There’s a girl on the treadmill in front of me. Blonde hair, fair skin, fit—but thick where it counts. The way her body, specifically her ass, moves while she runs makes me feel like a lonesome old man on a table in a massage parlor. I am on the elliptical, several feet behind her, and because of my current state of energy and the erection in my gym shorts, I feel compelled to approach her. Not just approach her, but take her in my arms. I want to come up from behind and snatch her from the waist, then lift her high above the treadmill like a figure skater and run on the machine for her while her ass bounces in my face. Social norms, decency, and general common sense flag this thought in my brain as an unacceptable action. In fact, it seems quite sex offendery. Like cotton candy, the more I indulge in this sweet, delicious fantasy—the more unsettled my stomach becomes. It won’t happen. It’ll never happen. But just for a moment, I wish it would. Or my testicles wish it would, for a squirt and two seconds of pleasure—followed by three to six months in prison.
When I get off the treadmill I notice something. Something odd. An elderly man, about sixty, is staring down my path. At first I think he’s gawking at the able-bodied woman ahead of me, but he’s not. He’s looking at me. My buttocks. His tongue is curled over the corner of his top lip and his hand is placed subtly at the front of his shorts. He’s rubbing the lump beneath them with his thumb, handling it like money.
I pull the wedging black shorts out from my cheeks and shortly thereafter, the old man’s interest in me fades. His cataract-stricken eyes move onto someone new. I am no longer Channing Tatum in a speedo to him. The sudden disinterest both relieves and somewhat depresses me. It’s the most admiration I’ve gotten in months.
I leave the gym after an hour on the treadmill, six minutes on the weight bench, and less than a minute on the leg press. Carl, my best friend and personal chauffeur, is waiting in the parking lot. Carl is 25, black, and—like myself—a published author.
“Let’s go, it’s colder than a penguin’s balls outside,” he shouts from the behind the cracked open driver’s seat window. It’s 30 degrees in October and I’m taking my sweet time walking to his dad’s orange Chrysler. Beneath my clothing my body is the texture of a marshland.
I load myself into the passenger’s seat and buckle up. “What time are we doing the show again?” he asks.
Carl and I host a podcast called Happy Hour. For sixty to ninety minutes each week we drink beer and shoot the breeze with one another in a very DIY-built studio. A variety of topics are discussed and occasionally we have in guests to promote whatever creative venture they’re pursuing. The show is somewhat derivative of Opie & Anthony and Howard Stern, as we do our best to disgust and offend one another and our listeners by sharing embarrassing true stories and using cringe humor. Unlike the aforementioned shows, however, Happy Hour receives a measly four thousand unique listeners per month. On the podcast spectrum, that’s not that bad considering Carl and I are two nobodies.
“Six o’clock,” I tell him. It’s 3:30PM
“What time are we picking up Jack White again?”
Jack White is our guest for the evening. Not Jack White—famous Jack White, of The White Stripes. But rather a rejected reality star Jack White that Carl and I attended high school with. He did a stint on an MTV reality show and was kicked off mid-season for threatening violence. Three months ago, when he was just off the show, he was doing interviews with E! Online. Now he’s doing a local podcast with the production value of a telethon on public access.
Fifteen minutes of fame are real, I think to myself. He must be clocked in at 14 minutes and 51 seconds.
The main reason we’ve invited Jack White on the show is to out him—to be rude toward him—and make the episode as excruciatingly awkward to listen to as possible. You see, Jack White—along with being a douchey, pseudo-violent reality star—is also a habitual liar and a generally questionable human being. In his pre-show bio for the MTV reality show, his list of personal accomplishments were published as follows: ‘using 17 virgins for sex’ and ‘banging two of my ex-girlfriend’s moms.’ He also listed his hometown as ‘Boston’ and claimed he was born and bred, when in actuality he’d spent every minute of his life living in Weymouth. Though many would find that fact (somewhat rightfully) trivial, the residents of Boston take pride in their city and decidedly labeled Jack a ‘poser’ before the show even began airing.
