“Lush” by George Sparling


by George Sparling 

 The frat rats rushed and accepted me, Rand Adams, as a pledge into the Krappa DumDum fraternity house at  “The Harvard of the Midwest,” because they wanted their house filled with Wasps. At least that was what I thought. I unpacked my luggage, hung my up herringbone suit, sports jacket, ties, and shirts in the small closet, stashed my underwear away, put a framed photo of my high school girlfriend on the bureau, lit a Marlboro, sat on straight-back chair at a desk, inhaled just like John Wayne, and pulled out a half-pint of peppermint schnapps.

“Hi, I was enjoying the view,” I said, turning away from watching longhaired hippies playing hacky sack, kicking the footbag, doing bag daggers and ham spalts. I never played that game, preferring darts, getting high on booze, purposely missing the target, zinging the darts into a bunch of jocks with their dates.

They would get aroused from their pre-coital word-dance, come after me, they kicking holy shit out of me, I staggering outside, blood from nose dripping, my nuts screaming in pain, my body falling apart like the scarecrow in ‘The Wizard of Oz,” getting fixed up at the university clinic. I must love getting touched, the hard way.

“Want a slug?” He looked at me as if I had violated some tribal ritual. The price of being dateless: masochism and brutality.

“Hello, Rand, I’m JQ, glad to meet you,’ he said. His bright Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, Prada charcoal gray pants, and Armani sports coat glared at me. I glanced down, seeing flashy Barker Blacks Ostrich Cap Toe shoes. My dad subscribed to GQ and Esquire, the only reason I knew.

“Nope. I only like soft drinks. I’m studying Electrical Engineering. Hope you’ll study hard too.”

“I’m taking business courses, accounting this semester,” I said crisply, as I chugged the remains of the schnapps, sticky fingers I wiped on my snotrag.

Drunk on high school commencement day, letting the entire senior class see me teetering around, cursing and talking to classmates, scaring them, not the usual mediocre, khaki pants and rolled up sleeves guy nor the one picked on. Before the ceremony, as part of the humiliation treatment, I stood before a couple hundred students as well as the principal. I had a hangover but I made a trembling, sotto voce apology into a microphone. Drinking booze, my first major taboo I had broken. Degradation: cost of freedom.

Three friends and I used to play poker in one of our homes most Saturday nights, and after I losing time after time five or six bucks, I stood to them and swept the last pot off  the table. Then my next door neighbor confronted me, punching me in the gut, another guy threw a shot to my eye. I quit seeing them, watching TV rather than being scapegoated by sadists. Friends: A social lie.

JQ: six feet one, 190 pounds, muscular arms and legs, expensive aftershave, its je ne sais quoi giving him an indescribable something, bounced as he walked, erect posture, tan skin, dark eyes, crew cut black hair, steel pens clipped to his shirt pocket, charcoal gray pants tailor made, Superman psychic eyes able to reconstruct damaged structures ( my emotional infrastructure, perhaps? ), proud chest accentuated by his heads-up, striding fast walk. I had none of those attributes, but what I did have was withdrawing my life from persons such as JQ, drinking my forte.

My first DumDUM party, a jamming rhythm and blues band hired by the fraternity, their music frantic, they, too, high. JQ set me up with a girl from a nearby college, and the four of us rode in his Buick, his “steady” as he called her, in front. JQ said to me, “Sober up a bit before you meet your date.”

He drove to a drive-in and told me to get a pint of milk to go with burger and fries. I drank and ate, he saying, “The milk will coat your stomach, letting you drink more, and not get so googly-puss that your date, Millie, would get upset.”

I did as instructed, feeling alright until we started dancing, the band playing fast and hard, then I weaved and bobbed to a table, Millie following me, and I puked on the table, vomit streaming onto her fancy gown.

“Listen you, wise up, they’re nice girls here, from ritzy homes, rich families—they’re not accustomed to queers like you, Rand.” I heard the words “ritzy” and “queer,”and, with arms leveraging myself on two others seated next to us, I finally rose, and threw a punch at JQ, he blocking it with one Superman Hand, and pushed me hard, and I fell to the greasy floor. He grabbed my armpits, lugging me upright and that was the end of the party for us. He let Millie off, and as she stepped over me next to the door, again I barfed, only this time all over her pricey gown.

JQ said, “He’s sorry for what happened, I’ll call you tomorrow.” She turned, looking clinically in shock, and said, “I thought you knew what’s his face, but apparently you didn’t.” I pulled the door shut, and JQ, behind the wheel, gave me the back of his arm, not hitting me, but shoving his elbow at me. My father had done the same with me after driving me home from a high school dance, threatening me with his big arm, blaming me for his slamming into a culvert. “If you had a real date, not some gal who was pressured my other girls, embarrassed not to have a date for the Dame’s Dance, this wouldn’t have happened.”

I finally reached the upper bunk, sleeping in vomit-drenched clothes, but JQ pulled me down, undressed me, I naked, and then hoisted me into my bunk. I woke up Sunday, slowly walking to the two man shower, opposite me was JQ, scrubbing off last night’s incriminating evidence. After drying off, he never spoke about his affair with “Steady.”

I slipped on pajamas, slept for a couple hours, clean and relatively sober. Later, I had coffee and a bagel with cream cheese, licking my lips. The dining room empty, members studying.

I stopped going to classes, throwing away any chance gaining admission to the business clique. I would rather have JQ beat me up, something I looked forward to anyway. What was a blood-soaked saint if not pleading to drain away his evil?

“I’ll have to go home. There’s a funeral I have to go to,” JQ said. “My father’s part Commanche. An elderly man committed suicide, rather suffer indignities of old age.”

“I hadn’t the opportunity to go to one,” I proudly said. He had no response.

