“Yeah. They’re not bad. They’re sort of a poor man’s early Mr. T Experience, but they’ve got one song I like—it’s like fifty-five seconds long and it’s called ‘Annus Miribalis,’ and it basically explains Einstein’s theory of relativity.”
“Cool,” I say. She smiles, shifts into drive, and we jolt off toward the city.
Maybe a minute later, we come to a stop sign and Jane pulls over to the side of the road and looks at me. “I’m quite shy,” she says.
“I’m quite shy, so I understand. But don’t hide behind Tiny.”
“I’m not,” I say.
And then she ducks beneath her seat belt and I’m wondering why she’s doing that, and then she leans across the gearbox, and I realize what’s happening, and she closes her eyes and tilts her head and I turn away, staring down at the fast-food bags on the floor of her car. She opens her eyes and jolts backward. Then I start talking to fill the silence. “I’m not really, uh, I think you’re awesome and pretty but I’m not, like, I’m not, like, I guess I don’t, um, really want a relationship right now.”
After a second, very quietly, she says, “I think I might have gotten some unreliable information.”
“Possible,” I say.
“I’m really sorry.”
“Me too. I mean, you really are—”
“No no no stop, that only makes it worse. Okay. Okay. Look at me.” I look at her. “I can totally forget that ever happened if, and only if, you can totally forget it ever happened.”
“Nothing happened,” I say, and then correct myself. “Nothing didn’t happen.”
“Exactly,” she says, and then our thirty-second stop at the stop sign ends, and my head is thrown back against the seat. Jane drives like Tiny dates.
We’re exiting Lake Shore near downtown and talking about Neutral Milk Hotel and whether there might be some recordings out there that no one has heard, just demos, and how interesting it would be to hear what their songs sounded like before they were songs, how maybe we could break into their recording studio and copy every recorded moment of the band’s existence. The Volvo’s ancient heating system makes my lips feel dry and the leaning-in thing feels actually, literally forgotten—and it occurs to me that I am weirdly disappointed about how entirely un-upset Jane seems to feel, which in turn causes me to feel strangely rejected, which in turn causes me to think that perhaps a special wing at the Museum of Crazy should be erected in my honor.
We find a parking space on the street a couple blocks away from the place, and Jane leads me to a nondescript glass door next to a hot-dog restaurant. A sign on the door reads GOLD COAST COPY AND PRINT. We head up the stairs, the smell of delicious pork lips wafting through the air, and enter a tiny officelike shop. It is extremely sparsely decorated, which is to say that there are two folding chairs, a HANG IN THERE kitten poster, a dead potted plant, a computer, and a fancy printer.
“Hey, Paulie,” says Jane, to a heavily tattooed guy who appears to be the shop’s sole employee. The hot-dog smell has dissipated, but only because Gold Coast Copy and Print stinks of pot. The guy comes around the counter and gives Jane a one-armed hug, and then she says, “This is my friend, Will,” and the guy reaches out his hand, and as I shake his hand, I see that he has the letters, H-O-P-E tattooed on his knuckles. “Paulie and my brother are good friends. They went to Evanston together.”
“Yeah, went together,” Paulie says. “But we sure didn’t graduate together, ’cause I still ain’t graduated.” Paulie laughs.
“Yeah, so, Paulie. Will lost his ID,” explains Jane.
Paulie smiles at me. “That’s a shame, kid.” He hands me a blank sheet of computer paper and says, “I need your full name, your address, date of birth, social, height, weight, and eye color. And a hundred bucks.”
“I, uh—” I say, because I don’t happen to carry hundred dollar bills around with me. But before I can even form the words, Jane puts five twenties on the counter.
Jane and I sit down on the folding chairs, and together we invent my new identity: My name is Ishmael J. Biafra, my address is 1060 W. Addison Street, the location of Wrigley Field. I’ve got brown hair, blue eyes. I’m five ten, weigh 160 pounds, my social security number is nine randomly selected numbers, and I turned twenty-two last month. I hand the paper to Paulie, and then he points to a strip of duct tape and tells me to stand there. He holds a digital camera up to his eye and says, “Smile!” I didn’t smile for my real driver’s license picture, and I’m sure as hell not going to smile for this one.
