Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Fat Bald Jeff

by Leslie Stella

‘Stella provides a lot of freshly imagined fun. . . . There are so many funny lines and scenes that even librarians may like it. As for the lumpen–they’ll love it.” –Michael Cart, San Francisco Chronicle

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date March 23, 2001
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3772-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $12.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date December 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9807-5
  • US List Price $12.00

About The Book

O, to be young and downwardly mobile: crumbling apartments and sinister landlords; roommates you love/hate and weekly spending sprees at Salvation Army; and most of all, the daily humiliations and passive aggression affectionately known as “office politics.” Bravely sailing forth into this vale of tears is Addie Prewitt, a noble copyeditor for the National Association of Libraries. When her boss, the repulsive Coddles, heaps another new project on her department, with no additional remuneration, she decides enough is enough. And when she meets Fat Bald Jeff, the tech-support guy even more disaffected than she, they hatch the ultimate plan to give the pigs some of their own medicine. With a surreal wit that brings to mind Lily Tomlin set loose in Dilbert-world, Fat Bald Jeff is a paean to the sufferings of workers everywhere.

Tags Literary

Praise

‘Stella provides a lot of freshly imagined fun. . . . There are so many funny lines and scenes that even librarians may like it. As for the lumpen–they’ll love it.” –Michael Cart, San Francisco Chronicle

“Warm the pockets of your heart watching this bereft waif find a little happiness in life.” –Mademoiselle

“A slacker hell [with] a disgruntled, wisecracking protagonist who rages successfully against the machine . . . with a contagious vibrancy . . . A hilarious send-up of hippies and hipsters.” –Kirkus Reviews

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Men never offer me their seats on the bus. I don’t know why; nothing about me screams out self-sufficiency. As the bus chugged forward, bearing me toward another day’s drudgery, I leaned against a nearby geriatric for support. The bus braked in traffic, pitching me on top of him, and the clumsy old cripple ground his umbrella tip into my instep! I elbowed him in retaliation. Late for work again. It really sticks in my craw.

I know all about punctuality. There could not be a more punctual person than I, not counting work tardiness. Even as a child I rose early every morning to awaken my drug-addled parents. They were never grateful to be shaken from their haze, but then I never expected thanks. That’s just the kind of person I am.

The old man tried to trip me with his umbrella as I made my way down the bus aisle. I hit him in the head with the belt buckle of my fake Burberry, causing him to cry out.

The elderly are strange, and I know we should be kind to them, given their achy, unavailing bodies and relentless grievance with humanity, but I find it difficult sometimes.

My own grandmother, though chronologically matched with the umbrella man, possesses none of the awful traits of the old. She is spry, where the average geriatric is spasmodic; she is spirited, where the other is crotchety; she is literate, where the other scans religious tracts and perhaps the Jumble. In short, she is alive, where so many of them are simply dead boring. And she still wears chic cashmere twin sets and Cherries in the Snow lipstick, although she fools no one. She’s over eighty and looks it.

The bus dumped me at my stop, and I ran the remaining four blocks to the building the National Association of Libraries calls home. As I rounded the last corner, a BMW sped by and splashed puddle water on me. A crossing slacker, no doubt on his way to a disreputable caf”, snickered as I tried to wring out my coat. There can be no doubt that we live in barbaric times, when pedestrians no longer assist young women splashed by passing imports. Barbaric, too, is the shoddy workmanship I’ve come to expect from consumer items in my price range. The knockoff Burberry’s tartan lining had not been Scotchgarded at all!

Caught a glimpse of myself in the glass doors at the office entrance: knobby, pipe-cleaner legs rooted in gruel-colored galoshes, plastic rain bonnet askew yet vigilant, luminous hazel eyes, pugnacious chin. I suppose my potential has been wasted. I blame work.

Scurried in with a crowd of tardy zombies. It’s sad how being an employee eventually renders one soulless. Like a mad elephant seal, the supervisor rolled into my cubicle just as I removed my moist outer garments.

