Got to be Good-looking Cuz he’s so Hard to See
Febreze has its limits, and this apartment has stretched it to the brink.
“I know what it feels like to be pregnant,” Ingrid says, leaning back in the couch to caress her large stomach while closing her eyes. “I can tell when there’s life in me.” I say large stomach, but that’s because ginormous is a rude adjective for a person. Trash surrounds her feet.
This is my 8th trip to Lucas and Ingrid’s apartment in three days. Normally they call to ask for the usual neighborly favors: a spare stick of butter, to get their mail while on vacation, help carrying a soggy mattress inside from the dumpster. Their recent favorite request has been to call me over to pray with them.
I met Lucas six months ago. We had both just moved to Dallas and he was living in the complex across the street. On Christmas Eve, his neighbor’s candles lit the building on fire. Now it’s a blacken hull with all the copper wiring stolen. The property managers relocated all the displaced residents into my building, and asked my floor to move burnt furniture. I helped Lucas with his stuff and later he invited me over for lunch to say thanks. Both expatriates, we became quick friends.
Then he disappeared for a week. When he returned, he had a girl with him. A giant girl named Ingrid. I honestly don’t mean to be rude, but I can’t emphasize enough how her size captivates me. She’s big, in all three dimensions.
“I got kicked out of my apartment,” she told me as Lucas and I brought her things in from her car. The springs on the driver side were shot. “Lucas was nice enough to take a train out to Nebraska to help me move in with him. He packed my car and drove it back while I slept.” Lucas grinned proudly. At 20, he didn’t have his license. He learned how to drive while making the trip.
Lucas and Ingrid were emphatic that they weren’t a couple. “Strictly platonic,” they kept saying. They hadn’t even met in person until Lucas showed up to move Ingrid out. They were friends from an online game.
“I’m just that kind of person,” Lucas said, noble as a knight. “I’ll help anybody.” He’s just that kind of person, just like I’m the kind of person who hung around him. A few days later, there was an ambulance in front of the apartment and Ingrid was being helped into it. The EMT’s walked her to the ambulance because the stretcher had snapped. Later that night when I got the call that they were back, I sat in their living room while they told me about the awful treatment they received at the hospital.
“They refused to put Ingrid on the operating table because it has a limit of four hundred pounds,” Lucas huffed. What’s more, the hospital hadn’t been able to diagnose what Ingrid called “a sudden attack of living rigamortis.”
“I can’t wait to be a father,” Lucas says from the couch. The same spot where just last week he pounded the arm of the couch, defending his honor and yelling, “We are not having sex!” I hadn’t asked if they were.
“A father, me! Can you believe it?” Lucas says again. He’s 20. Ingrid’s 46.
I look around. Where are they going to put this child? There’s no room for it. Garbage is stacked everywhere. Every corner is filled with wrappers, torn magazines, forgotten craft projects, stained clothes, excess Tupperware, and whatever else Ingrid’s ordered Lucas to fetch from the dumpster. Pizza boxes from the money I lent them last month are still stacked on the TV. The landlord has threatened eviction repeatedly. Lucas and Ingrid’s stock solution has been to call me to help clean.
“Don’t touch that bottle!” Lucas shouted at me the last time I came over to help. I had lifted a two liter Root Beer bottle from the debris. It wasn’t filled with soda –Root Beer isn’t amber. “I’ll handle all the soda bottles from now on, OK?” he said, gingerly taking the bottle from my hands.
The apartment is cleaner now than it’s ever been, but the landlord still isn’t impressed. I try not to be obvious about scanning the room. I congratulate them on their new arrival. I had no way of knowing that in a few months I’d be sitting in the exact same spot, listening to Ingrid confess that she never was pregnant. She just wanted Lucas to marry her already.
Ingrid smiles at me and says, “You’re the best neighbor. Will you pray with us to ask God if you should be the godfather? You’d be great, we just know it.”
“Lemme get that for you,” the woman in the booth next to me says, pointing at my check. I look up at her, then glance around the bustling restaurant. “I just got a big bonus at work,” she says, “and I want to do something nice.” I don’t know this woman, I’ve never met her. She has greying hair and loose fitting jewelry. She goes through her purse, rummaging for her wallet, brushing aside my refusing pleas. This isn’t happening.
“No, no, no,” She keeps saying. “I want to do this. I just saw Pay It Forward and I want to do something nice.” She smiles and pulls her hair behind her ear with one hand, still looking through her purse. I can’t possibly let her pay for my dinner. Tonight was my reward for surviving finals week: three glasses of wine, an appetizer, steak, and two desserts. If I had a secret for staying skinny, tonight would be a blatant violation. The woman must have been celebrating also. Her table has been just as busy as mine. But she’s been looking for her wallet for way too long –eventually she looks up and turns red.
“I don’t have enough money,” she mutters. “I’m so sorry. I thought I had my credit card, but I must have left it at home. I only have cash. It’s barely enough to cover myself.” I assure her that it’s no problem. She’s already reserved her seat in Heaven just by offering. She turns around, apologizing and trying to hide her humiliation. I wave the waiter over; I want to get out of here to remove myself as an embarrassing reminder.
The waiter hands me the bill and moves to the woman’s booth. He hands the woman her check, and I pretend to get distracted by my fork to avoid eye contact.
