Too Young Boys
I just decided, Hey, why not steal Whoopi Goldberg?
Listen, I’ve been leading up to this, this isn’t something half-looped out-of-the-blue. I’ve pulled heists before, the usual teenage crap of car stereos and hubcaps, and adult stuff, too, lately, for instance bad cheques and drug scams. My other big thing is too young boys. And this one, Mike, he’s a cute kid, he’ll go along.
“Karen, Karen,” he says shaking his black corkscrew of curls, but I put my tongue on his ankle and lick upward, slow, to shut him up. I tell him just watch his back, keep his lights on and burning. You can learn, I promise.
The thing he doesn’t get about Whoopi, besides Hollywood Squares and being a movie star and hosting the Oscars, is she used to do standup. I’ve never told anyone—not anyone, not even Mike—but I kind of sort of would like to try myself. I have an impersonation of Britney Spears that is a killer. My mother used to have this tape, right, when I was little? Whoopi Live, it was called, and it was what’s called a one-woman Broadway show. When other kids were home watching Care Bears cartoons, I was watching Whoopi. Only when Whoopi took on someone else’s character—a junkie, a nurse—you couldn’t tell she was still herself. She was that good at reinvention.
I met Whoopi, finally, through a friend of an employer of a friend of my mother’s. You know the sort of gig, a charity event in some shitbox town like Grimsby or whatever. I was a waitress, what can I say? Actually I was hired on to do dishes for minimum wage like some pissant slave. Free eats was a draw. I wasn’t even supposed to leave the kitchen, but I snuck away when the chef was screaming at the salad guy. And there was Whoopi wearing a red turban, up on a plywood platform down at the end of a field, going in and out of accents and mannerisms, asking the women in the audience to give up like the equivalent of one earring to funds AIDS research or cystic fibrosis or a balloon trip over Antarctica, I don’t remember. The rich are only rich so that poor can rip them off, right? I didn’t meet her exactly. I just saw her from far off. But she looked right at me. Whoopi Goldberg on stage looked right at me and was it something. She didn’t see a dish washer, she saw me for who I am under my skin, my talent for voices and mimicry, my untapped potential. I took a picture of her with the Canon digital I’d just ripped off at Shopper’s Drug Mart, only it was just 2.0 megapixels and from all that distance, even considering I used 3x optical zoom, Whoopi looked like an ant. But I could tell she wanted to know me.
I say why not kidnap her? A woman with a name like that has gotta be requesting something, don’t you agree? Like she’s been waiting her whole life for me, only she never knew it. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss or not. Happiness, as that sixties band the Beatles said, is a warm gun—I ought to be already celebrating.
We’ll snatch her and bring her back and introduce her to a certain someone who shall remain nameless–and I’ll sit across from her and say, Do the junkie for us. Whoopi, Whoopi live, do that junkie just for us.
I may even clap.
I went to Times Square once, back before the US had entry requirements. I stood in the cold among the huddled masses and watched the apple descend on New Year’s Eve. I rode the ‘A’ train; I rollerbladed in Central Park. I made out with a heroin addict named Marty. What more could I want? Certification? An M.A.? So what I never saw Whoopi’s show. So what I was years too late to see her show. That’s why God made DVDs. I make Mike watch it on video, only he flakes out.
“Look,” I say, elbowing him. “Lookee there. Wait now.” I pause the DVD. “Did you hear what she just said?” He’s stoned, thinks I want a roach, rolls to the side of the futon to dig one outa the ashtray. I run my big toe up his leg from the back, squash it between his hot boy thighs. There are ways he’s just a kid, but what I can make happen without my hardly trying isn’t one of them. I like to get him in the whirlpool at the community centre, all those people there, the old farts with the skin hanging off their ribs and the fat old housewives, get him going and then climb out, leave him panting like a wolfhound puppy. I point at Whoopi even though now Mike is all over me. “No, hang on. See there? She’s talking about me. It’s like she has me in mind.”
Mike slobbers into my ear, groans, humps my leg. “Oh, Karen,” he says, not really listening, “oh, Karen, Karen, Karen. You are the best. You are so sexy.”
“Say, ‘Karen, I love your big toe.’”
“I’m so glad I moved in. You’re great. You taste delicious.”
He only just moved in. Why not? His mother didn’t care. He gives me shivers on my arm with his tongue.
