Sunday Stories: "A Free Man In Parisienne" by Jack Baruth
They’d been on the freeway for maybe half an hour when the first joint appeared between the fingers of Serious D’s right hand, briefly flaring in the rear-view mirror as D took a long draw and passed it over to Premiere, who bogarted it with a pair of puffs before handing it forward to The Emperor, who swore under his breath as the lit end briefly touched his knuckles. Premiere and The Emperor started fussing with each other trying to negotiate the passing of the joint into the Pontiac’s front seat.
“Just turn it around, man, I’ll grab it.”
“I can’t see your hand.”
“What does it matter?” Scott reached down and twisted the Parisienne’s headlamp switch, flooding the interior with a sickly yellowish glow. “Got it now,” The Emperor noted with satisfaction, puffing it to a roach as Scott turned the dome light back off. “Hey man, you want to finish this off?”
“No,” Scott heard himself say, “someone has to drive us home.”
In his junior year of college, in the afterglow of his successful work volunteering for Bill Clinton’s election, Scott prided himself on his ability to maximize every situation. He didn’t have much money so he made a project of determining the lowest possible cost for his daily meals. With the aid of a spreadsheet, he determined the price of the components for five of his favorite cheap options then calculated the savings that would be gained from increasing the quantity of certain components at the expense of variety. It took him the better part of a day to do it, but the payoff was an average meal cost of approximately one dollar and twenty-two cents and three distinct options at that price. Skipping breakfast as a matter of course meant that he was eating all week for well under twenty bucks.
The money that he earned working the front desk at one of the dorms was a full fifty to sixty dollars a week, so he had plenty of cash for the occasional splurge at the local Hot Sam’s or, when necessary, a new tube for his bicycle. Not a bad way to live, even if he couldn’t even begin to think about spending any time at a campus bar. Five bucks to get in, three for a beer. In an hour you could be out twenty. And what if you met a girl who wanted you to buy her a drink? It wasn’t even worth thinking about.
Better to save the money and use it to fill up his car on the rare weekend when he could get home. Gas had popped above $1.05 a gallon, and his Fairmont rarely beat ten or twelve miles for each of those gallons. Moreover, his father insisted that he leave it at a full tank whenever he went back to school, so it was best to budget at least twenty dollars for each weekend away from school. Plus some Burger King or something. So thirty.
It was Friday afternoon when, during an otherwise unremarkable argument about certain aspects of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Scott heard with some not inconsiderable amazement his own voice telling Jenny, his sullen but serviceable sophomore girlfriend, “You are a fucking idiot, a second-rate mind, literally too stupid to have an opinion on this.” Quick as thought, she slapped his owlish Ralph Lauren glasses off his face, screamed something that didn’t seem to be any particular word, and slammed the door to his apartment on her way out, hard enough to rattle the windows in their frames.
Thirty minutes later she still wasn’t answering the phone at her dorm, so Scott rode his bike over there and prevailed upon the goodwill of another girl from the same hall to walk him past the desk and up to the third floor. Once there he found the door locked. The only sound he could hear was that of Jenny’s next-door neighbor, Cara, being strongly and rhythmically banged by whatever hockey player she was entertaining that afternoon. Cara had a flat stomach and deep, firm breasts. According to Jenny, some married associate professor had gotten her drunk and sodomized her against a tree a few weeks ago, throwing her bra and panties into the branches of said tree before leaving her to sleep it off until the morning among the roots. Three days later, Cara came into Jenny’s room and asked Scott to rewrite her letter to the associate professor.
Dear Kurt, it began, what you have done to me is the most humilative thing a women can expeareance, but I forgive you and when you leave that old bitch you will find that I can be the person you want me to be no matter what that is. After gaping at that and the three following paragraphs, which were in a similar vein, Scott took a Sharpie, crossed out everything after “Dear Kurt,” and wrote at the bottom,
I yearn for you tragically.
A.T. Tappmann, Chaplain, U.S. Army.
“You fucking nerd,” Cara snarled at him, yanking the letter out of his hands, “now I have to write it again and it took me all day to do the first time.”
