[The Tyrant Giancarlo Ditrapano sent us this and we couldn’t help ourselves. With all due respect to the Esquire fiction camp and the creator. Read both, see what you think? – BB]
I just read the James Franco story in Esquire and thought it was great. There were just a couple of things that needed tweaking in my opinion so I started messing with it. You’ve written a good, funny story, Mr. Franco. But now it’s even better. Remember, it never matters who writes it, it only matters that it gets written. Or something like that. Some good stuff in here though. I’d love to work on something with you for my meager little journal. Email me at email@example.com. Let’s talk it out.
N.B. This was done with entirely good intention and I meant no harm, as I never have meant harm. Just having some fun and don’t want anyone to get in trouble or angry over this. Who knows? I may have ruined the thing.
Driving Lessons for Nothing Zones
[a Giancarlo Ditrapano redux of James Franco’s “Just Before the Black,” published online in Esquire]
Joe and I sit and stare at the wall of the building. We’re in the car. My Grandpa’s. The building’s beige, but the shadows make it shadow-color for now.
Joe smokes with his window down.
There is not much to talk about with Joe. I don’t know what he thinks he is. “If you lived in the olden times, what would you do?” I ask Joe.
Joe has to think about it. He is large, a chub, and his bear body falls all around him and rests on the seat.
“Which olden times?” he asks. He has the voice of a heavy man, he has that gurgle.
“Like, King Arthur, with knights and horses.”
Joe thinks. I can’t hear it, but I imagine rust-worn gears flaking and groaning slowly into motion. I curse myself for that cliche thought. I’d like to say I even smell it, but that would only make things worse. To my knowledge, there is no yellow smoke emanating from his skull from all the thinking he’s doing.
“I’d be the king,” he says.
“You can’t be the king,” I say. “No one is king. That’s like winning the lottery.”
“If I went back, I’d be king. I’d fuck every virgin in the kingdom.”
“You can’t be king, asshole. You can’t even be duke. The fact that you even said that shows you’re not royalty. You’re a peasant. Deal.”
“Whenever people time-travel, they go back and they are friends with the king, or they are the king.”
“There are very few kings, and you certainly wouldn’t be one of them.”
“Joe, you’re an idiot.”
“You’re an idiot way before me.”
“I know,” I say. And I am. I am friends with a slug, and my other friends are pigs and wolves. I never make friends with the nice things of the world. Just all its shit parts.
“If you were king, I’d kill myself,” I say.
Joe sucks his cigarette. He looks at me and the smoke drifts through the gate of his teeth.
“Then you better die, because I’m the king.”
He smiles. He has rotten teeth, thin shingles for chompers, all climbing over each other. He has rows of gray teeth and brown gums. I think, Why don’t you get some braces, brush those things, but I don’t think about that because I’m thinking about something else, or at least getting ready to do something else, or I’m already doing something…
The car is running, is accelerating. I’m driving us right toward the beige shadow-colored-for-now wall, and I can only see and hear Joe for a second, a high-pitched thing that cracks for a second, and for that second I’m with Joe’s voice on a plateau in the black of space, wherever it is that noise cracks like that and decibels live, and then it’s gone because there’s the metal sound so loud and it’s how I had always planned it to be, crunching, and a jerk and the front of my head is filled with the cold hollow sinus pain, the surprise punch in the nose that takes you back to childhood and there’s an immediate link to every other time you ever had your nose hit, by a ball, by a head, by your own knee, and after the surprise it doesn’t go away. I’m still there. The tires behind me are screeching because my foot is still on the gas. The car has gone a ways into the wall but it’s not going any farther. I look over at fat shit, and there’s blood rolling out of a slice in his forehead, some coming out of his mouth. I think that it’s from the head gash until I see one of those teeth is now a black gap. He looks like something awful, but he looks young, like a kid when they lose teeth.
“Why the fuck did you do that, Manuel?”
I laugh and it bubbles out like popcorn, because he looks so fucking absurd, and because my name isn’t even close to Manuel. That’s his brother’s name, his equally stupid older brother’s name.
Joe gives me a vacant look, he’s covered in blood, the blood’s falling down onto his shirt. It’s thick and looks like ketchup randomness, so much messier and more random than I could ever plan. I’m delighted how it turned out, in my own way.
I painted those swirls, because I drove Grandpa’s car into the wall.
For six months I drove around town with that busted car. The front was smashed. I replaced the lights, but they were crooked and looked in different directions, like a glass eye and a real eye. I didn’t care, and they, the cops or anyone, didn’t catch me or pull me over.