Glurb, goes Mike insistently into my neck.
“Hold up,” I say, pushing him back, a sudden thought bothering me. “You can get a passport, right?”
But Mike says he’s still on his mother’s.
“You’re on your mother’s passport?”
He just shrugs. How old is this boy? I feel a little buzz of pride at how unformed he is. My baby Playdoe. My little boy plasticene. My creekbed claybaby.
He tries to go down and I start getting into it, but then I look up, and there’s Whoopi with half of her body gimped, shuffling across the stage. I drag Mike up by the tips of his ears. “She’s gonna be on Letterman in three weeks. I say we get her then. Grab us a car and drive down and wait outside the Ed Sullivan Theatre—“ I look at him, his glazed-donut face, want to press him back to me where he manages to make a difference. “You heard of Ed Sullivan, right?”
Mike tosses his curls like a horse mane.
Stealing Whoopi Goldberg gives me a reason to go forward. A goal. I always aim high.
Mike slurs, “Man, Karen, you think she’s gonna just get in the car because you ask?”
I light up, toking the roach, burning my lip. I do think that—why wouldn’t she? “Pass the Visine,” I say. I can feel him throb on my leg. “We can be back by morning. She likes Canada. I read it somewhere, People magazine or something.”
Mike rolls away.
“Say you’ll do it.”
“You are the weirdest goddamned girl. I think I might be falling in love with you.”
I think about that. Mike, like all other boys, is a flaccid balloon, a flat tire, until I pump him up, until I breathe and fill him with my own hard-won exhalations. Mike loves me, or he doesn’t. Who cares? I don’t care for men, whose skin slides off their cheeks like dripping wax, so too young boys are all I’ve got. “Did you know her name used to be Caryn Johnson? That’s freaky, right? Caryn? Karen? She had this baby, see, when she was really, really young, and she kept her. She kept her baby. And then she got famous. You don’t know. It can happen.” I throw in a different video, crank it. Whoopi in a nun’s costume.
I have myself a regular Whoopi Goldberg night. I watch four movies including one where she kisses a woman and one where she keeps an attack toothbrush in her kitchen. And “Comic Relief.”
“Mike,” I say elbowing him awake long past midnight, two, three, four o’clock maybe, rolling over on the futon, my eyes stinging from too much TV, “say, ‘Karen, I love you. Karen I love your kneecaps, Karen I love your kidneys, Karen I love your estrogen level. Karen, let’s kidnap Whoopi Goldberg.”
He jerks away. I blink up at him, grin. I play him, but I don’t let him come. I do him until my lips are probably blue from lack of oxygen, but I don’t let him squirt. I wonder where I ever found this guy, a guy like all the others. A kid from grade eleven I snatched out of his mama’s home. “You want it?” I say.
He starts grabbing at me.
“You want it, big boy?” I hold my breasts in my hands, grin wide.
Mike starts pawing on me, big glurby handfuls that do nothing for my PMS. I push his hand, dirty with ground-in oil, away. I sit on his chest, pin him down. “Say it,” I say. “Say it.” I tickle his face with my hair. “Say you’ll help me.”
“Okay,” he shouts as the sun fingers the windowsill.
Let me admit that makes me happy. Let me admit that makes me gay. I squiggle up to Mike’s metallic-smelling chest until I can lean a nipple into his mouth. He takes my ring between his teeth and tugs none too gently. “Yeah?” I say. “Yeah? No kidding?”
He goes in me like someone sliding into home, a huge, grunting mess of muddy knees and scraped elbows.
I reach up and tangle my fingers in his hair. He starts grunting, so I guess his mind is skidding. “Say, ‘Karen, Karen, I love being inside you.’”
“I love—“ he says. “Being—“
“Say, “’I love Whoopi Goldberg.’”
“Whoopi!” he manages, yelling out.
Make boys feel good, I always say. Make ‘em feel indispensable. Make ‘em feel like, hey, you haven’t had it in a year. Until now. Mike takes those full mechanic’s lips and pearls them across my skin till my eyes roll.
Besides hiring out as a temp (whatever cash Mike doesn’t bring home, I have to earn), I don’t work. I have lots of free time to think about snatching Whoopi. I try to keep my mind on her so I don’t think about other things.
