I Got Problems

The first thing I see when I get off the freeway is a man driving a beat-up old pickup with a blow-up doll sitting on the passenger seat.

That gets me thinking. Who does that? Did he pretend it was his girlfriend like those people in that documentary? The one where these old guys with untrimmed nose hairs and a sad, empty look about them treat their inflatable dolls as if they were real. They bathe them, dress them, fake feed them. Do other things, too.

This dude in the ancient cobalt blue truck must be one lonely asshole. Him and his blow-up toy and his mustache. And I thought I was weird. I shouldn’t judge, though. At least the man has a friend, even if she is imaginary. The closest thing I have to a friend is the old black lady in the toll booth that always smiles when I pay her with dimes. I bet most people pay with quarters, or singles. Or they have a windshield pass so they don’t need to stop.

I thought about getting one, once. But it would irritate me like when one of the hairs on your head is longer than the others and glues to your face randomly, but you can never seem to catch it, making you rub your face repeatedly to try to make it go away. That, and if I ever wanted to get rid of it, the sticky part would leave a film of glue on the glass. It would pick up dust and other shit flying in through the windows and make it look grimy. My skin crawls just thinking about it.

And then I wouldn’t ever see my old lady friend.

I make a right onto Stassney Boulevard and hit a red light. I’m sitting in the car, dreading getting to this party, and I see a flashing electronic sign for a psychic. Consult a psychic now, it says. 305-470-PSCY. This phone number disturbs me. It doesn’t feel right without the H. They should have had some dignity at least and purchased a 1-800 number. PSCY. What a joke. At least it has ten digits.

And what kind of idiot would call a psychic anyway? I would, probably. If I could ever express myself, or if the person on the other end of the line could just be patient and wait  long enough for the words to come to me. I would call a stupid psychic. Noooooooooo, I would not. What the hell am I thinking? Psychics are just bullshitters, and I got enough of that in my family as it is to go paying to hear bullshit somewhere else.

I pull up to this party and spend at least ten fucking minutes trying to get a parking spot. The front yard of my aunt’s shitty canary yellow house is overflowing with vehicles, most of which need a wash or some sort of repair. I get out of the car and close the door. I open it again and close it. Open and close. Open. Close. Ten. Times. Ten. Fucking. Times.

Every time.

I check out my reflection in the window and pat down my shirt in that one wrinkled spot that’s driving me crazy. I had meticulously ironed my shirt before I got in the car, but of course it got wrinkled the minute I sat down. I should have just left it on a hanger and put it on when I got here, but it was nearing 10 when I was done and if I didn’t hurry I wouldn’t make it in time.

So I pat it down as much as I have to, count to ten and walk inside the house. The place is packed with family members and my aunt’s boozed up old lady friends, all talking loudly and shouting over the music, which is some accordion music from a South American country. It wouldn’t sound too bad if it wasn’t for the warbly singing that accompanied it. I kind of like it anyway. Maybe because of the warbly singing.

I go about nodding and smiling to everyone, counting people as I go, not stepping on cracks. Uncle Pete finds me a few minutes later outside near the pool with a beer in my hand.

“Joshy, ma’ boy. How you doin’, buddy?” He pats me on the head like an eight year old child. He hiccups. My lips purse into a forced semi-smile and I nod.

He is wasted at this point, I realize, or else he wouldn’t be staring at me the way he is doing now. As if I am actually an idiot. Or Rain Man. He shakes his head and a look of disappointment washes over his eyes. “Always quiet, eh, ma’ boy?”

I smile and nod. I count to ten and the words start gurgling up my throat, burning my esophagus. I can feel them coming out and I strain to open my mouth to give myself a voice. “Hi, Uncle Pete,” I would say, even if I stuttered. But he doesn’t wait and keeps talking. I wash down the almost-words like bile.

“You know,” he says, words slurring into each other, “had yourmotherrrr everlis-un-ed to me, you wouldn’ nahad all these s-PEE-CH prrroblems all these yearzzzz.” He hiccups again. “If she wouldajusss smacked yorr bottom like I tole her, you woulda been jusssfine…”

I nod again and raise my beer to his face in a salute. Asshole. Uncle Pete spits on the floor and walks away, cleaning his mustache with the back of his hairy hand.

“He’s kind of a dick, huh?”

I turn around and it’s a girl with yellow hair and brown roots. She wears a dark flowery dress that shows off her tattoos. I smile again, this time not forced, and I nod. She takes my bottle from my hand and takes a long sip of my beer. She then nudges me with her elbow, winks, and heads off to say hello to my aunt.

Maybe this party won’t be shitty after all.


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