A Work of Fiction (part 2)

I Married OJ (part two, draft one)

OJ and I didn’t wind up moving to Arizona.   When my parents got back from their trip we had dinner with them.   My parents were not the easiest people to impress, to put it mildly, but everything went fine and OJ was very charming.   They seemed to like him.   Fortunately for everybody, my fucking uncle was not at dinner with us that night, fouling the mood like a flapping harpy.   He would have made one of his indigestibly snarky comments when OJ left his usual very generous tip, after picking up the check.   “Jesus, OJ, only a 40% tip?  Was the waiter a putz?”   Actual quote, from lunch at the Jackson Diner on another occasion.  My father and mother exchanged a pointed glance at the size of the tip (they always calculated their 15% to the dime), but that was it.

One of the things I loved about OJ, which was in complete contrast to my skinflint family– OJ enjoyed the finer things in life and liked living large.   He didn’t hesitate to give his money to people who made him happy, or to buy things either of us wanted.  I saw a beautiful pair of cowboy boots one day when we were walking in the city.  They were ridiculously expensive, but exquisite.   He saw that I loved them, yet I resisted getting them.  And then, ten minutes later, I was wearing them, carrying my former boots in a bag.  “If you love it, and you have the money, why hesitate?” OJ said, after casually dropping hundreds on the boots that made me so happy.   I had never heard it put so simply and so directly.  Nobody in the history of my family had ever spoken such words, or handled money with such a light, non-possessive touch.

He didn’t care what the price was, it was just a number, he always said.  If it made you happy, it was yours. When we moved in together it was the first time I ever experienced that easy way of life.  It was so liberating, not to agonize over whether you really needed something.  If you like it– buy it!  Why not tip the sales girl who had been so helpful?   Hey, they work hard, don’t get paid much, she was great, why not show her some love, money makes everybody happy.  It’s a pleasure to be generous, particularly when you come from a family that watches every dollar the way mine always did.   I felt liberated from a cramped cage I hadn’t even realized I was trapped in.

We had two very good incomes and no children back then, although our two little rescue dogs, Heckle and Jeckle, were like our kids.   Heckle was black and Jeckle was white and OJ joked that we had smashed the racist stereotype of those two cartoon magpies by integrating the duo.   My uncle gave me shit, of course, about my new collection of high-end cowboy boots, but, that was him.  Why do we work hard to earn money if not to enjoy the things it can buy?  A question my uncle never had an answer for, funny for a man who considered himself a great moral philosopher and who lived like a penitent monk.  

I made a good living managing a health club and OJ was taking in an excellent income as a salesman.  He sold high end fine art reproductions for a company called Portal.  Portal had the license to print the works of the Impressionists, Van Gogh and a lot of other beautiful paintings.   The reproductions were gorgeous, we had a couple framed in our home.   They also had a line of fine art greeting cards and what is now called “merch” with their beautiful licensed images on them, mugs and t-shirts and things like that.   He used to say Portal’s stuff sold itself.   He was part of a team that was very close and the boss really loved OJ.  How could you not love someone like OJ?  All he wanted was to be happy and make other people happy.  He was very popular at Portal and the star of their softball and basketball teams.

In fact, my uncle himself said that the home run OJ hit at Central Park, in a pickup game my uncle was also playing in, was the hardest hit, longest home run he’d ever seen outside of a major league ballpark.  

Then the Recession hit.  It hit everybody, but, of course, in sales you feel it first, particularly if you are selling discretionary items like fine art reproductions.  Business slowed a little bit and OJ did something that in retrospect was a bad mistake.   He realized one day that the enormous sample book he carried with him in his car, with hundreds of beautiful items, was worth a lot of money.    

He started selling it off for cash to store owners who were looking for a deal.   It was a mistake.  He sold the samples and then told the boss his car had been robbed and the sample book stolen.   Although they loved him at Portal, and immediately replaced the first lost sample book, when the second sample book entered the stream of commerce, and unbeknownst to OJ there was a tiny code on the back of each sample page that led straight back to the salesman, he was done.

My uncle the piker had inherited $25,000 when his wife died.  He had the remaining $20,000 or so in a CD, which at that time paid something like 10% interest.   Then he got a letter from the IRS that made him paranoid, since he hadn’t filed taxes on his meager income in several years.   He didn’t want the IRS to seize his measly $20,000 so he asked OJ and I to keep it in a CD under our names.   It was really no problem.  If he ever needed money from the CD we would withdraw it, take him out to lunch and give him the money.  