I show up at Mike’s school, follow Mike from class to class, show my legs off to the coaches. I start hanging out at the garage where Mike works after school, hoping to borrow a car. That’s the only way we won’t get checked. We take a bus and they for sure ID Mike, ask for a passport. We need definite transport for our quarry, and the garage’s got a Lexus, a Mercedes. Those boys appreciate a woman, those boys appreciate a babe. They whistle when I just walk by.
“Karen!” they call. “Oh la, la, Karen!” My breasts expand an inch till they’re pressing out my bra. I sidle in and lean it against the hood of a hybrid. In my mouth I’ve got five pieces of Bazooka grape and I smell like the Safeway sugar aisle. I smile and smell and ask does anyone need a wrench? A ratchet? A Diehard battery? I sit on the hood and let my skirt skate up and swing my leg against the Prius tire.
I do it so they know Mike has a hot one, a live wire, a short circuit. When he comes in at three I stand on my tiptoes and attach myself to his lips. I sometimes call him big boy.
“How do you want to do it, Mike?” I ask when he’s finally on his back on a slider under a Ford. “Where? We need to think up positions—“
The guys hoot and howl. I’m talking about Whoopi but how would they know?
“We need to know what to do with it when we got it,” I say, making my hips hula-hoop.
The guys laugh and stomp.
“How to hang onto it,” I say. “What grip to use.”
I hear a low moan coming up from under all that metal. “Karen,” Mike’s disembodied voice goes, “I need this job.”
Like they’d ever fire him because of me. He’s so young, if he thinks I am a problem in a car garage. A church, maybe. A government office, maybe. But not here. I straddle his knees in their green overalls where they stick out under the engine and grind a bit. It’s a day’s entertainment, what can I say?
Whoopi’s appearance on Letterman turns out to be Mike’s spring break, which to me is just another sign. Still, I have to keep nagging Mike to get it together. For my part, I pour over the internet looking up every possibility—where she lives (Connecticut! A place called Cornwall. There’s a Cornwall up the highway from Toronto—what a spooky coincidence. And Whoopi’s house is 5000 square feet, while my apartment is 500 square feet. Isn’t that eerie? As if I am one-tenth of her. Her house is a colonial farmhouse built in 1860, and this apartment building was built in 1960!) I research the streets Whoopi could use to enter the theatre. I write away for Letterman tickets.
Man, it is going down.
On Sundays, I show up at my sister’s, as always, even though later I always have to cry. To Gracie, it’s like I’m lime sprinkled in the outhouse of her life (her life does stink, if you ask me—she goes to church every single solitary morning), but she knows she has to keep up the deal. I refuse to sign the papers, because I figure if I did, she wouldn’t let me darken her doorway. Big place in Burlington, wreath on the door, potpourri in bowls, all cross-stitch and teddybears. My brother-in-law, a 32-year-old accountant, has a LaZboy chair. A passle of kids—four of them including the one kid, the special kid, that dealy-bop baby, Jakey, who somehow or other is already five and about to start kindergarten. He thinks I’m his aunt. He barrels past in a riot with the others without barely saying hello.
“Did you work this week?” my sister says first thing.
I push Mike forward. “This is Mike.”
“How do you do?” goes my sister down her nose. She shakes like Mike has cooties. Oops—she really can guess where his hands have been! “Hello! Karen didn’t let me know you were coming.” She flusters about, wipes her hands on a dishcloth. “But here in the Lord’s dining room, we can always make room for an extra plate. Have you and Karen known each other long?”
“Uh,” says Mike and I kick him.
“Two, uh, months,” he says which is stretching it.
“Well then,” says Gracie, “won’t you both come in. We’ll be having lamb.”
My sister, almost ten years older, basically raised me. Our mother died in a car wreck and then our dad turned into a boozer and died of liver failure. But then Gracie got Jesus and I was all downhill from there.
All dinner, I watch Jake and sometimes in his features I do for a fleeting second see something around his eyes that looks like me. Mostly I just see his cousins (siblings, my sister would hiss). I think which boy his dad was—which boy was his dad? After dinner, Mike helps my sister in the kitchen while I give Jakey a bath, dry him, try to tuck him in. The other kids hotdog around us.
I touch Jake’s face, his warm, red, damp cheek.
“Don’t you want Auntie Karen to read you a story, Jakey?” I say and I hear I’m whining. I shake Goodnight, Moon at him.