“I’ll just be a minute,” Paulie says, and so I lean against the wall, and I feel nervous enough about the ID to forget being nervous about my proximity to Jane. Even though I know I’m about the three millionth person to get a fake ID, I’m still pretty sure it’s a felony, and I’m generally opposed to committing felonies. “I don’t even drink,” I say out loud, half to myself and half to Jane.
“Mine’s just for concerts,” she says.
“Can I see it?” I ask. She grabs her backpack, which has been inked all over with band names and quotes, and fishes out her wallet.
“I keep it hidden back here,” she says, unzipping a flap in the wallet, “because if I, like, die or something, I don’t want the hospital trying to call Zora Thurston Moore’s parents.” Sure enough, that’s her name, and the license looks completely real to me. Her picture is brilliant: Her mouth seems right on the edge of laughing, and this is exactly how she looked at Tiny’s house, unlike all her Facebook pictures.
“This is a great picture of you. This is what you look like,” I tell her. And it’s true. That’s the problem: so many things are true. It’s true that I want to smother her with compliments and true that I want to keep my distance. True that I want her to like me and true that I don’t. The stupid, endless truth speaking out of both sides of its big, stupid mouth. It’s what keeps me, stupidly, talking. “Like, you can’t know what you look like, right? Whenever you see yourself in the mirror, you know you’re looking at you, so you can’t help but pose a little. So you never really know. But this—that’s what you look like.”
Jane puts two fingers against the face on the license, which I’m holding against my leg, so her fingers are on my leg if you don’t count the license, and I look at them for a moment and then look up to her and she says, “Paulie, for all his criminality, is actually kinda a good photographer.”
Right then, Paulie comes out waving a driver’s licenseish piece of plastic in the air. “Mr. Biafra, your identification.”
He hands it to me. The knuckles on this hand read L-E-S-S.
It is perfect. All the holograms of a real Illinois license, all the same colors, the same thick, laminated plastic, the same organ donor info. I even look half okay in the picture. “Christ,” I say. “It’s magnificent. It’s the Mona Lisa of IDs.”
“No problem,” says Paulie. “Ahright, kids, I gotta take care of some business.” Paulie smiles and holds up a joint. I’m mystified as to how someone so pot-addled could be such a genius in the field of false identification. “See you later, Jane. Tell Phil to give me a call.”
“Aye aye, cap’n,” Jane says, and then we’re walking down the stairs, and I can feel my fake ID in my front pocket, tight against my thigh, and it feels like I’ve got a ticket to the whole frakking world.
We get outside onto the street, the cold a permanent surprise. Jane takes off running ahead of me and I don’t know whether I’m supposed to follow her or not, but then she turns around toward me and starts skipping backward. The wind in her face, I can barely hear her shout, “Come on, Will! Skip! After all, you’re a man now.”
And I’ll be damned if I don’t start skipping after her.
I am shelving metamusil in aisle seven when maura stalks in. she knows my boss is an asshole about me standing around and talking while i’m working, so she pretends to look at vitamins while she’s talking to me. she’s telling me there’s something really disturbing about the word ‘chewable’ and then all of a sudden the clock strikes 5:12 and she figures it’s time to ask personal questions.
maura: are you gay?
me: what the fuck?
maura: it would be okay with me if you were.
me: oh, good, because the thing i’d be worried about the most is whether you were okay with it.
maura: i’m just saying.
me: noted. now will you just shut up and let me work, okay? or do you want me to use my employee discount to get you something for your cramps?