Scott rode back to his apartment, only to find his roommate, Trevor, hanging out with That Damn Posse. That Damn Posse, or TDP for short, was a rap group consisting of three of Trevor’s friends from high school. None of them were in any way truly involved with their scholastic futures at the university. Serious D, the three-hundred-pound, bleach-blonde leader of the group, was still nominally in his freshman year and on academic probation, a full five semesters after his arrival there. Premiere and The Emperor had both flunked out last year but were still living in D’s apartment, which thanks to D’s wealthy parents was almost incalculably nicer than Scott’s. As usual, they were both wearing neon Ocean Pacific tank tops.
As Scott entered, D was preparing to debut his latest version of “The Artistic Rap”, the putative lead single of TDP’s not-yet-recorded breakthrough album. Eyes closed, leaning back in his black leather trenchcoat against Scott’s couch, Serious D commanded the start of Premiere’s beat-boxing with a nonchalant wave of the hand and then began to rap over the beat.
A pen to me
Is like a brush to an artist
The paper’s my canvas
And my lyrics are the hardest
A pussy’s a flower
Like Georgia O’Keefe
My cock’s so enormous
It makes all bitches queef
With a snort, Premiere lost his steady beat, causing Serious D to open his eyes and snap,
“You do that shit in the studio, we’ll have to do a second take, and I might not have the magic on that second take, you know? Oh hey, man,” he brightened, seeing Scott, “you want to roll back home with us in, like, an hour? Your bitch of a roomie has to stay here so we got room in the Spliffmobile for ya. Ten bucks for gas.” Scott’s heart leapt. He could get out of here, go home and see his friends, get away from Jenny and also postpone the misery of their inevitable but certain to be drama-soaked reunion. He had twenty-two dollars. The drive home was 134 miles each way, that’s 238 roundtrip, that’s 20-plus gallons in “The Spliffmobile”, a rust-red Pontiac Parisienne that showed every one of its ninety thousand miles. Serious D was cheating him.
“Make it six,” he said, “and you’re on.”
“Check this motherfucker out,” D laughed for the benefit of the audience, “all wrapped up in four dollars and shit. You’re on, Mr. Rockefeller. But since you’re negotiating with me, I’m gonna negotiate with you. You got to drive us there and back.”
“To my house,” Scott countered, “and you guys go the rest of the way, I’m on the west side of town and ya’ll are on the east.”
“Fine, man, fine. Pack your shit, we out in like an hour.” But there was more rapping to be done, and then it turned out Premiere needed to stop by the apartment and get his shoes, since he’d forgotten to put them on in the morning. Scott’s watch showed a quarter after ten by the time he pointed the Pontiac off the university grounds and up the on-ramp for the freeway home. He was nervous. His father didn’t permit him to pick up the Fairmont after dark for some reason, so he would have to go to his mom’s and wait until tomorrow to catch a ride over to the car.
Though there was no snow on the ground, even with Christmas around the corner, the temperature was surely below freezing and the Parisienne’s heater wasn’t quite keeping up. Serious D had his bulk sprawled across the back seat, clutching an old Gibson J-40 that he alternately strummed and beat like a bongo as he rapped.
The New Kids On The Block is their silly-ass name
And it’s beyond my comprehension why they’ve risen to fame
They’re slurping loads of come every night backstage
And if they’re feeling kind of kinky, let the goat out the cage
They’ll bang it up the butt and stick its horns up their asses
You don’t have to be a genius or even wear glasses
They’re not inclined musically
And flippin’ burgers at McDonald’s is where they oughta be
Halfway to home, Premiere started to insist that Scott take a hit from the joint of the moment. “You need to do this shit, man. He needs to, yo!”
“Scotty boy,” Serious D declaimed, “you’re in my car and you need to follow my rules. Toke that motherfucker.”
“I’m not,” Scott demurred, “a drug user.” But then he changed his mind and took it. The first pull made him cough. The second made him cough worse. The Pontiac wobbled down the road as his head shook.