Great quivering jowls, more like the earflaps of an aviator’s helmet than cheeks, brushed his collar. Black-currant eyes bore down on me out of his dumpling face. He stood arms akimbo like a Sumo sugar bowl, and high-water trousers revealed an upsetting pair of ankles.

“Fifteen minutes late, Addie,” he blubbered through lips as thick as a Norwegian cod’s. Indeed, the lips were so massive and his rubbery cheeks so scaly and blue–and his demeanor so completely uncuddly–that they earned him the unfortunate nickname Coddles. He scolded me as I held my sopping raincoat aloft, waiting for him to finish. Finally he lumbered away, and I noted with satisfaction the trail of toilet paper stuck to the sole of his sensible shoe.

Coarse laughter sounded from beyond the cubicle walls. My office mates were sharing gossip over stale pastries, as most of the serfs around here liked to do. I picked up my coffee mug and walked back down the corridor toward the stairwell. Stinking elevator was broken again, so I had to walk down two flights of stairs to the staff cafeteria, a moldering asbestos-tiled room known as the dungeon. I had just prepared to slap my thirty-five cents down on the counter when a crude zombie pushed her way in front of me.

I said, “Pardon me” in my most severe tone, but she just turned and gave me the type of smile that frightens dogs. She stared at my mug. “Is that an armadillo?” she asked.

I suppose even zombies can appreciate quality ceramics. I firmly grasped the mug handle, or tail, and poured out my coffee, explaining how the armadillo represents the character armor I must bear against society’s mediocrity. But when I looked up she was gone. Gloria, the surly Guatemalan coffee attendant, scooped my change into the cash drawer and nibbled on a dried-out bear claw.

I turned and nearly was trampled by a short yet enormous tech-support worker. He was heading for the pastry platter like a humpback whale intent on a school of plankton. It was only due to my quick reflexes, honed from years of dodging flying bits of clay from my father’s lousy potting wheel, that I escaped injury. The techie grasped a fistful of crullers and shoveled them in, while I, shaken but still prepared to go on with the day, faced the two long flights back to my cubicle. Rested for a few minutes on the landing, summoning my strength for the final ascent. Why is the elevator always broken? Exercise is risky for those of us with delicate constitutions.

Imagine my chagrin when I came back down the corridor to see several zombies milling about my cubicle entrance.

‘department meeting,” one said. They looked put out at having to come fetch me. I followed the rest of the publishing department–two other copyeditors, three graphic designers, some anonymous salesmen, various production slaves, the tr’s hideola Coddles, and the department head, Mr. Genett–into the conference room. The zombies jockeyed for positions next to their friends. As usual, I sat by myself.

Coddles rambled for thirty minutes about the new executive bathroom, off limits to the rest of us, and the purchase of more bank art for the halls. We copyeditors had put in a request for ergonomic desk chairs, but it was denied in favor of a new microwave for the lounge and higher quality staplers. I suppose that means four more years of sitting on a folding chair in my cubicle. My office mates have already developed fleshy humps between their shoulder blades and have given up hope, though I am younger and fresher and will continue to fight. This issue is particularly dear to me since I have always prided myself on excellent posture.

Across the conference table sat my two fellow copy-editors, Bev and Lura. They occupy the cubicles on either side of me, and all day I endure their mundane inquiries about each other’s pencil supply and lunch pail. Lura is all right. Her hair is unkempt, but that’s what men like these days. I expect it reminds them of wild tussling in the sack. Bev, on the other hand, is a poisonous old hag and as lowbrow as Java Man. Lura gets on well with Bev, but Lura is one of those who gets along with everyone. I demand a higher standard from humankind but am usually disappointed. Consequently, I spend much time alone. I am used to it; sensitive people have always been exiled to the fringes of society. The philistines don’t understand us.