So one day over lunch OJ told my uncle that he’d lost his job, was out looking for work and mentioned that we had a temporary cash flow problem, and that we were trying to get pregnant, my uncle was soon going to be a great-uncle.   He asked my uncle if he could borrow the money in the CD.  He told him he’d pay it back, with interest, in a very short time.  To his credit, my uncle didn’t hesitate, though it still strikes me as odd all these years later.

In the clear light of hindsight, that loan was the real beginning of everything turning to shit with my family.


A Work of Fiction

I Married OJ   (part one, draft one)

He was incredibly handsome, that was the first thing I noticed when he smiled at me at Shea Stadium that early summer day, the first time we were introduced.  It is very important to be good looking in this world, I have always believed, more important than almost anything else.  He was an extremely good looking man.  He was big, and looked incredibly strong, and at ease with himself, he carried himself like an athlete, which it turns out he was.  His presence was electric.  He was unhappily married to my best friend’s sister, or had been, they were separated, practically divorced.    There were six of us in that little group, and tens of thousands at the stadium cheering for the Mets, but at the same time, it seemed like we were the only two people there, the way he looked at me.  It felt like being in a wonderful Hollywood movie.

I should point out right at the start that I am not, of course, married to OJ, the infamous OJ who was possibly the most charismatic man in America before he went insane and hacked two people’s heads off.  “OJ” is the nickname my father and my fucking uncle gave my husband around the time of that trial, when OJ used his millions, his celebrity, his charm and his newly discovered blackness to buy his way out of the murder charges.  It was a vicious nickname, although my husband, who has a perverse streak, embraced it from the start.   At first he used the name as a fuck you to my judgmental family,  referring to himself as OJ, then it just became his name between us.  Funny how these things happen.  

I was twenty-two when we met and in the best shape of my life.  OJ and I started dating right after that Mets game, more than dating, we saw each other every day. He’d be waiting for me when I got off work.   My hyper-opinionated uncle, who I already implied was something of a prick, always reminded me that my purse, stolen from under my box seat that day I met OJ, was an omen of things to come.   He even claimed that OJ had pocketed the cash in my wallet and tossed the purse on his way to the bathroom.  That’s the kind of sick fuck my uncle was.

Our love affair began as one of those whirlwind romances.  We were both swept off our feet.  From the beginning I knew this was a man who would always protect me.  His combative side was something I admired, he was fearless when facing down other men.   I felt like I could go anywhere with him and be completely safe.  He had this wonderful easy ability to calm me whenever I felt afraid, his strength felt like my own superpower.  I knew he would do anything for me.  Which was true, as he proved over and over in those early days.  He came to know me better than anyone I’ve ever met.

[editor’s note:  shit, this is not going to be as smooth a sail as I imagined when I was excited about setting this story down.  This is going to be fucking work.]

The problems with my judgmental family started right away.   We were at my family’s place, grilling some steaks in the backyard.  My parents were away and we were enjoying a summer evening when my fucking uncle just happened to drop by. My father’s little brother was fifteen years younger than my father, it sometimes felt he was my own brother as much as my uncle.   A brother like Cain, I should say. My uncle was five years older than OJ and from their first exchange they seemed like two brothers destined for violence.  

They clashed that first evening and the argument continued to escalate until my uncle’s heart attack twenty years later.  My uncle’s problem was that he thought he was my father.  That was one of his problems.  His larger problem was that he was a frustrated asshole, one of these intellectual types who think they understand more than anybody else and constantly remind people of all the important books he read that they had never even heard of.

OJ was a voracious reader himself, devoured books, was always reading three or four at a time.  So he took no shit from my uncle when the argument over whatever they were arguing about started.   In these situations the subject of the argument is only a pretext for fighting.  OJ never backed down from a fight and neither did my uncle.   It was sport for my uncle, this hostile intellectual jousting, and it was the first time I saw that it was also something OJ fell into quite naturally.   They fought for a while and then my uncle caught me in the kitchen and asked what my parents thought of this “pretentious ape.”   

The question caught me unawares, OJ and I were talking about moving to Tucson, Arizona and were thinking of doing it before my parents got back from their long holiday.   OJ had told my uncle that we were moving right before my uncle slipped into the kitchen.  As for my parents’ long multi-continental vacation, it’s not that they were wealthy international jet-setters, it was my mother’s cancer diagnosis, and the bad news my father was given after the operation, that caused my father to reach into their savings and arrange a long vacation involving airplanes, cruise ships and visas to a dozen or more countries my mother had always wanted to see.  