“Virgin!” D laughed. Then Premiere started a rap of his own, a freestyle of sorts
Got this little dorky nerd
Who ain’t ever heard
Of smokin no joint
Didn’t see no point
But now he’s high as a kite
Gonna be alright
Won’t have to fight
Gonna drive all night
“I’ll take it again,” Scott demanded, and he smoked it down to the roach before jamming it in the Parisienne’s ashtray. Ahead of him, the road seemed smooth. “I don’t know why,” he said to nobody in particular, “I ever worried about that bitch.” His head felt good. The agitation that typically wore at him seemed to be gone. The needle on the Pontiac’s speedo slid past the “80” mark. “I’ll rap for you motherfuckers,” he said,
Back in the days of Jackie D
We would deconstruct
Like the man said, Il vous dit
Wasn’t giving a fuck
We could blow a brother’s mind
Open up the abyss
With the beats and all the rhymes
While we’re talking a piss
“The fuck,” Serious inquired, “are you talking about?” But Scott was too busy laughing to answer the question.
“I’m going to get my car tonight,” Scott declaimed, “My dad can suck it, that’s my car, he can’t tell me not to get my own car, can he?”
“HELL NO,” Premiere agreed, and passed him another joint.
“I would really like,” Scott said, after giving it some thought, “to nail some bitch right now.”
“Haw haw haw!” laughed The Emperor. “Play the Tom Sawyer,” he directed Serious D, who began to play the bassline from the Rush song on the Gibson’s low E,
I’m his highness
A dope-smokin’ madman
If anybody can make this shit up
And upon my throne
I’ll make all the bitches kneel
When I slip ’em the bone
Put away the vibrator
No batteries required
The Emperor’s nine inches
What every ho desires
Time seemed to stop for a while, the four of them laughing, singing, and then they were rolling slow down the street to Scott’s father’s house. It was well past midnight. Scott killed the lights and pulled up next to the Fairmont. The keys, he knew, were under the front seat. “You guys take it from here…” he said, but then he heard the back door pop open and saw Serious D waddling at high speed toward the side of his father’s garage.
“I gotta piss!” D stage-whispered, before disappearing into the shadows. Premiere slid over and took the wheel. Scott opened the Fairmont’s door, found the keys, and looked up to see Serious D sheepishly waddling back to them. Behind D was Scott’s father, walking two paces back with what looked like a brand-new Para-Ordnance P-12 forty-five caliber pistol leveled at the back of D’s head.
“This, I presume,” Scott’s dad snarled to him, “is your friend?”
“Um, yeah, he just had to go to the bathroom, I’m really sorry, I think he thought it would be okay to just run around and use a tree or something.” Surely, Scott thought, he can see how high I am. But perhaps not; how would his father know what drug use looked like? They didn’t even keep alcohol in the house.
“Is this why I send you to school, Scott? To hang around with a couple of fuckin’ idiots like this guy?”
“I’m really, really sorry, Sir,” Serious D mewled.
“Who are you?” Scott’s dad demanded.
“I’m, um, um, David McCormick, my, um, dad owns McCormick Investments, sir.”
“I know your father. Does he know you’re out here pissing against peoples’ garages?”
“No, sir, he does not.”
“Well, I’m not going to tell him. Go home, all of you. And drop Scott off at his mother’s house. Scott, you and I have an agreement about the use of this car. You’ve broken that agreement and we’ll discuss what that means tomorrow. Go, all of you.” Without a further word or motion, Scott’s dad executed a neat about-face on the driveway and walked back inside.
“Dude,” Serious D whispered as Scott got back into the front passenger seat, “I thought your dad was gonna kill me! That’s so fucked-up it’s, like, cool and shit! You’re in so much trouble. You shouldn’t go home.”
“I know. But what can we do?”
“Dudes,” Premiere offered, his eyes bright and wide, “let’s drive all the way to school and smoke all the way back, too!”
“Hell yeah,” The Emperor affirmed.
“I agree,” Serious D said, after pausing for a moment to contemplate the idea. “Scott?”
“Um… yeah, why not? The journey beats the destination, right?” Premiere switched the headlights on and they barreled back the way they came, the big Pontiac swaying over the speedbumps, the smoke filling the back seat. Serious D closed his eyes.
A pen to me
Is like a brush to an artist…
(In memory of “That Other Posse” and its motley crew of members — JB)
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