Next to Bev and Lura sat the graphic designers, a triumvirate of techie duds. They wear stained pumpkin-farmer jeans and grimy grandpa sweaters, and enjoy shooting things on the computer. Then the salesmen, mostly middle-aged ghosts with brown slacks and eyes like boiled eggs. I don’t have to interact with them much. The production slaves huddled together in a beleaguered pile in the corner. They are the corporate peasants of our department, trod upon and bullied by everyone else. The designers scream at them for mucking up page layout, copyeditors complain about the constant addition of new typos, and Coddles doesn’t trust them with the postage meter. The production slaves are herded two to a cube in the dark, smelly wing of our department. Their nameplates are attached to the cubicle walls with Velcro.

Mr. Genett took over the podium and Coddles plumped down next to me. Quelle pig! I could feel his pinprick eyes on me, lingering particularly at my bust, which, though not ample by today’s ridiculous standards, was at least symmetrical and secured by a too-snug dove-gray jacket I picked up at the thrift. I shifted away from him, but not as far away as I would have liked. He breathed heavily through his mouth and stank of brine.

I doodled on my notepad, my own initials intertwined with realistic renderings of the prairie gentian. An ordinary girl would doodle her initials with someone else’s, and intertwine them with hearts and roses, but in this awful, workaday world, I have come to realize that I can depend on no one but myself. As an experiment, I doodled Martin’s initials with mine. As suitors go, he is parochial and clean, but the broad, offensive strokes of ML clashed with my delicate AP, so I scratched it all out immediately. How could I have a future with a man named Lemming? On the other hand, he likes to take me to nice restaurants, and the truth is, I have grown rather fond of it.

Tried not to let the Lemming occupy more of my brain. Mr. Genett described in excruciating detail a new project for us, composing and designing Web pages for the other departments. Depressing, as I have no interest in technology apart from solitaire.

He concluded with fake enthusiasm: ‘so by doing the work ourselves under present salary conditions, we can end the fiscal year for the National Association of Libraries in good shape.” Mr. Genett, though possessed of a luxuriant head of hair, has the business acumen of Barney Fife. He had just announced to a roomful of underpaid servants that more work was to be heaped on, with no extra pay. I looked around, expecting someone to protest, but everyone diligently wrote down the outline for the project and said nothing. So I did too. I am disgusted by our unthinking obeisance.

Mr. Genett then introduced the tech-support people who were going to teach us Web design and HTML coding. Two creatures entered the conference room. One resembled a sort of grasping stick-insect. A tangle of matted fur sprang from beneath a decaying baseball cap advertising RON’s PIZZA. He seemed permanently pitched forward at the waist, like a bent rake. The other I recognized as the tiny angry whale from the dungeon. He wore a black T-shirt that struggled to contain his bulk and a monstrous pair of black jeans. A thick mass of bristles jutted out from a moon face so pallid it made Coddles look positively tanned. The fluorescent lights in the conference room reflected off his oily globe of a head and dazzled me. A trail of perspiration oozed through the T-shirt, staining it white with salt.

“I’m Jeff,” he said. “And this is the other Jeff. We’ll be scheduling workshops over the next few weeks to teach you this stuff.” Then he wiped his nose on the back of his hand, thus adjourning the meeting.

The bus journey home was no more enjoyable than the earlier voyage. The rain had not let up, and my umbrella finally gave out after years of halfhearted service. Its skeleton flapped open at the joints, as seemingly useless as a polio limb. But I found it still had a little zing in it after all, as I ground its tip into the insteps of fellow bus riders who trespassed on my personal space.

Approached my building with trepidation. The neighborhood urchins have made my plastic rain bonnet a point of attack. For once they were not lurking in the rubbish-strewn alley, so I took a quick look around, under the dead evergreen shrubs in the front, in the biohazard Dumpster from the mom-and-pop clinic on the corner, down the gangway between my building and the adjacent one. Nobody about, except for a lurching drunk emerging from the alley, so I felt it was all right to enter. Up the stairs to my apartment, I railed internally against the safety measures I must take to combat security risks. Once the urchins nailed me right in the head with an empty liter of Sprite, and old Paco from the first floor had to rush out and frighten them off. I laid on the front stoop in agony while Paco threw full cans of Busch beer at them. Barbaric times!

