our time doing what most couples do. Not only do they invite me to their large family functions (it feels good to be the tallest man in the room). Being a single man is can be costly. your girlfriend’s vagina. your dollar-to-sex ratio will decrease to about 10 to 1. much less expensive. But more important than any dollar-to-sex ratio is that Divina’s traditional Filipino family is receptive to our relationship.D E W A N G I B S O N THE AFTERPARTY NEARLY A YEAR to the day we met. will be open more often than a San Diego taco shop. morning-after pills and the various other items you purchase to attract a constant stream of new women. which is molded perfectly to your specifications. I would have never believed that a cotton sheet. you’re easily left with a dollar-to-sex ratio of 300 to 1. based on my experience. 172 . but also they do not care about the race of their daughter’s boyfriend. “You got paid this week. “Shit. Divina and I are still together. which.” or to say. clubs. gas. Thank God and the big-eyed boy at the bookstore that Divina and I do not have to deal with any family difficulties. occasional nights out mixed with the enjoyable comfort of doing absolutely nothing. cars. right? You mind picking up dinner?” Also. is somewhat uncommon. assuming you don’t mess up your sex life by answering the “Which one of my girlfriends do you think is hot?” question. Now imagine still buying all of these items but having the ability to shamelessly admit.

Haniyah has also moved on with her life. not just as event planners or greeters at the Gap. Terrell could not be happier. Najeeb has left Los Angeles and moved to the California desert with his girlfriend. but I have no need to now. When I moved from Ohio. Terrell and I still talk weekly and help each other get through our relationship crises. Maybe a few years ago I would have made a plan to crash the wedding and hold her hostage. He’s completely out the closet and in a longterm relationship with a muscle-bound graduate student. we do call when we’re able to escape the open ears of our girlfriends. Well. Maybe it did not happen during the time frame I anticipated. He has a great job as a real estate attorney. but it turns out I got my adventure and more. which proves that gays can excel in a number of industries. 173 . even that was not so bad. Although we have yet to party in the desert. She’s finishing up graduate school in New York and is engaged to an American guy. Just kidding—she’s engaged to an Arab man. I offered only a quick hello. but for the moment he seems content. Or maybe I’ll just write a book about all this craziness. At the very least I have stories to tell my future nieces and nephews. I last saw her two years ago when she showed up at the clinic. Something tells me he still hungers for revenge against Haniyah’s cheating ex-roommate. except for inviting Eve over and letting her cause a shit flood in my apartment. staying ten feet away to avoid a second immaculate conception. I was looking for adventure. Karina is long gone. now that I think about it. I would not change anything.T H E I M P E R F E C T E N J O Y M E N T My inner circle of friends is also doing well. Turns out she needed prenatal care for an expected second child.

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