Number 1: Dinner Demons | Miscellany | Chicago Reader

Number 1: Dinner Demons 

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Veronica calls and says that Matt has just come home with a big bag of p-o-t and that maybe I should come over for dinner. "Yes," I say, "maybe I should."

What a friendly gesture, I think to myself as I dash across the park. I'd met Matt and Veronica just two nights before at an amiable little tavern up the street on Damen. What a night that was. Laughing and joking, crazy photo-booth sessions, 50-cent shots of Jagermeister, and a very generous barkeep Veronica seemed to know rather well. I don't remember much of any conversation that took place that night, only that Veronica kept taking off her top and that everyone was having lots of fun.

I cross Damen and turn up Evergreen, passing a group of boys in Laker jackets. One of them spits and calls me a yuppie. I'm sure he means it as a joke so I take no offense. Oh no, I'm quite flattered. He thinks I have insurance and credit cards and that I make more than $4,000 a year. He thinks I'm making payments on something other than the gas bill. Still, I wonder if we don't attach different meanings to the word. Yuppie. Clearly he means one thing, I mean another. The way the word bitch, to some, does not mean "nasty slut" but rather "hello woman." I'd like to illustrate to the young man that he's made a mistake. I'm not what he thinks I am. As a matter of fact I'm on my way to get high, and therefore quite possibly we share something of a bond.

"But all bugs," I say to the boy men, "all bugs are not cockroaches." Delighted by my own quick wit, I continue on, while behind me someone hawks a loogie.

Veronica is glad to see me. Really glad. For dinner she's made her favorite, noodles with pepper and garlic. Lots of pepper. Lots of garlic. Matt is glad to see me also but is much less physical about it. No juicy lip kisses from Matt. Just a bare chest and two self-piercing nipple rings, a shaved head, and a downward glance that says, hello woman. Veronica sets the table while Matt puts on some music, a deep-trans-techno-acid-house-hop mix of apocalyptic wonder with 185 beats per minute. Perfect with dinner.

Matt seems glad to see me, but I wonder if his selection of music isn't a thinly veiled expression of resentment at my coming over to smoke his dope. I present myself as the perfect guest. "Matt," I say at the dinner table, "this is a stunning tune. Who is this?"

"Oh, do you like it?" he says and turns it up, as if it could go any louder. "It's Idiot Bliss."

"Idiot Bliss, my. They're new, aren't they?"

"No," Matt says.

"Well, I've got to stop living with my head in a hole, haven't I?"

Veronica eats her dinner like a little cat-rabbit, nibbling and licking away. I watch her lick her fingers. She licks her knife and after that she licks the serving spoon. I watch her eat and talk at the same time. "I got a letter in the mail today from my friend Miao in Seattle," she says. She drinks her wine with little laps of the tongue.

"And how is Meow?" I ask.

"Not Meow," Matt says.

"Miao, like Ciao. Miao."

"I beg your pardon, Matt." From the looks of the apartment I wouldn't have guessed Matt was such a stickler for detail.

Veronica says Miao says that if a spaceship comes down for us we should all get on because it will be God come to save us from earth's wretched future. She says everyone in Seattle is talking about it. Matt's face says he's still offended. Mistaking Miao for Meow. How could I have been so stupid? I use the notion of God's holy spaceship to lure Matt back into the confines of deference and civility. "Matt," I say, "will you get on God's holy spaceship when it comes?"

"Get on it," he says. "No. I might get in it but I'm not going to ride on top."

Veronica asks if I will get on God's holy spaceship. I tell her it depends on who else is getting on. "What do you mean?" she asks.

"Well I'm not going to board willy-nilly," I say. "What if my upstairs neighbor gets on? That man raises pit bulls. I'm not getting on with that." I tell her if I see, say, Oprah getting on I may have a change of heart.

Matt says he would rather get on the information highway, and meet God on his own, rather than getting on the spaceship, which like the bus will only be a breeding ground for TB. He says the spaceship will be for people who don't have computers and that he will have his by the time God comes. He says definitely, though, he will not be getting on God's holy spaceship if Rush Limbaugh is on.

"On TV or on the spaceship," I ask. Matt looks at me as though there were a horrible smell coming from my direction.

Veronica says she will not get on God's holy spaceship if there is anything on TV, because that would mean there was someone still left on earth, and that she, Veronica, would want to be the very last, last person to board God's holy spaceship. She asks what if I can't see Oprah already has her seat.

This little game of what if is starting to depress me and I announce to the table that I will not be boarding God's holy spaceship at all. Matt passes behind me on his way into the kitchen and detectably mutters, "as if anyone cares."