“But I don’t have this much,” the woman says. “I’m sorry, I forgot my card. I accidently ordered more food than I have cash. I didn’t know, I’m so sorry, this never happens.” The waiter frowns. The woman launches back into her bag, apologizing and fighting tears.
“I’ll give you a minute,” the waiter says. He walks back to my table. I motion to the waiter to lean in. I open my wallet and ask if he’s ever seen the movie Pay It Forward. I want to do something nice. He nods and I point to the woman in the other booth. What else are student loans for? He takes my cash and I make a break for the door. The waiter walks over to the woman and starts clearing her table.
“Don’t worry, it’s been covered. You can go.”
I’m standing on the side of the road, next to a crashed car and my shivering younger sister. Jenny and I were trying to get home for Thanksgiving to surprise our parents. We had called them a few weeks ago to say we couldn’t make it home, but secretly we found a ride home to show up on their doorstep. It had been my idea to hitchhike home to surprise our parents, and I had prepped Jenny with the fibs I had prepared.
“Sorry Mom, but it’s just too expensive for us broke college students,” Jenny had said into the phone, winking at me. “We don’t have a car. It’s too much work for such a short vacation. We’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with our roommates who can’t make it home; we don’t want them to be lonely.”
Mom and Dad have no idea that their children are now standing in snow covered mountains at one in the morning. Our ride, Jon, is inspecting his car. This is our third time crashing. Jon’s car can’t get over a slight rise in the Pass because there’s too much ice. I feel a tinge of guilt. Jon had been nervous about the ice, so I told him that I’d driven in snow before. Each time I lost control of the car, I could see it don on Jon that I could lie to him just as easily as I could to my parents. I just didn’t want Jon or Jenny to panic about the icy roads.
“There’s too much ice,” Jon says, “and even if we get over the rise, what about going downhill on the other side? We won’t be able to slow down. There are cliffs.”
“Where are the other cars?” Jenny asks, hugging herself to stay warm. “Maybe someone will stop to help us.” There won’t be anyone. She had been asleep while Jon and I listened in the dark to the public emergency broadcast system declaring the Pass too dangerous to drive through. Crews wouldn’t be able to get in until tomorrow evening. “Temperatures are expected to drop below zero,” the automated voice clicked. “Conditions may result in fatalities.”
We’re fucked. Like, really fucked –uncontrollable car, no shelter from the plummeting temperature, and no one to get to us. We don’t even have cell phone reception to call 911. One of our fake excuses I had told Dad: the possibility of inclement weather.
Suddenly headlights pierce through the snow. A Jeep rounds the mountain side and speeds across the ice. It slides alongside us and the driver’s window slowly rolls down. A young man sticks his head out.
“Do you know how fucked you are?” He asks. “They just closed the Pass. I’m the last one they let through. It’s because I have chains.” The automatic locks click and he shouts, “You’re gonna have to jump in. You’ll freeze to death before the crews can help you.” He gets out and helps us throw our bags in. Jon and Jenny look over to me, wrinkling their faces to say, “Is this a good idea?” I nod and help Jenny into the Jeep. There’s no way I’m dying in Nevada.
“I’m Rocky,” the man says once we’re settled. He guns it for the same hill Jon’s truck couldn’t crest, and we speed off deeper into the woods. I quickly notice two things about Rocky: he’d rather look you in the eye while talking, and he is constantly talking.
“I’m half Native American,” he begins the conversation. “You guys stole my Father’s land. But that’s OK, I wouldn’t know what to do with it anyways.” We weren’t sure how to respond.
“What are you doing out in the Pass at this hour?” Jon asks.
“I got called in for work,” Rocky says, not watching the road. “I’ve worked out here for 10 years. The ski resorts hire us Indians to spread fake snow on their mountains. I work the night shift, before all the skiers arrive.”
“They called you in during the blizzard of the decade?” Jon asks. “This storm is dumping record levels.” Rocky turns to look at the road.
I glance at Jenny. She’s rustling the trash at her feet. I smile at her, hoping she notices that Rocky’s car takes the ice well, only swerving when Rocky’s hands slip on the steering wheel. I figure he’s driving in both lanes to stay clear of the concrete barriers while dodging ice.
“I used to live in LA,” Rocky starts up again. “I hated it. People there are so stupid. All they want to do is tan on the beach. I lived there for 10 years. I got blamed for so much shit out there.” Jenny taps me on the shoulder and points to two empty beer bottles at her feet. I notice more at Jon’s.
“I want out of this car,” Jenny whispers. “Get us home. I’m going to cry.” As children, the four of us siblings had established a code, and “I’m going to cry” meant, “Help me. I’m terrified.” She was invoking the Big Brother Clause.
“And that’s why you should never trust cops when it comes to finger prints,” I hear Rocky still talking up front. “They’ll fake anything for evidence.”
Another reason I told Mom we wouldn’t be home: the difficulty of finding a stranger you’d trust to drive your sister home.
Rocky veers to the side and turns off the freeway. Jon asks where he’s taking us, but Rocky only wants to talk about mud wrestling. The trees are getting closer together and the road tighter. I begin weighing the option of asking Rocky to just let us out right here. Freeze to death or Nevada Chainsaw Massacre? We approach a cabin with a dim light in the window.
“Here’s a gas station,” Rocky says. “They’ll give you chains for your car.” The three of us throw the car doors open and jump out. “They won’t charge you –they’re friends of mine,” Rocky leans out his window to tell us. “Just let ‘em know Jordan brought you.”