“Don’t you think your parents should at least meet this intractable asshole before you start your life with him?”  my uncle said, using the term ‘intractable asshole’, like the intractable asshole he was.  I told my uncle to grow up, and get himself a new thesaurus while he was at it.   My uncle began snarling back, OJ came in, my uncle wished us both all the best, got back into his car and roared off.  

“Nice family,” OJ said, deadpan, and we had a laugh.   That’s another thing, OJ was hilarious.

The Torture Debate

Disclaimer from Sekhnet about this piece:

“I hated it.  ‘I hated it’ was an understatement.  I urge you to take this down, people will not realize it’s fiction.   They will think this is something that really happened, you acting like a complete asshole.  It’s horrifying, and very realistic, it’s plausible to people who never met you.  It seems to have been written from life.  They will think this is an actual story from your life, and it’s a sick story.   And the connection between the narrator’s torture debate with his colleague is not made to what the asshole narrator does to his guest. It’s just plain stupid.”


Rest assured, this is a harmless work of complete fiction:

The Torture Debate

A classmate of mine from law school I hadn’t heard from in decades, a striving type who’d gone to work for “the man”, and “done very well”, called to check in with me, the great idealist.   Our career trajectories could not have gone much differently.   He was very wealthy, loved the new tax cuts, I was still idealistic, and paying off my student loans on the drip, drip, drip plan.   I got a couple of laughs out of him before he turned serious, began talking politics.

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves coming from our respective corners, the then-contentious subject of torture reared its ugly head, specifically the issue of Americans and foreign partners collaborating in the torture of terrorism suspects.   His points were predictable: the human right of one particular individual, or hundreds, not to be handled inhumanely did not equal the human rights of a little blonde girl not to get blown up by a fanatic on her way to school.

We eventually “agreed to disagree,” with appropriately fake phone smiles, about things like whether a stress position, forced enemas, a freezing cold cell or prolonged sleep deprivation were actually torture or merely forms of tough, but perfectly legal, ‘coercion’ to get vital information to save the lives of those innocents whose deaths from a terrorist’s bomb were imminent.   After we reached this lawyerly agreement I thanked him for calling and told him I had to get going.  He said he’d be in town the following week and asked if I’d be free to meet him at some point.  He cheerfully accepted my invitation to come by for a drink.

He liked the drink I served him very much, the last of a bottle of 12 year-old MacCallan’s.   We drank a toast with that lovely single malt, followed by a round of Johnny Walker Black, also good.  We chased the whisky with small glasses of cold seltzer and, being both suddenly thirsty, found ourselves musing over the peculiarly unambiguous American use of the word “drink.”

“I haven’t had a drink in ten years,” I said, setting up the old gag.

“Boy, you must be thirsty!” he said, smiling like he’d spiked the winning shot at the Canker, Boyle and Whitehead annual volleyball tournament.

“If you are, in fact, thirsty,” I said, “I can get you a delicious drink I just re-discovered.  I think you’ll find it quite refreshing.”  I brought him a tall, frosty glass of fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice, very sweet, spiked with a splash of ice cold seltzer.  I had one too.  The delicious combination of the sweet liquid fruit and the cold bubbles really hit the spot.  He liked it very much, too.  I offered him a refill and he smiled, thanked me and drank that also.

When I came back from the bathroom I asked if he’d like one more.  Best to avoid dehydration while drinking whisky, I reminded him.  With a slightly sheepish smile he said he wouldn’t mind one more, if I had enough.   I assured him I did and brought him another tall, frosty drink.  We had another shot of whisky, too.

When he got up to go to the bathroom I stood, put a firm hand on his shoulder and restrained him.  

“No,” I said.

Unable to dislodge my hand he quickly became indignant.  He started using his words.  Being stronger than him, and determined, I was not obliged to pay the slightest attention to his arguments.   I would remain, for purposes of this particular dispute, the proponent of argumentum ad baculum, which the internet informs us is the fallacy committed when one appeals to force or the threat of force to bring about the acceptance of a conclusion

We were locked this way for over an hour, maybe two hours.   Every time he tried to get up, I’d press down with force.   The futility of this exercise of trying to stand, once it became clear that I was determined to argue like a “Might Makes Right” asshole,  finally overwhelmed him.   

After the ignored legal and moral arguments came the cursing and the attempts at intimidation.  When the cursing was done, the appeals to my common decency, the ethical standards of our shared profession, to our long ago friendship, began.  The consciences of my dead parents, who he’d met at graduation, were eventually dragged into his shameless appeal.  The appeal got so personal I had to stop looking at him.   Eventually, he was quiet.  

