Chapter Two – The Beard

FOOZ AND I always had that kind of  friendship—he would do interesting things and I’d shuffle along behind him, hoping by osmosis to become something other than a type B bore. I’ll admit it: I’m not the most dynamic person. I’ve got bad eyesight and I’m uncomfortable in social situations and when I look in the mirror the person I see isn’t what you’d call particularly attractive. And girls? Forget it. I’d still be a virgin if it wasn’t for Fooz Pinkley.

I lost it when I was 14, and all due credit for that goes to him.

 

 

WE MET AT Christian Camp. Back then Fooz was big into electro-homo music like Depeche Mode and Spandau Ballet and Bow Wow Wow. He wore fingernail polish, not the black fingernail polish of his adult years, but bright rainbow shades of purple, pink, cerise; he dyed his hair in equally garish hues, and his outfits drew inspiration from both genders. It was not unusual to see Fooz wearing a bra over his ripped Kajagoogoo T-shirt, or a garter belt, or any number of scarves tied around his elbows and knees and neck. Fooz’s dad was long out of the picture, so there wasn’t anyone at home to tell him he shouldn’t dress like a drag queen. Fooz’s mom, Sharon Pinkley, was convinced he was a homosexual­—thus, Christian Camp. She’d tried everything to make him “normal,” and everything had failed. Jesus was her last resort. The camp counselors focused in on him right away, but it was a waste of time: they didn’t have a chance, and neither did Jesus. Fooz was expelled from camp after three days in for spraypainting pentagrams and “666” on the walls of the mess hall.

 

 

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED the first time I visited the Pinkley household:

 I rode my bike five miles to their ranch-style home on a quiet street in Encino and knocked on the front door and Sharon Pinkley answered the door wearing a green terrycloth bathrobe. She had that sun-damaged look of the Los Angeles native, a tan so dark that her hot pink lipstick and green eyeshadow were almost unnoticeable.

“Come on in,” she said.

The living room opened up into a kitchen painted a nauseating mauve and green. She looked me up and down with an appraising eye, walked into the kitchen, and emerged with a tall glass of warm iced tea with little slivers of ice floating at the top. Not wanting to be impolite, I took a small sip.

“Be good to him,” she said.

“Huh?”

“You heard me. Be good to my boy.

Fooz walked in. “Don’t start, ma. This is my friend Jack Barajas. From school.”

“From drama class?”

“No, we met at Christian Camp. Last year. I told you that already.”

“My God,” said Sharon. “You met him there?”

“He goes to Reseda High, ma. And he’s not a drama guy. Tell her, Jack.”

“I’m, uh, more of a math guy.”

“Not Fenton,” said Sharon. “He’s a dope when it comes to math, but good when it comes to all that, you know, lavender stuff.”

She sighed, sat back in a rolling chair in front of the green Formica table, and squinted at me. She was obviously lit up on late-afternoon cocktails.

“Fenton is a gosh-darned liberal arts major. Isn’t that right, Fenton?”

“Don’t call me Fenton, ma,” he said. “Math is not really my thing, that’s all.”

“You got an F in Pre-Algebra, Fenton. Not Algebra. PRE Algebra.”

I looked at him.

“You did?”

“Hey, whatever. You got your kind of mind, I got mine.”

“You’ve got to work with your limitations,” said Sharon. “Like your dad did. He wasn’t the smartest man who ever lived, either. Downright stupid, if you want to be real about it. But you know what he had that you don’t, Fenton?”

“What?”

“A 12-inch cock…”

“Aw, maaaa….

Sharon Pinkley laughed, a drunken cackle that followed us as we walked out of the kitchen and into the living room.

I glanced back at her. She picked up a jelly jar of white wine and as she lifted it to her lips she winked grotesquely, and flipped me a limp wrist.

 

 

 

WE SAT IN Fooz’s room and talked about his mom.

“She’s fucked in the head,” he told me. “She gets drunk and sits on the couch all night muttering to herself, cursing my dad, cursing me, whatever. Get this, a month ago I woke up in the middle of the night. She was patting me on the head and whispering “God, please take away my son’s affliction.”

