CALVIN AND HENRY
Henry McCabe: Lewie Longhi and I are the department’s only remaining white males. The most numerous identity group (I am making this survey during our monthly mandatory meeting) is Female, Jewish. Of course, we’ve also got African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos and Latinas, who are very fussy about how you pronounce their names. Now it appears that we’ve also got Lesbians (overlapping with Female, Jewish), as the motion presently on the floor is to start offering Lesbian Lit 1, 2, and 3. I make a face at Lewie Longhi, who turns away from me.
Calvin Smith: I’m a south Berkeley guy, and I don’t know a soul at this party in Oakland my girl took me to. But Delia’s an old Oaktown gal, and she’s real excited to see her school friend, Portia. Big, mannish thing, name should be Chewbacca. Puts her hands all over Delia, can’t stop hugging her. Also some big dude, looks even more like Chewie, keeps eying me très hostile. What the fuck is bothering him? He think I’m somebody else? Naturally I have enemies, doing what I do, but not so many I don’t know who they are.
Portia ambles off to refresh her drink, and I tell Delia, let’s go home, I’m tired. Just to get us started, I grab her arm and direct her toward the door, and she calls out, Hey! Portia tromps back and cops an attitude with me, and then I see Mr. Chewbacca coming, so, fuck it. It ain’t worth it. I say to Delia, I’m leaving. Call on your cell if you want me to pick you up later. Oh, I’ll get a ride, she says.
Henry: Dyke Lit is certain to be approved, and I don’t care. I really don’t. But because someone ought to say something, I ask, How many lesbian writers are there? Do you really have a whole year’s worth? This causes Chairperson Bronstein to swell toadlike and sneer, Yes, Henry, we do, and everyone knows your perspective on diversity. Rattling his Malcolm X bracelet, Af-Am Lit Option Director Robinson compresses his lips and shakes his head, which doesn’t bother me one bit. But several of my colleagues laugh, including that shit Longhi. As long as he gets to teach British Survey every two years, he doesn’t care about anything else.
All right, I say, question withdrawn. Well then, says broadly smiling Bronstein, any more business? Probably there isn’t any, but she still doesn’t like it when I get up and leave before she officially closes the meeting. That’s some satisfaction, but I still have to hang around for two hours before my evening class. There’s nothing to do here, absolutely nothing.
Calvin: Delia never calls. Just past midnight, a car comes into the driveway, and then I hear a woman yelling. When I go downstairs, it’s Portia, obviously wasted, and bellowing out things like No, No! and Don’t Go In There, Delia! She’s sitting in the back seat of this little Toyota, reaching around the seat in front of her and holding Delia so she can’t get out. Some other girl behind the wheel.
What’re you doing, I say. Let her out. Get back you little motherfucker, the big dyke says. I call Portia a bitch, and she gets specifically mad about that, about the word. After what she said to me? I don’t understand women today.
Unfortunately, when I take hold of Delia’s arm, to help her exit the car, that’s the exact moment Portia picks to let go. So Delia gets kind of rolled out of her seat and falls down on the cement on her arm and the side of her face. She lets out a yell, from startlement more than pain. She’s just scraped a little. I pick her up and hustle her up the stairs to our apartment before Portia can squeeze out of the Toy. At first Delia thinks I threw her down and is amazed and continues to scream. Goes in our place and slams the door. As I open the door behind her, I hear the car leave, fast. Good.
Henry: Eight people have appeared for class, all more or less unprepared. After my chewy microwaved pizza slice in the student union, with its sticky tables, my bowels are roiling, and I fart silently, once, twice, thrice. For Homer, for Dante, for Goethe. It’s a “Masterworks” class for General Education credit. Tempted to let go and really blast one, to see if they would notice. Or walk up to the one decent-looking woman in the room, say, Pull my finger, baby, and give vent. I can’t think of anything else to liven things up, and after an hour of general boredom I tell everyone to go home.
On my way out, I pause in the doorway to Bronstein’s Women’s Lit. She doesn’t see me, but her students do and look my way. When she turns, I wave my briefcase at her to let her know I’m going home early. She glares at me, and I smile. Good.
