The sound of the gavel slamming down was as cold as a winter wind. No, it was colder than that. I mean, sure, winter wind gets pretty cold, but you can always put on another layer of clothes or grab a blanket or drink some sort of liquor. The sound of that gavel, it was as cold as your wife’s smile when she catches you screwing the maid and you’re sitting there with a martini in one hand and a feather duster in the other and all you can think about is how you worked pretty damn hard for your two point seven million dollars and who knew she was waiting for just this moment when she promised that no, she wouldn’t want your money and of course you don’t need a prenuptial agreement. I’ve never seen that smile in real life, but it happened to my friend Arnold Jacks, and he showed me the tape. He was taping the thing with the maid, but he only showed me the part where his wife walked in. The tape, he actually sells on the internet, if you’re interested. The maid ended up winning one of those television talent shows and getting her own record, and shortly after that, Arnie stuck the video on his internet site. That’s how he recovered a small percentage of his money after the divorce.
None of that was really important to me when that gavel slammed down, though, and the gavel is what I’m talking about. It changed my life, as they say.
Here’s one thing you don’t want to do: you don’t want to get cross-eyed-drunk with your buddy and go roaming around town. No, no, it doesn’t matter that he just broke the five-hundred-thousand dollar mark with his porn video internet site. That’s no excuse. It’s also no excuse to go around mooning people in the park. Especially not if one of those people happens to be a judge. And especially not if that judge is going on her first real date in something like eight months. And especially if that judge happens to be a friend of your buddy’s ex-wife. That’s what the judge told me right before she declared my sentence and slammed down that gavel.
My name is Howard McKay, and I am not a writer. As far as a profession goes, I don’t really have one. See, what happened was, I decided to hang out for a year after I graduated high school. I mean, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, and jumping straight into college seemed like a waste of money. I decided to just keep working at the same pizza place where I had been employed since my freshman year. I eventually got tired of it and quit, and still had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Long story short, I ended up moving from one crappy job to another, always feeling like I was smarter than the people I worked with, and always lacking the motivation to prove it.
The reason I mention that I’m not a writer is because I’m a little embarrassed at this attempt to put a story down for others to read, even if it is just a blog on a porn site. To write a story has never been a goal of mine. I don’t like to write. I don’t even like to read. Frankly, words and I have never really been buddies. The only reason I’m even trying this is because my friend Arnold Jacks says that you should always try to cash in on everything. As a general rule, it’s a pretty bad idea to listen to anything Arnie says, but he’s working on his second fortune, so I figured maybe this once, it wouldn’t hurt. So here’s what happened:
I was just sitting around that night, watching a little TV. That’s mostly what I do is watch TV and go to work. Sleeping and eating, those are some other things that I do, but usually I’m at work, and if I’m not there, I’m probably at home watching TV. The job-of-the-moment was working at a retail clothing store in the mall. It’s not Gap, but it really wants to be, you can tell. It’s like that kid that used to follow you around in grade-school, saying things that you say, trying to act just like you, and cramping your style. The place where I worked, it’s the Gap’s annoying little friend. In case you’re wondering, yes, I was that little annoying friend back when I was a kid. Now that I’m older, I find myself thinking about my childhood and being very annoyed with the kid that I was.
The thing is, you can’t change the past, so you have to try to make up for it in the present. In the present, I’m pretty annoying to myself, too. I’m not too much of a follower these days, but I’m not much of a leader, either. The way I try to make up for the past is by being a jerk in the present. It doesn’t really help anything, but it makes me feel better and helps me vent. Venting is very important when you work in retail. My favorite at-work activity was to stand outside the dressing rooms and make skeptical faces when people came out dressed in the clothes they’re trying on. And then I would go, “Yeah, yeah, it looks good.” You have to use a reassuring voice, but the kind that’s not reassuring at all. Tone is very important.
Mostly, I just like making people feel as insecure about life as I do. They shouldn’t be wearing so much khaki, anyway.
So I was sitting there watching TV, and Arnie calls me up, sounding all loud and drunk. Arnie’s a pretty nice guy, as far as people go, but he’s really only got a couple ways of sounding. One is all loud and drunk, which means he’s happy. The other is crying and drunk, which means he’s not happy.