I’m driving from work when I pass Joe on the way to the driving range. “Hey, Jack-O’, we doing this thing tonight?” I say. We’re friends again.
“Yeah,” he says. “Hector has the goods.”
Everyone calls Joe Jack-O’ now because he didn’t get a replacement tooth. He liked the hole and kept the hole. And he stopped being mad at me. We’d laugh about me driving into the wall. I smiled when people would bring it up. It was local lore now. I alone knew it was a great failure.
Now me and Jack-O’ are driving down the dark freeway. Me and fat boy, cruising. I think about that missing tooth, and that gap, and how there was never a gap in that place before, and about three dimensions, and how the gap was on the inside of his mouth unless he opened his mouth and how things, shapes, folded in on themselves, and four dimensions, and if time is variable, then how do I vary it, and why do I want to? Everything focuses in on me and I hate it.
“If you were an Egyptian, what would you do?” I ask Joe.
“Don’t start this shit again, Michael.”
“Remember when you called me Manuel?”
“I never called you Manuel, idiot. I would be pharaoh.”
“No, you’re too fat. Pharaohs are skinny,” I say.
“I don’t want to be an Egyptian: pyramids and mummies and shit, and sand, and all that, fuck it, it’s boring, man. I would be an Aztec, or a Mayan, like my peeps, and I’d cut your fucking heart out.”
Joe is Mexican. His eyes, like most Mexicans’ eyes, are beautiful, and his eyelashes are thicker, longer than mine. He has short fat eyebrows and beautiful brown eyes. He has thick hair that flops.
I wish I was Mexican, or Hebrew, I mean Jewish, I mean Israeli, or Mexican Jewish, or Mexican Jewish gay, because it can be so boring being this, being me. Boring being this me. “Maybe we should try it,” I say.
“Michael, I’m serious, don’t do something crazy just because we’re talking about your olden-time things again, just let me the fuck out if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“No, man, I’m just saying that maybe those Mayans were on to something. Maybe if we take someone’s heart out and sacrifice it, then something special will happen.”
I pull out a long kitchen knife from under the seat, which he sees, but he doesn’t say anything so I put it back. Joe is looking at me like he is trying me out, and I know that he can’t fully get it because he isn’t laughing and he isn’t arguing. He’s staring and staring only.
“Maybe we could take Hector’s heart,” I say.
We are going to see Hector over by the junior college where I go to night school. He lives and sells near there, and we’re supposed to meet him in some parking lot. Hector is not a scary guy, he has a nice-guy face, but he could fuck somebody up quite thoroughly if given the chance.
“Hector would fuck you up,” says Joe. I silently agree.
I love driving down an empty dark freeway, lit up intermittently by the lights at the side of the road, and when I see the lights, I think of all the little worlds out there, all the little animals living in their habitats out there, and how we could pull over and have an adventure at any one of these forgotten pockets of the world, just nothing zones, backwash refuse property in the wake of the great freeways, and I like passing all of them, racing down the freeway, like a tunnel into the night, and racing but still being able to carry on a whole action scene with Joe, and I think it is like life, because I am racing, and time is pushing me forward and it’s not going to stop and I will have a few passengers in the vehicle with me, and it’s either enjoy the scenery together, or listen to some music we both like, and let’s just have at all of it or have at none of it at all.
We smoke with Hector. Hector gets us really fucking high. Finally, he sells us some quality. We smoke out of his mini dragon bong, out in the darker corner of the parking lot. It’s a great spot, you walk up the hill a little ways and there are willows. I think they might be the weeping ones. There is a small stream and brick edifices on the sides of that. There is a faux altar constructed out of stones.
We smoke more. I think about the little dragon that the bong is and I so wish that dragons were real, because it would mean that none of this shit was the end of everything, because even if you were high, this world only let you escape a little bit, it let you escape enough that you knew that there could be something better, but it wouldn’t let you into that place; like standing on the threshold of a place and seeing something so bright and tantalizing and warm, womb warm, in there, but not being able to enter, just feeling the heat a little on your face, and you want to cry and smile, but instead you just stare because you can’t do anything. You can’t step in.
“Hector,” I say. I am lying on the altar thing. Hector is sitting against the base of the willow’s trunk. “Would you rather be the pope or Pablo Escobar?”
Hector doesn’t think long.
“Pope gets to live in the Vatican, see Michelangelo all the time,” I say.