I think there really needs to be a rule against calling a guy’s sexuality into question while he’s working. and anyway, i really don’t want to talk about it with maura no matter where we are. because, here’s the thing - we’re not that close. maura is the kind of friend i enjoy swapping doomsday scenarios with. she’s not, however, someone who makes me want to prevent doomsday from happening. for the year or so we’ve hung out, this has always been a problem. i know if i told her about liking guys, she’d probably stop wanting to date me, which would be a huge plus. but i also know i’d immediately become her gay pet, and that’s the last kind of leash i want. and it’s not like i’m really that gay. i fucking hate madonna.
me: there should be a cereal for constipated people called metamueslix.
maura: i’m serious.
me: and i’m seriously telling you to fuck off. you shouldn’t call me gay just because i don’t want to sleep with you. a lot of straight guys don’t want to sleep with you, either.
maura: fuck you.
me: ah, but the point is, you won’t.
she comes over and messes up all the bottles that i’ve been putting in rows. i almost pick one up and throw it at the back of her head while she leaves, but the truth is if i brained her here, my manager would make me clean it up, and that would suck. the last thing i need is gray matter on my new shoes. do you know how hard that shit is to get out? anyway, i really need this job, which means i can’t do things like yell or pin my stupid name tag upside down or wear jeans that have rips in them or sacrifice puppies in the toy aisle. i don’t really mind it, except when my manager is around or when people i know come by and are all weird because i’m working and they don’t have to.
I’m thinking maura will swing back into aisle seven, but she doesn’t, and i know i’m going to have to act nice to her (or at least not act mean to her) for the next three days. i make a mental note to buy her coffee or something, but my mental noteboard is a joke, because as soon as i put something on there it disappears. and the truth is that the next time we talk, maura’s going to pull her whole hurt routine, and that’s only going to annoy me more. i mean, she’s the one who opened her mouth. not my fault if she can’t take the answer.
cvs closes at eight on saturdays, which means i’m out by nine. eric and mary and greta are all talking about parties they’re going to, and even roger, our square-headed manager, is telling us that he and his wife are going to be ‘having a night in’ - wink wink, nudge nudge, hump hump, spew spew. i’d rather picture a festering wound with maggots crawling into it. roger is bald and fat and his wife is probably bald and fat, too, and the last thing i want to hear about is them having bald and fat sex. especially ’cause you know that he’s making it sound all wink-nudge when the truth is he’ll probably get home and the two of them will watch a tom hanks movie and then one of them will lie in bed listening to the other one pee and then they’ll switch places and then when the second person is done in the bathroom, the lights will go off and they’ll go to sleep.
greta asks me if i want to come along with her, but she’s like twenty-three or something and her boyfriend vince acts like he’ll disembowel me if i use any SAT words in his presence. so i just get a ride home, and mom is there, and isaac’s not online, and i hate the way mom never has saturday night plans and isaac always has saturday night plans. i mean, i don’t want him sitting at home waiting for me to get back and IM, because one of the cool things about him is that he has a life. there’s an email from him saying he’s going out to the movies for kara’s birthday, and i tell him to wish her a happy birthday from me, but of course by the time he gets the message her birthday will be over and i don’t know whether he’s told kara about me, anyway.
mom is on our lime-green couch, watching the pride & prejudice miniseries for the seven-zillionth time, and i know i’ll be totally girling out if i sit there and watch it with her. the weird thing is that she also really likes the kill bill movies, and i’ve never been able to sense a difference in her mood between when she’s watching pride & prejudice and when she’s watching kill bill. it’s like she’s the same person no matter what’s happening. which can’t be right.
I end up watching pride & prejudice because it’s fifteen hours long, so i know that when it’s over, isaac will probably be home. my phone keeps ringing and i keep not answering. that’s one of the good things about knowing he can’t call me—i never have to worry it’s him.
the doorbell rings right when the guy’s about to tell the girl all the shit he needs to tell her, and at first i ignore it the same way i’m ignoring my cellphone. the only problem is that people at the door don’t go to voicemail, so there’s another ring, and mom’s about to get up, so i say i’ll get it, figuring it must be the door equivalent of a wrong number. only when i get there it’s maura on the other side of the door, and she’s heard my footsteps so she knows i’m here.