I threw down umbrella, bonnet, galoshes, and odious coat outside the door. Friday evening, but the pain of work had not yet released its hold. I hurried to the liquor cabinet and mixed myself a double tequila with lime. My roommate, Val Wayne, had guzzled all the vodka last week when he lost his job. Then we drank all the rum to celebrate his new job on Monday. I usually find tequila loathsome, but its bitterness seemed strangely appropriate today, with the rain and developments in the stinking job.

Phoned my mother and asked if she wanted me to come over for dinner on Sunday.

“I won’t be available to cook,” she said. “I’m going on a date.”

“Well, you have to do whatever you think is best,” I said.

She made an unintelligible snorting noise and told me to call Grandmother Prewitt for free eats. I resented the implication that I wanted to sponge food off my family. But Mother has an adder’s tongue. Grandmother always said so.

I credit my grandmother with forming me into a presentable citizen. She exposed me to culture while my parents laid about on the floor all day. She taught me to cook decent food instead of that bulgur slop Mother always boiled up when she could be bothered to cook at all. Mother used to groan, “God, Addie, you’re like a prison matron” when I ordered them out of bed for breakfast. Father would emerge from his marijuana hangover to chuckle at us, while I tidied their disgusting blankets and emptied the bong water.

Father used the weekends to recover from working, even though he was unemployed for the first nine years of my life. By “work” he meant staring into his potter’s wheel, shaping wobbly bowls and dropping roaches in the clay. He sold a fair amount of gigantic ashtrays, though, and Mother had the marginally more conventional career of at-home seamstress, so we never starved. But our home was as filthy as a gypsy camp, and I fled to Grandmother’s wholesome house down the street whenever possible.

I dialed up Grandmother, who naturally was overjoyed at the prospect of dining with me. She told me to invite the Lemming, but I knew he wouldn’t want to go. He claims an allergy to chintz.

Before she rang off she said, “Addie, dear, why don’t you bring that nice sherry we had last time? It was so delicious.”

I promised I would, then made a mental note to soak the label off that old bottle of Strawberry Hill under the sink.

Topped off my tequila and rummaged around in our barren refrigerator for another lime. I found a ragged rind in the meat drawer and extracted what pitiful juice there was into the glass. Val likes to suck on limes as he relaxes on our revolting disco couch after a long day of work. I’ve warned him repeatedly about the effect of citric acid on tooth enamel, but he doesn’t listen. His teeth are beginning to look like mossy stalactites, but he says, ‘so what? That’s why I have a mustache.”

Hope Mother enjoys herself on her date, selfish shrew, while I keep the old lady company. My father had been dead only three years when she decided to trash her respectable widowhood and prowl the gutters for men. Her current spousal equivalent is a philistine laborer called Jann. His accent is perfect South Side Chicago, but he looks like one of those heavy-handed Swedes. She claims Jann is an architect, but I’ve seen him lumbering about her apartment in a Bears jersey, and there’s something about his massive shoulders that cries out for a yoke and harness. What kind of dates can they go on? All Jann likes to do is fish for crappie in Lake Calumet.

Curled up in the corner of the disco couch, averting my eyes from its grotesque geometric squiggles. At least it’s comfortable, plus it was a bargain from Montgomery Ward’s fire sale. I thought once I joined the walking dead in the work force, I’d be able to afford some finery and culture in my life, but the National Association of Libraries pays me only enough to live with a roommate and eat simple sandwiches.

Lionel Richie sang his classic “Hello’ to me from the hifi, and I felt hot tears welling up. I wish a blind person would feel my face and make me a big clay head. Why is there no modern equivalent to Lionel? Today’s music does nothing for me; the throbbing just gives me a peculiar feeling in the seat of my pants. Looked out the window. We on the third floor have a decent view of treetops, although they aren’t in bud yet. It’s early March, and as Grandfather used to say, it’s not spring until it snows three times on the daffodils. We don’t have daffodils here, but I’m marking the time by the snow on the biohazard Dumpster.