“Escobar,” says Joe. He is higher than us, I can tell. He hogged more of the weed than Hector and I and he is hunched like a pile of trash against the base of the altar. He hangs forward like a sleeping mule.
“Shut up, Joe,” I say. “We know what you want. You want the knife.”
“What knife?” says Hector.
“This puta wanted to cut out your heart with this knife,” I say and hold up the knife for Hector to see. It reflects a little in the dark. I can see the sky in it.
“I would fucking kill you, homes,” Hector says to Joe. He seems angry, but he’s too tired, too high.
“I didn’t say I wanted to …” says Joe, but he doesn’t finish.
“Fuck you, lardass,” says Hector, and Hector and I laugh, and Joe shifts a little because he’s angry, but he is too lazy to get up, so he just shifts. He’s still looking at the ground when he says,
“No, Hector, this fucker is always asking me stupid questions and trying to kill me. That’s how I lost my tooth.”
“No,” says Hector. “You lost that because you’re too fat for seatbelts.”
We laugh and laugh.
We sit for a while not saying anything. I can feel their thoughts rubbing on mine and corroding me, killing me. Mexican thoughts.
“Hector,” I say.
“Yes,” he says without looking up.
“Would you rather be gay or be a girl?”
He chuckles. Hector can be cool sometimes. Sometimes he even seems wise.
“Neither,” he says.
“Just saying,” I say. “If you had to choose because the genie said so, what would you choose?”
Joe, still looking at the dark dirt, says, “Both still have to suck dick.”
“Exactly,” says Hector. And Joe laughs a little, a chuckling and leaning pile of trash below me.
“Would that be so bad?” I say. “Don’t you ever get jealous of those girls in pornos that get to be on their knees in the middle of all those dicks?”
“Are you fucking serious?” says Hector.
“Don’t,” says Joe. “This faggot is always asking stupid questions and giving stupid answers. Dude is always going weird and faggoty and talking death and talking about sucking dicks. For no reason. I’m about done with it, for tonight at least.”
“No,” says Hector. “This faggot is serious.” He’s looking at me now, I can tell.
“Yeah,” I say. “Don’t you like the idea of an around-the-world blowbang?”
“I like to have a girl suck my dick, but I don’t want to do it,” says Hector.
“Me neither,” says Joe, but he is mumbling.
“Why not?” I say. “What’s the difference?”
“What’s the difference?” says Hector. “Because I am going in, and she is being got inside of.”
“And why is one better? Why does going inside make you better? Aren’t you like on her turf inside her, isn’t she in control of you? Like a mommy with her little baby making him feel good?”
“Because,” says Hector, “some take and some get taken. I take. I do unto others. Why, you like to bottom? That’s cool. You don’t even got to be gay to be a bottom, man. It’s politics. I’ve had my dick sucked by a dude once. Never gave it a thought. I even jerked him his dick for him. We were friends and young and on good molly and it was a great day. So, why the dick on your mind? You upset Joe with it, not sure why, but you did not upset me. You want to suck my dick or something? I bet you’ve never done it. You curious? Hope you like foreskin. I think you’re too ticklish.” Joe walks across the lot to the street. Hector says,”Walk back here and you put your mouth where your mouth is.” I follow him past the altar and the willow. Once we’re out of sight, he lights up a blunt he’s saved, smiles at me like we just pulled one over on Joe. “I would have sucked your dick,” I say.
On the way home Joe and I are driving down the empty freeway. It’s like two-thirty in the morning and we’re still pretty high. I look up, directly at the rows of street lights above us, I see the spectrum of colors turning on top of each other in the core of the street light’s bulbs.
I feel like I’m remembering all this from somewhere, I’m not sure where, everything is hazy, I remember that there is an angel named Michael, and he had a flaming sword, and engraved on the handle were the words angelic scum.
I say to Joe,
“Let’s drive the wrong way down the other side of the freeway.”
Joe is asleep, but he mumbles a, “Wha’?” and I can see the black gap just to the left of the center of his mouth. Better to let him sleep.
“I’m going to go over on that side,” I say. Better to just let him sleep. I think of the olden times, when knights would aim long sturdy lances at each other and you would feel that when it hit you, feel that force of the momentum of the horses’ pumping channeled into the lance, and for a second you might know that you were really alive. Then that feeling passes and you realize you’ve lost the joust and you’re lying on the ground in shame and humiliation and dust. And a little ways down the freeway there is a gap in the center barrier. I turn the radio down. I turn the radio off. I turn the wheel and I cross over.