“My mom’ll read to me,” he says. He slips under my arm and is gone into a flurry of other kids.
Downstairs, my sister takes me aside and says, “How old is Mike, Karen?”
“Mike?” I say. “Mike’s old enough.” I wiggle my eyebrows, shimmy my hips, laugh.
“Did you ever stop to think you could get arrested? Did you ever think about what kind of role model you are?”
I look her up and down. “What kind of role model are you?”
On the way home Mike says, “Fuck, fuck. You’re a mother?”
“Man, that’s who you should be kidnapping, not Whoopi Goldberg.”
Jake’s not mine, though. That’s the thing Mike doesn’t get. Jake belongs to my sister. Has since two weeks after his birth.
First when I’m at him long enough, Mike claims he’s got the Lexus, but I ask at the shop, and they tell me no, there’s no insurance for taking cars out of the country. I could steal it, but hey, what if it was confiscated at the border? I ask my sister for her SUV, and then my brother-in-law for his Accura, but no dice, anywhere. Finally Mike promises he can get his mom’s car.
“Show me the money!” I shout.
“Woah, Karen,” Mike says holding up his hand.
Natch, his mom says no. I check can I can qualify for a rental, but nope.
So here’s plan B. We get down to NYC somehow, thumb or bus, rent a hotel, snatch Whoopi in a cab. I ask Mike to take a walk or something, and I show her my standup, and that’s it, when I’m finished we let her decide. Come with us back to Toronto or—and this is what I actually hope—ask me to move in with her.
Mike says, “Aren’t you off this Whoopi kick yet?”
There ought to be a point, but there isn’t. Doesn’t he get it? The lack of point is the point. Rack it up to the random Noughties. I’m an eight ball just waiting for my cue.
Whoopi, baby, do the Jamaican maid. Do the lingerie on the floor, all that writhing satin and feathers, make my head spin.
I need money bad. Rent is backing up. I start rifling cash off Mike, cleaning out his pockets. The Letterman tickets arrive, which is unbelievably cool, a total sign. I have to take a temp gig at an office supply store for money to get bus tickets. Drag, and it’s tight, timing-wise. Also I’m irritable at home. I stop having sex. I’m too distracted. I’m too tired. Nine to five, an hour off for lunch, and I’m typing all day: Dear Mr. Bradley our company is introducing the new line of HP facsimile machines….Dear Mrs. Truscott according to our records your credit line is $2000.00….Dear Ms. Graham please be advised that our company ordered fifty (50) boxes of Parker pens….
I’m stressed. Every nerve pops like I’m kernels in a microwave. At the laundry, my shirts form Whoopi’s face in the front-loading washer. At the supermarket, I see Whoopi on the cover of the National Enquirer being quoted about her butt. Woah, she thinks it is too big. Same as I think mine is too big. We have more and more in common. I carry home the paper and cut out the article for my scrapbook.
The house is a pigsty.
Mike puts his hands down his pants, rubs himself, wiggles his eyebrows.
I go, “Mike, the bathtub’s got a bigger ring than Ivana Trump.”
Mike goes, “Karen, I gotta get off.”
There’s a boy who works at the office supply store I’ve got my eye on. He’s bigger than Mike, blonde hair. He could lift Whoopi up like a toothpick. His name is Pete and some babe named Deirdre picks him up after work. Bleached backcombed hair, gumcracker; nothing to speak of. I could take her with both my arms tied to Pete’s bedpost.
“Do me,” I say. “Say, ‘Karen I love your spleen. Karen, I love the moons in your fingernails. Karen, I love the lobes of your ears.’”
“You’re a jerk,” I say, flopping on my back. I poke Mike where he’s sitting with a physics text open. I poke him with my toe, little jabs to the kidneys.
But Mike won’t budge.
“New York? Tuesday. But first, I mean it, you gotta scrub the toilet.”
“Who’s gonna make me?”
“First you gotta clean your beard hairs out of the sink.”
“You’re creepy, Karen.”
I’m hurt. I stop, sit up on my knees. “I’m not creepy.”
Mike scoffs and slams out.
Monday at work I get Pete out behind shipping at break time and flip my hair away from my face. Pete’s breath comes out of him in vaporous lassos and rings my head. I say slow, “Pete? You got a smoke?”
He taps one out of his pack of Players.
I put my leg up on a crate. I rub it like it’s sore and make him get close to pass me the cigarette. I look him in the eyes while he lights it. “How old are you, Pete?”