Val Wayne came home while I dozed on the couch. It was kind of him to tiptoe around as I slept, but I woke up when he tried to steal the lime wedge out of my drink. He had changed out of his shirt and tie to his usual household uniform of flared trousers and Black Sabbath baseball jersey. Lionel had been replaced on the stereo with something dark and menacing. I inquired as to the new paralegal job.

“Cinch,” he said, stretching out in the Edith Bunker chair. It ranks a distant second in comfort behind the disco couch, but he punctured our beanbag chair at Christmas when a situation arose between a fondue fork and a jilted stenographer, and we haven’t replaced it with anything yet.

“Want to order pizza?” he asked.

“I can’t,” I said. “The Lemming’s coming to pick me up for dinner.”

Val made a horrible retching sound which I chose to ignore.

“And where–”

I interrupted. “Blue Point Oyster Bar. Grilled amberjack with pecan sauce and julienned sweet potatoes. Two V&Ts before dinner, whatever wine he orders with the fish. Coffee. Key lime pie. And a to-go cup for the rest of the vodka.”

Val stroked his mustache and nodded. He understands that after a childhood of eating kelp and sand and leaves with the parents, I need to eat quality meals more often than others of our miserable class.

“Help me find a frock?” I asked. He agreed and followed me into the closet in my bedroom. Val Wayne is all man, but he has impeccable taste in women’s clothes.

I held a powder-blue velvet jumper with frilly cravat in front of me.

He shielded his eyes with his hand as though the sight caused him physical pain. “Ugh, you’ll look more like Austin Powers than you already do.” A comment directed at my buckteeth and occasional need for horn-rimmed spectacles.

“Right,” I said, throwing it on the floor and selecting another. “How about this? Vintage nineteen-forties beige silk with white ruffled placket and darling little gloves to match.”

“Again with the ruffles. What, are you having high tea with the count of Monte Cristo?”

He was ruthless, but I craved it, like a prize-fighter craves his corner man’s insults. He nixed the black lace with mantilla (“bullfighter’s widow”), the ice-blue twin set and pleated skirt (“librarian”), the green georgette crepe (“brown-noser at ladies’ garden party”), and slightly stained pink organdy (“bedraggled slut”). He pushed me aside, dove in, and dredged up my champagne-colored sheath with silver lace overlay and ostrich feather hemline.

‘sexy yet oddball,” he said. “The Lemming will act kind of embarrassed when you walk into the restaurant, but secretly he’ll be into it.”

I am uncertain if that’s the reaction I’m looking for. Fending off the advances of a horny Lemming is a task too disgusting for words, but as my closet is so barren, I have no choice.

The rest of my toilette took only a minute, as I daresay I am young enough to go about fresh-faced with just a smear of lipstick. Emerged from the bathroom to present myself to Val. He asked if I’d been sprinkling arsenic on my cereal in the morning. Sometimes I find his cryptic comments annoying.

The doorbell rang promptly at eight, and I buzzed the Lemming in. Val quickly made himself busy at the hi-fi, throwing on his favorite Deep Purple album.

Martin Lemming looked his usual provincial self, boring black shoes, suit, white shirt, and rep tie. His strands of hair had been freshly laundered and parted an inch over his right ear. Let’s call a spade a spade; he’s balding. He also suffered an adolescent acne problem. It’s all cleared up now, though when he leans in for a kiss I am forced to stare into the craters of fifteen-year-old pockmarks. In the Lemming’s defense, I must admit that he is tall and virtually odorless. He is also the richest man I’ve ever known.

“Lemming,” greeted Val.

“Val Wayne Newton,” rejoined the Lemming. Val bristled at the taboo use of his full name. ‘doing some hair farming?” Martin continued. “The ‘stache is coming in nicely.” I hurried the Lemming into the kitchen before fisticuffs broke out.

‘martin, darling,” I breathed, kissing the air near one desperate-looking pit. “A drink?”