I watched the goldfish swimming around in Fooz’s aquarium. They would swim up and up and up to the top and when they got to the top they would let themselves drift down to the bottom. When they almost hit the bottom they would flip their fins and start the whole process over again. It was hypnotizing. The aquarium was the one nice thing in the room. There were dirty clothes everywhere and dirty dishes peeking out from beneath the clothes with dried egg and ketchup smears and ants crawling around on them. The place smelled like a Burger King dumpster.

“Don’t let it bug you,” said Fooz.

“What, the smell?”

“No. Don’t worry about my mom thinking you’re a gayboy. It’s exactly what I want her to think.”

“For what reason?”

“It’s simple,” he said. He got up and walked over to the closet and took out his bass. It was a thing of beauty, a red Jazzmaster (this was long before he switched to playing the Gibson Flying V). He sat down on an orange crate filled with old 1980s vinyl and caressed the guitar’s sleek red body with real affection.

“I realized a couple months ago that if my mom thinks I’m queer I can bring girls in here and bang ‘em like crazy. She just figures they’re fag hags and doesn’t bug me about it. If she knew how much fucking I’m doing in here, she’d lose her shit.”

“She’s worried about you being gay, but doesn’t want to you to date girls either? How’s that work?”

“She wants me to be celibate, I think. She doesn’t want me to have kids, not now, not ever. It all goes back to my dad, see? She tells me fifteen times a day that my father’s demon seed should die with me. She’s a bit of a drunk, in case you hadn’t noticed, and she has never been able to get over my dad flying the coop when she turned sea hag.”

“Why do I have to be involved in your family drama?” I whined. “I don’t want anybody thinking I’m queer.”

“You’re my best friend and now you’re my beard, man. Deal with it.”

“I’m your what?”

He strummed the bass.

“I’m gonna tell you something you don’t know. The Seltzen sisters. Rachel and Henrietta. I banged both of them.”

“At the same time?”

“Naw, I ain’t gonna lie to you. Separate times. The thing is, I’m in love with Rachel, and she doesn’t care for me. She only goes for black guys. And Henrietta loves me like Patricia Krenwinkel loved Charles Manson. Dig?”

“Patricia who?”

“Look, I’m in the middle of a love triangle and I’d prefer it just be a circle, or whatever you get when you have two people. I wanna dump off Henrietta on you.”

I thought about Henrietta. She was big and soft like an overripe plum about to burst and her teeth weren’t so good. But she had big breasts, or, as Fooz and I called them affectionately, “juggies.”

I was 13 years old. The only juggies I’d ever seen were in porno mags. I needed to get those things in my hands and mouth, needed to suckle. Maybe Henrietta wasn’t the ideal solution, but thinking about that dense sweatermeat made me lick my lips in a helpless and feeble expression of lust.

“This Saturday, we go to the mall,” said Fooz. “I wanna see that new Sly Stallone movie. The Cliffhanger.

 

 

 

SATURDAY CAME, AND so did I. Even then I was a premature ejaculator, and I knew that if I got my hands anywhere near Henrietta’s chest I was in danger of making a gnarly mess in my corduroys. The solution was clear.

I locked the door, pulled a tattered 1987 Hustler out from behind the sock drawer, and finished myself off in milliseconds.

Five minutes later I bolted out the front door. The day didn’t just seem pregnant with possibility; it was fairly exploding with sex and light. I got on my bike and hauled ass over to Fooz’s place, arrived about 11 AM, and knocked on the door. Sharon Pinkley answered the door, again in a bathrobe (this time it was a deep scarlet color), her face puffy and hangover-red. She cinched the robe a little tighter around her but not before I caught a glimpse of one of her breasts, hanging against her chest like a mottled red wineskin. It seemed a portent of good things to come, of juggy-luck.

“Fenton is in the den.”