“Hello?” Carl says, aggravated. He snaps his fingers. “Earth to fuckboy—what time we gotta grab him?”
My brain has wandered off into space and only returns to Earth from the sound of Carl’s fingers. “Five-thirty,” I say. Part of Jack White’s agreement in guest starring on Happy Hour, other than discussing his ‘Bring Back Jack’ campaign to promote a second chance on MTV, involved a round-trip to the studio. Jack White doesn’t drive—he barely knows how to ride a bike. “We should probably show up earlier than that, though.”
“In case it takes him a while to get ready,” I say.
Carl puts the car in drive. “I say fuck’em if he takes longer than six minutes to get dressed. Ain’t nobody got time for that.” He pops on the radio. Gucci Mane blasts from the speakers at an unnecessarily loud volume. “Darker” featuring Chief Keef is the song, and it is almost over.
We drive to Taco Bell to kill time, which is Carl’s decision. I try to tell him that I’m making an attempt at vegetarianism. He replies, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
I say, “That’s getting real old.” And it is. It’s the ninth time he’s said the line in two days. It started weeks earlier, during a recording of Happy Hour, and sounded funny then. Since then he’d forced it into his speech as a catchphrase and it wasn’t catching on. “Can we get Dominos? I’m fiending for Dominos,” I say, changing the subject.
“Nigga, we ate pizza last night.”
“That was a calzone.”
“It was a deep dish pizza with a wrap-around.”
I ignore this comment and accept the fact we’re heading to Taco Bell, where I surely will not be able to control my hunger and almost definitely will order a five-layer burrito.
We pull into the parking lot of Taco Bell five minutes later and order through the drive-thru. Predictably I cave and get a five-layer burrito—which contains beef, along with two volcano tacos—which also contain beef. Carl orders four tacos, a seven-layer burrito, and a large Dr. Pepper.
We sit in the parking lot and eat and discuss topics for the show. The subject of interview questions is brought up by Carl. It was decided earlier in the week that we’d write down questions for guests at least one day before they were set to appear. However, neither of us had stuck to that rule.
“I’ll probably just ask him if the show is scripted,” Carl says with a mouth full of future diarrhea.
“It’s not,” I tell him. “They don’t need to script it—they cast people that are desperate for attention and do over-the-top shit to get camera time. Scripting it would lose them money.” I take a bite of my taco. “Even if it were scripted, he wouldn’t be able to reveal that. They’ve got gag orders on all the contestants.”
“I don’t care, I’m still asking it. But yo, how many questions you up to?”
“Five. Are we still doing seven a piece?”
Carl nods his head.
“I think we should start off with regular questions, like yours,” I say, “And then move onto uncomfortable ones. Like, for example, ‘What did you mean by ‘All Muslims should be deported’ when you wrote that on Facebook earlier today?”
Carl laughs and finishes his taco. “This motherfucker has a daughter and be talkin’ ‘bout, like, ‘period stops a sentence but it don’t stop me’—wink, wink.”
I smirk and nod my head, but then admit, “I don’t get it.”
“Period—menstruation period,” Carl says, and unwraps his burrito. He takes a bite of it. “Motherfucker wrote that up on Facebook last night. The shit he be sayin’ on there makes me shake my head every time I see it. Like, I’m not sayin’ we’re better than him, but we’re better than him.”
I think Carl is right. I think we are better than him. But I say nothing instead to convince myself I’m a better person than I am.
“I gotta take a piss,” Carl says, and as he shifts in his seat nacho cheese drips from the end of his wounded burrito. Goldenrod gunk slops onto the breast of his leather jacket, and for the first time that day I realize that Carl is wearing something other than a hemp-sewn sweater—his go-to attire.
“Ah ha, you dick,” I say. “That’s what you get for raiding Terminator 2’s wardrobe department.”
“Fuck you,” he says, and reaches for a napkin.
It gets dark at 5:00PM, and we’re outside of Jack White’s mother’s house at 5:20PM. We’ve been waiting twelve minutes. Neither of us has heard from him since morning but have sent a combined total of six texts. Not a single response has been given.