We were both losers in school, meaning—among other things—that we didn’t have many friends. The difference between us and most of the other losers was that we didn’t aspire to be popular. We didn’t want friends, we didn’t want to be the captain of the football team, we didn’t want to date cheerleaders. Sure, we wanted to have sex with the cheerleaders, but we never wanted to date them. The cheerleader thing was a moot point anyway, because none of the cheerleaders would even talk to us. But we were okay with that.
Arnie, he found out about beer the night of graduation, and since then, alcohol has been his closest friend. He just sort of brings me along because whiskey doesn’t ever laugh at his jokes. One night, it was around Christmas, I remember, Arnie was up late watching cable. There was one of those commercials about “Inventors, listen up! Do you have an idea, but don’t know what to do with it?” Arnie apparently thought he did have an idea, so he called the number and they sent him the little booklet in the mail. When it showed up, he had no clue what to do with it, so he just tossed it up on top of his refrigerator as he went to grab another beer. Some time around the new year, it fell down as he was grabbing another beer, and in a drunken stupor, he filled out all of the forms and mailed them in.
Six months later, Arnie is filthy rich because of some invention that he can’t even remember inventing. The sad thing is, he probably got really screwed. The happy thing is, even with the screwing he got an insane amount of money.
Six months after that, Arnie is married to some beautiful woman who loved him for him, not his money, and no, of course they don’t need a pre-nup—she doesn’t want a single penny of his money if things don’t work out between them. Three years later, Arnie’s broke again, but his ex-wife is incredibly wealthy. Come to find out, she was telling the truth about not wanting a single penny. The chick wanted everything he owned.
In less than a year, the maid is on TV, winning some record deal, and about two days later, Arnie’s on his way to becoming rich again. It’s funny, the ups and downs of consensual sex. The girl, she was all mad about the video on the internet site, but as she had agreed to let Arnie tape the whole encounter, and as she had also agreed to let him put it online, there wasn’t anything she could do about it.
Meanwhile, Arnie’s ex-wife, we’ll call her Rene, she’s been real busy with Arnie’s money. Her name isn’t really Rene, but I have to change it so she doesn’t sue me. Rene is just some girl that I had a crush on when I was in high school but she was too good for me. Anyway, so Arnie’s wife, “Rene,” she’s been out investing and things like that. Come to find out, she was also having several affairs, and some of the guys knew how to use money to make money, unlike Arnie, who generally just used money to make martinis. So one day, we’re walking past a news stand, and there’s Rene, right on the cover of some magazine for women, she’s talking about how she worked her way up from the depths of poverty to become the accomplished woman she is today.
Arnie says to me, he says, “You know, Howie, you should always cash in on everything. Cash in on your loved ones, but cash in on your hated ones even more.” The next day, Rene was also on the porn site, along with the one-hit-wonder maid/singer and any stripper that Arnie could convince he would make famous. It was about a week after that when Arnie called me.
Like I said, I was watching TV, and Arnie calls up, all loud and drunk. “Let’s go out and celebrate!” He yells into my ear. No hello or anything, just let’s go out and celebrate.
“Can’t. I have to work tomorrow morning.”
“I never have to work again!”
“You don’t work now, Arnie. You haven’t worked in years.”
“Yeah, well, I still don’t have to do it. I’m halfway to becoming a millionaire!”
“Again?” It’s nice when Arnie’s a millionaire, because mostly you just sit around drinking with him and mooching.
Still, you can’t help being a little pissed because this drunken fool is making money left and right without even trying while you’re stuck at your dead-end job, barely able to cover next month’s rent.
“Yeah, again! Have you checked out the site lately?”
“No.” As a rule, I don’t look at pornographic websites. There are only a few things left that keep me from being just another desperate, pathetic loser with no hope of being anything other than he already is. Sitting all alone in a dark room on a Saturday night looking at porn on a computer is one of those things. Mostly, though, it’s because I don’t own a computer.
Aside from all of that, I still wouldn’t go to Arnie’s site because I don’t want to contribute Arnie’s wealth in any way, shape, or form. He swears to me that there are lots of free pictures that won’t make him any richer, but I still won’t have any part of it.
“I put Rene on there. I had a whole cabinet of stuff we made while we were married. It was in the marriage contract that I could post them, but I guess she overlooked that part. Our lawyers are already going at it, but my guy says it’s binding, and not to worry. Now that she’s famous, I’m selling clips for ten bucks a pop! Even with all of the pirating, I’m making gobs of dough.”