I walked back there. Fooz was standing in his tighty-whities in front of the television set, rocking back and forth while playing a Nintendo game. Fooz always plays video games in his underwear, even today—don’t ask me why. He wears Fruit of the Looms, and they’re invariably a size too big, and they hang baggily off of his flat ass as he rocks back and forth. It’s always a disturbing sight, one I’ve never really gotten used to.

Sharon walked into the room behind me.

“Oh come on, Fenton,” she said. “If the two of you are going to get sexy, do it in your room. Not here in the den.”

Fooz paused the game and looked back at me over one shoulder. He shot me a coquettish wink. “She’s right, Jack. Shall we?”

“Jesus Christ, Fooz. I can’t do this.” I turned to Mrs. Pinkley. “Your son likes girls, and so do I. We’re going to the mall this afternoon to meet some females, as a matter of fact.”

She gave me a condescending smile and put one hand on my shoulder. “You don’t have to hide in this house, John. I know your parents are religious, conservative Mexicans. Fenton told me. You may have to keep up your facade with them at your house, but not here. Here you’re free to be you. Right, Fenton?”

“Right, mom!” Fooz walked over and put his hand on my other shoulder. Sharon smiled and walked out.

I turned around and punched Fooz as hard as I could, right in the stomach. The air came out of him in a burst and as he collapsed to the floor he mouthed “Why?”

“Look, man. I can put up with a lot of your bullshit, but if you start putting your hands on me, I’m gonna lose it.”

Fooz staggered over to the couch and plopped down, holding his belly. Finally he managed to get out:

“Listen, Jack. Listen…If I get you laid today, you keep being my beard and don’t give me any shit about it. If you don’t get any, I’ll tell my mom the truth, and you can go back to being straight. Okay? Okay?”

“You get me laid, dude, and I’ll come back here tomorrow dressed up like Boy George if you want.”

“I’ll make it happen,” he said. “Dammit, Jack. This is how Houdini died, man. You never gut-punch a guy who’s not ready for it.”

“Sorry, bro.”

 

 

 

WE DIDN’T HAVE a car, so we walked up to the corner and waited forty minutes until the battered orange MTA bus came careening over the hill and stopped to pick us up in a cloud of dust and diesel fumes. It was slow going. The bus stopped every couple blocks to pick someone up and sometimes it was a disabled person, and that was a whole hassle. The bus would wheeze to a stop and a big forklift would emerge from underneath the bus and lift up the wheelchair, person and all, and retract back into the bus with a whirring of gears and machinery and beeps and boops and the bus shuddering and the driver doing about 20 different things to make all this happen. Then the driver had to strap the wheelchair in and yell at the passengers up front: “MAKE ROOM, MAKE ROOM, MOVE IT BACK, LET’S GO.” Finally we would take off again and then the feeble or decrepit or elderly person would gesture for someone nearby to pull the cord and, just a few blocks later, the whole process began again in reverse.

Because of all this we were going to be late—like an hour late. Fooz must have seen the look of concern on my face because he said:

“They’ll wait for me. Like the girls would wait for Manson, bro. I’m tellin’ ya.”

The bus pulled in front of the mall some time later. We walked across the parking lot under the gray San Fernando sky, the kind of day where the heat settles in and the smog makes your mouth taste faintly of ashtray. By the time we walked through the front entrance of Gottschalk’s I was soaked with sweat, but it wasn’t all from the heat—no, it was flop sweat of the virgin. I was nervous as hell.

They were waiting for us at the food court, at a table in front of the Hot Dog on a Stick.

“We were about to leave, asshole,” said Rachel. She had pale skin and long brown hair—pretty but pallid, and kinda small up top. It was hard to believe she and Henrietta were sisters.

“We hit a lot of traffic on the way over here,” said Fooz.

“On what, the bus?” said Rachel. She looked at Henrietta and they laughed.

Fooz coughed. “Yeah, okay, we took the bus. If you wanted us here on time you coulda picked us up!”

“If I wanted to, I could have,” said Rachel.

“That bitchy attitude of yours is going get you a spanking,” said Fooz.