"What do you mean you won't be boarding God's holy spaceship?" Veronica asks. I tell her I mean that if Wicker Park gets on God's holy spaceship, I won't be. "But nobody else would be here," Veronica deduces. "You'd have to get high all by yourself." Yes. "But if there were nobody left in Wicker Park, you'd have to go all the way to Humboldt Park to buy your dope." I tell her if there were no one left in Wicker Park, I'd be high on life and I wouldn't need any dope.

Veronica is hurt, so I spend after-dinner time in the kitchen helping with dishes as a gesture of goodwill and gratitude for the future bowl of hooch we will share in the living room after I have persuaded Matt to change the music. I ask probing questions about her childhood and family. I feign interest in her affairs. Her many, many affairs. One right after another, an endless stream of half-night romances with this bartender, that bartender. This cab driver, that cab driver. This paramedic, that paramedic. I imagine that Veronica's services would be available to any adventurous commuter on God's holy spaceship. "You're crazy about God's spaceship, Cheryl," she says. "You better get on with God." I imagine Veronica getting on with God.

I follow her into the living room where Matt hangs like a bat on a bar on a rack off the ceiling. I wonder why he is doing this just after eating. Veronica and I sit on the couch. She picks up the classifieds and scans the personals leisurely but with intent. I wonder why she has invited me over. Where was this alleged bag of pot?

I light a cigarette to drop the hint that something needed to get burning. I drop the hint that I have very bad cramps. Veronica asks Matt to get me some Advil from the bathroom.

"You get it," Matt says, "I'm hanging."

"You get it, Matt," Veronica says, "I'm reading."

Matt crunches himself up quickly 50 times before disengaging himself. He executes a midair flip to get down, tells me I wouldn't have such bad cramps if I got more exercise, and squeezes my middle. I follow him to the bathroom. Which has no door on it. A beach towel drapes the entrance.

Matt explains that the landlord is in the process of refurbishing. He says this with a bit of pride, adding that the landlord cuts a full third off the rent to employ Matt's assistance. "Yes, I see. Very nice." Heating vents on the floor have not been covered and hot blasts jet up my skirt. A section of the wall separating the kitchen from the bathroom has been cut out and replaced with glass block. Matt explains that after the fire the landlord thought rather than replacing the entire wall he'd use glass block so that if another fire started in the kitchen, anyone in the bathroom could see the flames. "Brilliant!"

"Yes," Matt says, "we thought about smoke detectors but there are just too many false alarms." He asks how many Advil, one or two? Twelve please.

In the living room, Matt changes the music to something a little more subtle. Ambient industry noise. Veronica changes the mood by dimming the tracks and lighting a red devil penis candle on the coffee table. "Cheryl darling," she says, "will you bring me Matt's jacket from the coat tree in the hall?"

"Yes, pet, of course." I pretend I don't know or care Veronica is sending me to retrieve something very special. I pretend it's the furthest thing from my mind that I am about to get righteously high. "Matt's jacket? On the coat tree? I don't see it. Oh, this jacket, here?"

Veronica takes the jacket and pulls out what I have been waiting for. That's right. She tells me it's hydroponic so a little goes a long way. I understand. She pinches off a bit of it for the bong, a four-foot water pipe. Veronica tells me the landlord left it over on one of his last project days a month ago. "Cheryl darling," she says again, as if the use of darling could make any more attractive what she was about to offer me.

"Yes, pet?"

"Did you know a dog will lick for hours anything spread with peanut butter?" Her pretty little pixie face stuns me.

"Really? Peanut butter? Fascinating."

"Oh yes," she says, "Bundy..." she calls and from the other room jogs in a black dog that's a mix of doberman and rotweiller. I watch Veronica light and suck up the bong; she holds the smoke in then blows it out all over Bundy's face. "Hello boy," she says and lets him wash her face with dog kisses. "Cheryl darling," she says again.

"Yes...pet?"

"I'm not going to get you high until you promise to get on with me in God's spaceship."

I should have seen it coming. "Oh pet, are we still on that tired routine?" Matt sits in an armchair in the corner reading with focus and vigor the pages of an Interview magazine. With his fixed gaze, he strikes an uncanny resemblance to Captain Picard deep in thought. I try not to look at him, or the beautiful bud Veronica has placed in an Altoid tin on the coffee table. I try not to think of myself on God's holy spaceship with Veronica as my bunkmate. The endless nights up...talking...giggling...Veronica recounting the many stewards she had screwed that day. But maybe I'm a snob. Why wouldn't Veronica make a wonderful bunkmate? She's certainly friendly enough. All bugs are not cockroaches. All bugs are not cockroaches. How could it get any worse?

"Oh pet," I say. "Well, if it will make you happy..."

"Good," she says. "Matt, will you get me the jar of Skippy from the kitchen? I want to show Cheryl something."

Next month: "My Cloister Complex."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Dan Grzeca.

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