“It goes back to when they were warriors, fighting, warring their way of life. The old ceremony made the corpse as small and compact as possible, then threw the body into a pit.”

“I read somewhere about counting coup,” I said. “Did they do that rather than kill enemies?” Damn, I sounded so inquisitive, all the while grateful that JQ would absent himself from me for a weekend.

“If they touched an enemy with a stick, that meant a kill.”

He packed his clothes, put on a Glen Brae sport coat over a turquoise-blue Armani shirt, and slipped into Crockett & Jones shoes.

“You dress as if you’re going to a royal wedding,” I said.

“Oil money, I can’t help it. Our family was middle class until father made a fortune in oil wells.”

He never said goodbye, walked downstairs, and drove the Buick away from Krappo DumDum’s parking space.

Now I had the room to myself. I hid a bunch of Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler magazines, the sequence getting more vulgar, dirty, and sleazy. My secret little habit was trimming with small sharp scissors the outline of all the semi- or -fully naked women. It took hours, this being Sunday, and I could work without anyone knowing about my hobby. It was fun shearing closely around bodacious butts, around large-nipple breasts, cutting exquisitely down the thighs and calves, the blowjob lips and jerk-off hands, the bare feet, an oh those Hustler clitorises, how finely I edged the scissors around cobra-hooded clits. Venomous, these women’s images hissed at me, making them dangerous if touched only softly, as feathery as I imagined Native-Americans counting coup.

I then scotched taped them to the walls, ceiling and doors, the room overloaded with testosterone. I turned on my tape recorder, saying the vilest words possible, working up to major eruption, the 1908 Tunguska comet/asteroid impacting Siberia, so powerful that Western Europeans could read at night, was humble and meager in comparison. Seize the day: my forebrain acquiesced and faintly whispered,  “OK.” The Grand Old Limbic System, its amygdala: I pressed my mouth close to the mic, and rasped, “OH GOD GOD GOD GOD…

Though I had at first thought Krappa was uniformly Wasp, JQ the obvious example, the frat had guys such as Huck. I had never seen him eat with others in the dining room. I was flunking out, taking only an English course, my favorite novel, “Heart of Darkness.”

JQ always sat at the housemother’s table, and I despised him for that. He always sat at her right, she at the head of the table. Why was the right hand of God so exalted, the Bible verses rife in both Old and New Testament? Latin for left was “sinister,” pernicious and apocalyptic. While JQ attended a funeral, a guest sat at her table. I had never seen him eating with the rest of us, he at her left.

After dinner, walking together upstairs, I trailing them, I heard him say, “The locksmith job eats up my time away from the books.”

She said, “We never had the do-ri- me, it’s a means to an end.”

He sat in the living room, reading “Heart of Darkness,” I glancing at the cover.

“You’re in my class but I never knew you were a Krappa.”

“I am but live with my dad, helping him with the locksmith business.”

“Do you break into many homes that you put locks in?” He smiled, his wiry body squirming a bit in the comfortable chair.

“You a pledge?” he asked cautiously. I replied I was but may not for long because I was not going to classes except for English.

“JQ told me about you, how much you drink peppermint schnapps. As long as you’re flunking out, maybe you could learn a trade like locksmithing. How about it?”

“I can’t do mechanical work. I should have gone to a vocational school, even being a mail carrier would have been fine.”

We discussed Conrad’s novella, were Kurtz and Marlow part of the Belgian Congo’s colonial empire, or was the book a psychological study. I played the native that said,“Mistah Kurtz, he dead,” JQ an unwritten Belgian character—a nothing—in the novella.

After a while, Huck got up to leave, pulling out of his pocket a key.

“Here’s a souvenir,” and Huck gave me a strange looking key. “The peaks are even, cut down to the lowest groove. If you had a hammer, you hit the key, and some locks would open. It’s a dump key”

“Why give it to me?”

“I learned a trade from prisoners in the slammer. Come to the shop,” he said, handing me a card from his wallet. People opened up, telling me things they would never mention if told to insiders: My stooped back, at twenty-five finding nothing much to talk about, drinking schnapps my only escape.

Easter break, all the bothers gone, I hanging around because I had not wanted visiting my parents. I liked their checks, though. Slightly sloshed, I went downstairs and finding myself alone, I walked to the housemother’s quarters. I borrowed a small hammer from JQ’s dresser drawers: I scrounged for money, valuables, maybe pawning them, and then fleeing to New York City, getting in the ad business, its deceit I relished as much as the schnapps.

I put the dump key into the lock, hit it, turned the knob, and walked into her rooms. I searched for valuables in closets, drawers, under her bed, under couch and chair cushions, into pockets of clothes on hangers, everywhere. I was pissed, swallowing more from the fifth of schnapps. The drunker I got, fury traveled through my body, especially my solar plexus, the “seat of the soul” to some religious believers. And this soul smashed lamps, ripped up cushions with a kitchen knife, broke chinaware, hammered out glass covering photos of friends and family, cut a Middle Eastern rug with shears, broke vases containing flowers, slashed her mattress with a high carbon stainless steel knife. I wanted to torch her apartment, the frat house going up in flames.

I found typewrite paper, writing, “Thanks, Huck, your gift has brightened my life.”

I deserved an eagle feather for vandalism, counting coup also my version of war. I was fed up with JQ’s abundance. Though indelicate, I realized my hands better suited for lush work in subways. I read about it in a newspaper, how an underground existed of men rolling drunks was outdated, but using a sharp knife set free wallets of lushes slouched and snoring on subway seats. I welcomed joining a fraternity of lush workers.

Even after thirty-seven arrests, I’m at last certain that lush work was better than college or vocational training. Like counting coup, I only intended to rob victims, not slay them.


You can reach George Sparling at gsparling@suddenlink.net.