“Ooooh, spank me! I dare you!”

Henrietta, meanwhile, responded to this flirty banter with a stunned look of shock and indignation. I realized at that moment she was into Fooz and that I was going to have a real problem getting her off of him. I gave her a friendly smile and she looked right through me, like I was a potted plant obstructing her view of the food court. I sat there and seethed and promised myself I’d get back at Fooz for making me the fourth wheel in his little love triangle.

We walked to the movie theater at the other end of the mall and got our tickets and popcorn and went to find our seats. “Let’s sit all the way in the back,” said Fooz. He and Rachel walked to the seats at the very top, so their backs were to the wall underneath the projector.

“Lotsa room, Jack,” he called out. “You and Henrietta should sit in the row below us.”

What the hell. I walked back around and sat one row down and looked over at Henrietta.

“Want some popcorn?” I said lamely.

“No thanks,” she said.

She got up and moved another three rows down.

I looked back at Fooz. He was already swapping spit with Rachel. He saw me from over her shoulder and gave me a thumbs up. I gave him the finger.

The movie started. It was a bad one: Sly Stallone climbing mountains and jumping out of airplanes as cornball one-liners spewed from his plastic surgery-marred mouth.

For most of the movie I’d managed to tune out the whispers and giggles and the sound of smacking lips behind me. But then I heard Fooz say something disturbing:

“The popcorn. I got extra butter on the popcorn. Use that…”

What the hell? I almost looked back to see what was going on, decided against it.

Then I heard it:

 

Mop-mop-mop-mop
Mop-mop-mop-mop

 

The sound went on and on. I looked down at Henrietta to see if she’d heard it. No, she was too far away and the movie was too loud. We were nearing the climax of the film, Sly Stallone fighting some asshole on a helicopter tethered to the side of the mountain.

The film wasn’t the only thing nearing a climax.

 

Mop-mop-mop-mop
Mop-mop-mop-mop

Onscreen, Sly clung to the side of the mountain as the helicopter fell thousands of feet to the ground and exploded in an enormous fireball.

I glanced back to see Fooz’s face contorted into a silent scream as Rachel’s hand worked furiously in his lap.

 

 

 

AFTER THE MOVIE we hung out back at the food court. Henrietta seemed to have resigned herself to losing Fooz but that didn’t mean she was warming up to me—any attempt on my part to make conversation was met with icy silence and rolled eyes. The sisters chatted while Fooz ate french fries with a drugged, dopey look on his face. At some point Rachel had to pee so the girls went off to the restroom together.

“You fucking asshole,” I hissed. “I’m really happy you got jerked off, but what about me? Henrietta hates my guts, man!”

No response.

I threw a french fry at his face; that seemed to snap him out of his post-orgasmic stupor.

“Don’t worry about it, Jack. The day’s not over yet. We’re all gonna go to my house after this— get loaded, get laid.”

“Where? Your room? You planning an orgy or something?”

“Orgy? Hey man, we’re talking about sisters here. That’s a tough one to pull off.”

“So you’re gonna do Rachel in your room? Let’s say, by some miracle, Henrietta changes her mind about me. Where are we gonna do it?”

Fooz shrugged. “I dunno. My ma crashes out drunk at about eight. Maybe you can take Henrietta out onto the living room couch. What do you want from me?”

“I want you to hold up your end of the deal,” I whined.

“It’s all gonna work out, man. You gotta trust me. Uh-oh, here they come.”

The girls sat back down. Rachel didn’t like to eat anything—anorexic bitch. Meanwhile Henrietta attacked her plate of french fries with gusto. I figured she must need a lot of calories to carry around those breasts all day. I watched her eat and licked my suddenly dry lips.

“So,” said Fooz. “What do you guys say we head back to my place? I wrote a couple new tunes I want to play for you.”

Rachel’s eyes fairly gleamed at that. Henrietta’s face betrayed her inner struggle, but something in her had mellowed a little bit. They must have had some kind of heart-to-heart in the bathroom, I figured.