“Eighteen?” he says.
“Eighteen’s good,” I say and nod.
“Seventeen,” he says. “I have a girlfriend. Me and her might get married.” That isn’t what he’s thinking. He isn’t thinking Deirdre.
“You like Whoopi Goldberg?”
He says, “Who?”
I look at him, but it’s all blank behind those pretty eyes. There’s no boy behind the boy. But thinking of Mike, I grind my smoke out under my heel, decide to go for it, snake my tongue about four inches down his throat.
Pete pushes me away.
“Baby,” I growl.
But Pete twists free.
When I get home the day of Mike’s last final, Mike is gone. Mike is gone from the bathroom. Mike is gone from the kitchen. Mike is gone from the bedroom. I run from room to room checking in drawers and pulling clothes off hangers and Valiums off the bathroom shelf. I check the toilet tank. I check the oven. I check the TV. I pull out the Whoopi Goldberg DVD and shake it. Mike doesn’t fall loose.
Whoopi, Whoopi babe, my accomplice has deserted. Joined a rock band, joined the Army, joined his mother at her dinner table. Whoopi, my cohort in crime has ceased to cohabit.
Too young boys are like pancakes not cooked through in the middle. Like fruit small and bitter on the vine. Whoopi isn’t just going to jump in a taxi with me. She doesn’t even know I exist. Maybe I can get my money back for the bus tickets. I walk through slush, wind kicking up my bare legs. I like bus stations. I think I like them. I can go places. I can get out of my life, start over. I have a certain appreciation for the vomit, crumpled candy wrappers, cigarette butts, diesel. The guy behind the counter, old, greasy-haired, multi-chinned, won’t meet my eyes. He won’t give me cash, points to a sign that says No Refunds.
“What?” I say. “It would kill you to help me?”
He taps the sign again and ignores me. I knock.
He looks up, pissed off. “Kid, go the hell away. I got my own problems.”
“I don’t got any money. I’m hungry.”
“I can’t give you your money back.”
I wish I did have a gun. Doesn’t he get it? These tickets, they are all my future, all my plans, all my shattered hopes. I can feel tears starting up. I am giving Whoopi up, and the guy doesn’t even care. He anti-cares.
He slides a plexiglass closed sign in front of his window and turns his back. I watch him go like he’s taking with him all of my intentions. Which is a stupid thing to think, I realize. Totally dumb. But I start leaking tears, and I can’t stop. Snot spiders down from my nose. I ask everybody who comes in if they’re headed for New York, if they want to buy a couple of cheap tickets. Half price, I say. I jiggle from foot to foot. I can’t get myself calm. I listen to their destinations—Buffalo, Montreal, Hamilton, Ottawa, Vancouver. Discouraged, hungry, broke, I trail out to the depot itself, slump on a bench, scuff my feet against the pavement like my feet are laying rubber. I like the look of buses, all that sleek chrome, reading the destinations. The bus going to New York pulls in and I watch it. Air brakes huff and the door sighs open. The bus driver, an old guy in a blue uniform, climbs down and disappears inside. After a while, he comes back out and climbs on. I consider asking him if he’ll buy my tickets, but I know the likely answer and it feels too humiliating. I wonder if he knows Whoopi Goldberg—I mean, they spend time in the same city.
It’s just too hard to live without her. I get up and climb on, relinquish my ticket, walk to the back. I don’t know what I’m doing, but so what? While the bus is empty, careful to stay mute, I try out my imitation of Britney Spears.
I fidget in my bag, realize I don’t have my camera, that I’ll have to steal another one before I kidnap Whoopi if I want a good picture. I take out Whoopi’s photograph from the Grimsby benefit. She’s wearing a green caftan but the turban looks like a spot of blood sitting on her head. I take out a photograph of Jake, cradle it like he is real, solid, my child and in my arms.
“Whoopi,” I say to the air, “I’m just a lonely girl.”
I look up. Other people come down the aisle, fling packs and parcels onto the seats. A red-headed teen with braces tosses a pack into the seat one up from me. Is this his lucky day. I lean forward and tell him hello. “Let me ask you something,” I say. “How do you feel about Whoopi Goldberg?”
Jane Eaton Hamilton, adapted from the collection July Nights and Other Stories, Douglas and McIntyre