When 5:30PM arrives, Carl starts to voice his restlessness.
When 5:36PM arrives, and two more texts are ignored, a familiar feeling sets in—the one associated with being motherfucked. “I don’t think he’s going to do the show,” I tell Carl, who I catch with a finger up his nose.
“I don’t think so either,” he says and puts his hand back on the wheel. “Ain’t nobody got time for this waitin’ shit.”
We’re sitting in the dark of night listening to System of Down’s “BYOB” and I really wish that I wasn’t. I wish I were at home, alone, watching Girls on HBO and maybe drinking vodka and Capri Sun.
We choose to wait another five minutes. And then another. And then another. And then I persuade Carl to knock on Jack’s mother’s door, which he reluctantly agrees to.
“Is Jack home?” Carl asks when Jack White’s mother answers the door.
The middled-aged woman is draped in a dark blue bathrobe and is wearing pink slippers. The look on her face makes it clear she is put off by the fact that an unrecognizable, six-foot tall man bound in leather is asking for her son without any explanation. “No,” she says, staring at him with two wide eyes. “And he won’t be home all night.”
“All night?” Carl says. “You know where he’s at?”
“No,” Jack’s mother says, and puts her hand on the edge of the door, preparing to shut it.
“Then how do you know he won’t be home later?”
“I just know,” she says, and shuts the door.
Carl looks at me from the doorstep blankly and shakes his head. Neither of us is surprised.
The show goes off without a hitch in spite of Jack White bailing on us. We scrap all intentions of providing an awkward episode to our listeners and, instead, I contact a writer friend from Brooklyn to substitute over Skype. He promotes his book, a bizarro novel about sperm ghosts, and the interview goes as smooth as one could hope, save for a couple of connection errors interfering midway through the call. By eight o’clock we wrap up and Carl and I part ways shortly thereafter.
The next morning I wake up to a text from Carl. It reads, “Jack hit me up on Facebook… says he overslept. he wanna to do the interview tonight.”
I write back, “Who the fuck sleeps for a whole day?”
Carl writes, “idk bro.”
I write, “Whatever. What time is he free?”
Carl writes, “idk I’ll ask and get back to u.”
After work I go to the gym. I plan on dedicating more time to the leg press because my ex refers to my legs as ‘string beans.’ It’s not really something I stress over, or even worry about, but because I have the time to improve upon them, I will.
As I work my knees I keep my eyes on the entrance to the gym. People come in and out, trying their best to avoid eye contact with the dude at the front desk. Nobody acknowledges his existence. He’s invisible. A nobody.
Thirty minutes pass and I move onto the treadmill. That’s when someone catches my eye. On the far right of me, pacing toward the gym’s locker room, is Jack White. And he looks rough—as in I’ve seen down and out crackheads that look better than him. The man has transformed himself into a living, breathing version of Jack Skellington, dark sockets and all. The backpack strapped over his shoulders looks like it’ll topple him over at any second. A far cry from the toned, shapely build he possessed while being televised. He doesn’t see me, and I pretend not to see him.
When he exits the gym’s locker room he’s changed out of his sweater and jeans. They’ve been replaced with a standard pair of gym shorts and a track-mark showcasing white t-shirt with a red MTV logo at the center. A desperate cry, that’s all it is. ‘Look at me, look at me, I was on a TV show. Please ask me for an autograph.’
As my mind dives into the territory ‘embarrassment’ for this individual, something happens. Something I don’t really expect.
My frustration and partial disgust for Jack White evaporates, all at once, like it were never there at all. I no longer know how I feel about him—but then I do. It becomes clear. He becomes clear.
This man, despite his ignorance and self-absorbed nature, has nothing to cling onto except a memory. A glimmer of short-lived opportunity that was squandered as a result of an intoxicated bout. When stripped of all else, at our core, we are no different. Just two men seeking recognition. One living in the past, one looking to the future. One gripping, one building.
The interview is canceled, by me.
“Life is hard but being stupid makes it harder.” A George V. Higgins quote from The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Maybe not the book, but definitely the movie. It’s stuck in my head. It rings true.