 

 

 

WE PILED IN Rachel’s car and headed back to Fooz’s place. I sat in the back with Henrietta. We didn’t talk. She stared out the window, and I stared at her chest.

We walked into the house. Sharon Pinkley was sitting in her robe on the living room couch, drinking a gimlet and watching Donahue.

“Hey ma, these are my friends from school. You already know Jack. This is Rachel and Henrietta. Guys, this is my mom Sharon.”

Sharon looked the girls over with her tipsy, confrontational gaze.

“Nice to meet you,” said Sharon. Her eyes glittered with drunken malice. “What did the four of you do today at the mall? Get your nails done? Make eyes at all the cute boys?”

“All of the above,” said Fooz. “We’re having a study session now. Come on, guys.”

We all filed after Fooz into his room. He’d made a half-hearted effort at cleaning up, which meant he’d shoved the dirty dishes and smelly clothes into his closet and under the bed. Rachel and Henrietta sat down on Fooz’s bed and it was clear from their expressions that they didn’t dig the room’s dumpster smell. Fooz closed the door and turned on his stereo. “Careless Whispers” blared tinnily from the blown-out speakers.

“What’s with your mom?” asked Henrietta. “And what’s with this MUSIC?”

“Don’t worry about my mom,” said Fooz. “She’s a drunken old sea hag. And the music is WHAM! You guys don’t dig this?”

The girls gave each other a look. I shrugged and took a seat on one the many vinyl-filled orange crates, the only place to sit other than a smelly, stained beanbag in one corner of the room. Fooz gyrated to the music and sang along:

I’m never gonna dance again
Guilty feelings got no rhythm…

“This music is lame,” said Henrietta. “Like, REAL lame.”

“The music plays, but you haven’t ears to hear,” said Fooz. “You need something to enhance your experience.”

“What are you talking about?” said Rachel.

Fooz turned one of the stereo speakers towards the wall and slid out a rear panel. Inside the speaker was a one-hitter, a little bag of marijuana, and a dark brown bottle of Peach Schnappes. He took out the bottle and held it aloft.

“This is the one good thing the old lady drinks,” he said. He uncapped the bottle, took a hit, and said “MUTHAFUCKA!”

He handed the bottle to Rachel. She gave it a test smell, wrinkling her nose like she had when she’d first walked into Fooz’s room. Finally she took a tiny sip, grimaced, and put wrist to mouth dramatically.

“Aw, c’mon,” said Fooz. “It ain’t that bad. Pass it around.”

Rachel handed the bottle to Henrietta. She slugged it down and smacked her lips, savoring the fruity medicinal flavor of the liquor. Fooz looked at me and winked. Henrietta handed me the bottle and I took a good hit. I was well acquainted with Peach Schnapps by this point—it was all we ever drank.

Another cornball song came on. The album was a Greatest Hits of the 80s compilation that Fooz played incessantly. If Fooz’s goal was to convince his mother that he was a little lavender, the fruity tunes blaring from his room night and day sure didn’t hurt.

The bottle passed around the room. We started to talk about things. Silly things like school and who was a douchebag and bands we liked and things like that. I told a story about a gag Fooz and I had pulled on the Biology teacher, Mr. Jimson. How we’d replaced his nature video with a porno and the way he’d screamed when he hit play and his documentary on parmaecium had inexplicably become ANAL INTRUDERS 9.

I was drunk and, in my own mind, hugely entertaining. And you know what? Henrietta seemed to be dropping some of her hardass facade, even laughing here and there at what I was laying down. Fooz was right! I’d have a shot at this!

Then Fooz broke out the one-hitter. “We gotta blow it out the window so my ma can’t smell it,” he said.

We drank and smoked and smoked and drank. I was flying. The 80s music even started to sound good. Fooz did his chicken dance, arms flailing spastically. Rachel got up and danced with him. They bumped and grinded to the music.

I looked over at Henrietta. Now I’d get her to dance with me, seduce her with my moves, get my hands on that big sweaty body…

She was passed out in Fooz’s smelly beanbag.

Out cold.