“Good for you, man. But I still have to work tomorrow.” This was mostly just a dance we go through. Arnie likes to pretend that he’s not desperate for companionship, I like to pretend I’m not a straight-up mooch. Sure, he could surround himself with other people; he’s got enough money to buy all the friends he could ever want, but it’s just not the same. With me, it’s like buying a friend that really is your friend.
“Come on, man,” Arnie said, and I heard him open another beer. “Look, I’m rich as hell again! You could quit your job, come live with me.”
“Sorry, buddy. My liver just can’t condone that.”
“Okay, how about this? How about you quit your job and I’ll pay your rent for the next month?”
“Man, I’ll still have to start looking for a job tomorrow. You know how tough the job market is these days.” The truth of the matter is that Arnie had no idea about how tough the job market is these days, or any of the days for the past decade. Arnie’s last real job was working at a convenience store where they hired him on the spot because he had a valid Social Security card.
“Okay, I’ll pay the next three months of your rent.”
“Well…I don’t know, man, it seems pretty irresponsible.” At this point in the negotiation, things can go either way, really. He can either yell something like of course it’s irresponsible but we only live once, in which case I’ll give in to the wisdom of his words, or he’ll say:
“Okay, I’ll pay the next six months! You’ll have plenty of time to find a job and get yourself back together.”
“Sold,” I said. “Where to you want to meet?”
We met at the Copper Gate Pub, which is really just a dive bar full of smoke and cockroaches and drunks, no matter how classy the name sounds. I remember the first five or six drinks, and I vaguely remember the first five or six bars, but after that, everything becomes a blur. I mean, I remember laughing with Arnie about a full moon, and I remember making some stupid joke about two full moons. I remember Arnie falling asleep beside some tree, and I remember continuing through the park on my own, still laughing at the cleverness of my stupid joke. And I remember the cop not thinking I was very funny at all.
I woke up the next day, hung over like you wouldn’t believe, and in jail.
I went to court that afternoon, and as soon as I saw the judge, I remembered her. She had been sitting on a park bench the night before, next to some guy. They had been staring up at the sky and talking quietly, just like some cheesy romance movie. When stuff like that happens in real life, it always irritates me, mostly because it deflates my argument against romance. The main part of my argument is something like, “Stuff like that doesn’t ever happen in real life.”
So, I mooned them. I found out later that it was only a horrible coincidence that she ended up being the judge in my case. If I heard this story in a bar, I would have mocked whoever was telling it, and I would have called him a liar. I would have said that stuff like that doesn’t ever happen in real life. Coincidence is a horrible thing.
The thing about fate is, once she decides to be a bitch, she rarely lets you off light. This woman judge happened to be Rene’s best friend. This was the woman who sat next to Arnie’s ex-wife through the tears, the broken heart, and the money transfers. In case you’re wondering, the judge knew who I was, even before I had ruined her date.
She wasn’t going to be lenient in any case, but the cool thing about boring people is they don’t have the imagination to do anything too horrible. The truly terrible punishments have to be thought up by people with great minds. Or, in my case, people with nasty hangovers and smart mouths.
“Community service?” The reason I felt like being a smart-ass was because she had just sentenced me as harshly as the law would permit. Something like two thousand hours of community service. You can actually get jail time, too, but I had served my time the night before. “Like, what, dress up in tights and go around fighting crime?”
See, the hangover was really bad, my head was throbbing, and all I could picture was picking trash up off the side of the road for the next million weekends of my life. My point is, I wasn’t up to being my usual witty self, and inside my head, the idea of being sentenced to be a super hero was really funny. I was thinking about Batman being forced to help old women across the street, things like that. And when I get to thinking really hard, sometimes my mouth just starts going without me paying any attention.
“Yes, Mr. McKay.” That’s what the judge said, and all my thoughts stopped and my mouth snapped shut. “That’s exactly what I meant.”
You could tell she was lying, though, she just stole my idea.
I said, “What?”
She was smiling this really evil smile, and I was thinking about how they should never let people who could smile like that go anywhere near a position of authority. “You will report back here on Monday morning, nine a.m. for your costume and a list of your duties.” And then that gavel slammed down.
That’s how my career as a costumed crime-fighter began.