Calvin: But it’s not good, cause as soon as I get Delia chilled out, big feet come tromping up the stairs. Bang-bang-bang on the door! Berkeley PD, called by Portia on her cell to say (I’m sure) I’m beating on Delia. Only thing I can do is turn on the radio real loud while I flush away my entire stash, my goods, two months worth of income. I know the man’s not here for that, but what if he does a search? So down it goes, into the swirling--ice, coke, E. Then I open up. Sorry, officer. The radio on, we didn’t hear you.
Delia’s in the bedroom, but he tells her to come out. He shines a flashlight in her face, sees a little scrape. Looking at me, she says she accidentally fell outside. Hmm, the cop goes, also looking at me. After checking out my ID, he makes me go in the bedroom while he talks to Delia alone. Feel like a pussy, waiting, sitting on the bed.
After he leaves, Delia says he asked if she wanted treatment for her face and arm, and if she wanted to make a complaint on me.
Well what, Calvin? You being taken to jail?
She doesn’t mention how I had to flush all my shit, and he didn’t even look for it. Never would have happened, he would have never come here if Delia had just left the party with me when I asked her. And now she says she wants to leave, go to her mom’s place. Seems like she’s real determined on this and maybe a little separation’s a good idea, so I go for my keys. No. Wants a cab.
A cab? What you think can happen if I drive you?
Nothin. But I want a cab.
To go back to Ms. Chewbacca? Could be, but what can I do but watch while she gets out her cell and calls the cab. It comes, she goes. Can’t think of anything I could have done to improve the situation, but it’s still fucked. Get in my car. Just to drive around.
Henry: I treasured Bronstein’s glare as long as I could, but now I’m home, my gray apartment in gray Oakland. I make a salad, salad fixings being all I have. If I want breakfast tomorrow, I’ll have to make a market run.
I left for school today around noon, before the mail came. Now I take the little key and open my box, which contains the usual junk. Included is a terse note from a university press in response to a one-page description, sent them by me months ago, of a scholarly book they are extremely positive they do not want to see.
I didn’t expect anything else, and I don’t really care. The trouble is that these rejections tend to bring on thoughts of Sylvie, my ex, which always make me feel like shit. The book the press so disdains started off as a doctoral dissertation that was not accepted by my university. Why? Because I was not given time for the finishing touches, because Sylvie would not give me time. It’s true that we had a sort of arrangement: she would do secretarial jobs for three years while I wrote, and then she would begin law school, while I supported us. The simple fact, however, is that three years were not enough. I asked for just one more—what’s a year?—but she would not bend a fucking inch.
Hoping against hope, but never hoping much, I send out these query letters. A published book just might deliver me from Ms. Bronstein and the junior college, but the work there—the four preps, the tons of frosh comp papers to mark—keeps me from doing what Sylvie kept me from doing in the first place. I’m stuck. And she, cute, little Sylvie, with her phony French name? Oh, a successful lawyer now, and when she saw that success coming, bye-bye Henry. She got the house and I’m here, which is effectively nowhere. I need to get out, and I think I’ll want breakfast tomorrow. So, off to Safeway.
Calvin: Driving in circles. No cars on the streets, makes me think everyone’s somewhere else, knows something I don’t. Delia and Chewbacca. What do they know? Both taller than me, look down on me. Delia a dyke, too? Don’t want to think about it, her.
I see a bar I never been into.
Henry: There’s no one out here, no one in these streets, and I don’t know where I am. Well, it’s either south Berkeley or north Oakland, and I could find my way home without trouble, but where the Safeway went I couldn’t say. Wasn’t paying attention, just thinking about the same old shit. Fucking Sylvie. Fucking Bronstein. Enough of this. I see a place.
Calvin: Dead in here too. There’s a few people in the booths, but if they’re talking I can’t hear them. The bartender didn’t look up when he served me. Big fat white man coming through the door.
Henry: Looks like a black kid sitting at the bar, shouldn’t be in here. No, he’s just small, this guy. The bartender slouches up, and I ask for a beer. When it comes, I see the black fellow looking at me. It’s dark, can’t really see, but I raise my glass.
Calvin: What the fuck? Well, why not?
To bitches, Henry says.
Bitches, Calvin says.
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