“What the hell” said Fooz. “She okay?”

“She’s fine,” said Rachel. “Henrietta is a narcoleptic.”

“A narco-wut?”

“A narcoleptic. She falls asleep suddenly and without warning. It’s even worse when she smokes weed.”

Fooz stared at her with his mouth hanging open. I wasn’t sure he understood.

“Well let’s wake her up!”

“There’s no point to that,” said Rachel. “She’s out for at least an hour. And when she wakes up, she’ll be grouchy and want to leave.”

Fooz scratched his belly and looked at me. “You don’t say.”

At that moment the whole disappointment of the day and thesexual tension and the schnapps and the weed all came together and I felt this admixture of weariness and rage, like I was wading through bloody jello to strangle someone with my bare hands.

“I should be going,” I said.

“Oh, so soon?” said Fooz. And I realized the second I closed the door they’d be rutting like pigs on Fooz’s filthy mattress while Henrietta snored away in the corner of the room.

I gave Fooz a sickly, wooden smile.

“Yeah, I really should go. I’ll be sure to say goodbye to your mom on the way out—needed to talk to her about that thing, remember?”

Fooz looked at me with an expression that was equal parts resignation and horniness. I could see his thoughts as clearly as if they were my own: that if I was going to spill the beans, he was going to bang this chick with everything he had—since it would probably be the last one he’d ever have in this room.

“Do what you gotta do,” he said. “And so will I.”

 

 

 

I WALKED OUT of the room and down the darkened hallway feeling drunk and belligerent. I looked at my watch: it was 9 PM. Sharon would already be in bed by now. Well, I’d wake her the fuck up if I had to!

I cracked open the bedroom door. She was laying there on the bed in her robe, on top of the covers, reading a copy of People Magazine.

“Mrs. Pinkley?”

She looked up, a little startled. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry to bother you this late, but I need to talk to you.”

“What is it? Is Fenton all right?”

“Yes, he’s fine. He’s in his room with the sisters.”

She put the magazine down and smoothed out her robe. I glanced at her legs. They were tanned and plump and there were a few varicose veins here and there but truthfully? They didn’t look half bad.

“Look, Mrs.Pinkley, I can’t go along with Fooz’s little ruse anymore. I want you to know that I am one hundred percent heterosexual. And, quite frankly? So is your son.”

I told her about our deal, and how it hadn’t worked out, and I left out the part about Fooz getting jerked off in the theater. She’d seemed to sober up a bit, and listened patiently. When I finished telling her the truth as I saw it, she smiled.

“I’m not sure I believe you, Jack,” she said. “Are you sure you’re not a dirty little queer?”

“Good God. You’re not gonna let this go, are you?”

“You don’t have what it takes to be a man, you punk! You’re a stinking pansy!”

“I’m a pansy, huh? How about I do YOU right now and show you how much of a pansy I am?”

She smiled and opened her robe.

It was all there. The winebag breasts hung to the side. She had a little bit of a gut and a c-section scar. Between her legs was a big black mound of hair and the slit. As she spread her legs a bit I saw the slit open up. I had an inane thought: that was where they pulled Fooz out of her 14 years ago.

I jumped on top of her and stuck my tongue in her mouth, tasting the fecund garlic of fermenting booze. She put her hand on my crotch.

 

 

 

I NEVER ONCE thought about the fact that Fooz was in the other room. The sex and the booze and the weed caught up to me and after a little while I rolled off of Fooz’s mother and passed out.

I slept for some time. Maybe a couple hours.

“Pssst!”

I snapped awake, disoriented. Where was I? Then I remembered. Sharon had rolled on her side and was snoring with her mouth open. I was repulsed. I’d lost my virginity to an old bar drunk, my best friend’s mother no less. Guilt and shame washed over me.

“Pssst!”

What the hell was that?

I looked up at the door. It was Fooz, standing there in his baggy underwear.

He grinned and gave me a thumbs up and mouthed the phrase I would hear many more times from him throughout my life:

“YOU OWE ME!”