It took a moment before I realized my work was done.  His chair was in the middle of a dark lake.   His ride home would be embarrassing, his tailored leisure pants would need a dry cleaning and his expensive shoes appeared to have been ruined.  

Then the tears began, which was horrible to see, really.   Hosing down the tile floor afterwards, I knew that my old classmate now had every right not to call me next time he comes to New York.  Worse, I’ll never get to find out who won that long-running debate between us about the exact nature of torture.


How You Do It

“What difference did it make to Azrael?” I asked him, when he told me how upset Azrael had been when an insect drowned in hot water while he was running a bath.   

“I asked him that after he came out of the bathroom,” he said.  “He’d been running hot water to rinse the tub when a bug he realized was alive a moment too late to save it died a horrible, plunging, drowning death in the pipes.    What he said to explain it to me was so simple it still strikes me.   He said ‘picture your own moment of death — would you like it instant and painless or prolonged and painful?’  I always think of that when I kill a bug, to this day.  That bug desperately swimming for his life away from the sucking drain could have instantly been put out of his mortal terror and unavoidable death by a merciful finger.  

“Azrael had been too slow to react when he saw the bug, at first he didn’t realize it was even alive.  Then he saw it struggling to swim in the hot water away from the drain.  Then he’d watched the bug get swept over Niagra Falls to die an agonizing death by drowning in the churning, unbearably hot water.  It impressed me how awful he felt about not sparing that bug such a miserable death.”  

“Instant and painless or prolonged and painful,” I said.  “I like that.  A no-brainer for a marketing/branding scheme exploiting that no-brainer:   ‘Quick/no pain or slow/maximum pain, your choice.’  It’s appealingly philosophical, too.”    

“Of course, life is not so black and white,” he said.  

“Exactly, which is why such idiotically phrased choices are so irresistible, anyone who’d choose the wrong choice is so obviously wrong.   I like the phrase, and I think we can monetize it, I think it’s a good choice phrase,” I said.  “Plenty of imagery and punch, the rubes will love it.”

“The phrase is fine, monetize away, I’m just sayin’,” he said.  

“You know, it’s not like Azrael was exactly into Ahimsa or any ascetic religious practice that would have made him so sensitive to a bug’s soul.  He ate meat, he’d curse, he was always rough breaking up a fight,” I said.   “He certainly didn’t shrink from hurting anybody.”

“He didn’t, but when you say Azrael ate meat, that’s funny, yeah, he ate meat.  He lived on meat, ate almost nothing besides meat.   He was a shoichet’s assistant, at a place down the street from the butcher’s, from shortly after his bar mitzvah, if I recall correctly, until he started working at the delicatessen,” my brother reminded me.  

“He was one tough son of a bitch,” I said.  

“Yiss,” he said.  

“And he always kept a dog.”  We both remembered Azrael’s dogs.

“Yiss,” my brother said.

A Way With Words

You have a way with words.  

Away with words!   Speak little, do much.  

Nicely said, Ned!  

I’ll pretend you didn’t say that, Fred.  

Now, why you want to be like that, Ed? I was trying to tender you a kind word.  

Yet you rendered me a mind turd, dittn’t you, Ted?

I just said you have your way with words.  

You sayin’ I don’t respect ’em, just have my way with ’em, is that what you’re saying, Zed?  

I’m not saying that.  I’m not saying anything.  

You sure have a funny way of not saying anything, Red.  

You said it.

Addiction to Social Media

It’s understandable, friends.  There is a human longing to be connected to…. hang on a second,  I’ve got to send a quick email, excuse me.

What’s the deal with looking at the smart phone every couple of minutes, every few seconds, what’s the …

It is addictive, this feeling of being connected, of having the world at your fingertips. A moment of total control in an out of control world when you stop to make your phone do something cool, smart, informative, interactive.

In elementary school, for me decades ago, when any of this was the domain of the smartest science fiction writers, a teacher described a psychological experiment that has a lesson in it for all of us today…. wait, got a message coming in, hang on.

They hooked an electrode up to the pleasure center of a rat’s brain.  Many rats were hooked up this way.  They had a button to push to give them a jolt of pleasure, the equivalent of an orgasm.   It took the rats a very short time to make the connection between pressing this button and the immediate jolt of pleasure.  

The scientists were not all that shocked to find that every rat died with his or her paw on this button.   There was no reason for them not to keep pressing it and it was irresistible, after all.

I had something more to say, but my phone is now fully charged and I’m thinking of downloading the electrode to the pleasure center app.  I’m sure someone is developing it… hold on, there’s a notification.  

Shoot, just an email, I’d better answer that.