He chose a beer and struggled to twist off its cap. He has the smooth, milky fingers of an heir. My hands, I am sickened to note, are as gnarled as a harpy’s claws, callused from the proletarian exertion of copyediting. I gulped another tequila as he appraised me like a choice rump roast. I shall never question Val’s assessment of the power of the frock.

Martin shouted, ‘ready to go?” over the third repetition of ‘smoke on the Water.” I nodded, filling up Grandmother’s silver flask. As he downed the rest of his beer, complaining about our lack of recycling bins, I dashed about in search of a handbag to hold the flask. Luckily, I found my old rayon clutch under the disco couch. Score! I’d forgotten I left an airplane bottle of Tanqueray in it last year.

Said good-bye to Val, who was studying his mustache in the bathroom mirror.

“Hair farming,” he muttered. “That pompous ass. He should rotate his own crops.”

Agreed. If I could transplant the Lemming’s nostril and ear fur to his scalp, he’d have hair as lush as a meadow of creeping phlox.

I told Val his mustache was really grand; he looked just like Lionel Richie midsize afro and all. He slammed the bathroom door in my face! I don’t see why he should be so upset. Lionel Richie is one of the age’s great balladeers.

I’m all for airplane bottles of gin. I never included Tanqueray in my repertoire before, but now that I’ve experienced the full effect of its properties, I shall make more room for it under the sink. Val threw a bottle of ginger brandy under there ages ago that can go in the rubbish when he’s not looking.

Martin appeared mortified as I exited the car at the curb and tripped over my black velvet cape. He maintains that no one wears capes these days, but to me it’s the obvious choice with silver lace and ostrich plumes. The wretched false Burberry is hardly appropriate.

I gave the hayseeds at the bar quite an eyeful. As Val Wayne had predicted, the Lemming propelled me over to a two-top in a dark corner, where he could ogle me in peace. As the drinks came, he launched into a dull monologue on superior restaurants in New York. The gin made it bearable.

When I’m with the Lemming, I find myself adding up his faults, weighing them against his advantages. I want to be sure I’m not wasting my time. His complexion is lumpy and variegated, and he doesn’t get along with my best friend. Val in fact is my only friend and could not possibly be replaced with an oafish dullard like the Lemming. But I need to consider my future. Unless I am prepared for a lifetime of drudge labor, I will have to select a suitable husband. Martin is not, after all, hideously deformed. There is even a rakish attractiveness to his thin slot-mouth. He is intelligent and has conventional good taste. I agree with him on the principle of converting to an aristocracy, as long as they put me in the right class. You see, there is much to be said for our compatibility, as well as his tremendous stock portfolio.

If ever I falter in my resolve to marry the financially correct man, I need only summon the memory of my idiot father. He was too sensitive, with the artistic temperament so common to the nouveau pauvre. Only a frustrated potter would haul his family through the desolate dregs of this country in a ridiculous Volkswagen minibus for years, selling homeopathic remedies and singing songs. Disgusting! I was fifteen when he finally turned that hunk of junk toward home, but by then my sanity hung by a single flimsy thread.

Even though Mother has since taken up with the lumbering Swede, she claims to have warm memories of Father and his free-living ways. I say memories are fine for stuffing in silver picture frames, but they don’t line the wallet or fill the dinner plates–even the misshapen ones the old man fired in the kiln. Mother still lives like a peasant. Only instead of trolling the commune and growing hydroponic rutabagas, she’s tailgating Bears games and mending Jann’s giant underpants.

“Two gin fizzes,” Martin ordered after the plates had been cleared away.

I looked at the waitress. “That sounds good. I’ll have the same.”

“I suppose you want dessert,” he said. I nodded enthusiastically.

“Well, we could share something,” he murmured, perusing the dessert menu. Even though he’s loaded, he can be shamefully tightfisted.

I frowned. “Why should I share when I can have one of my own?” Stupid Lemming. I pushed his floppy wrist off my thigh.

He let me eat my own slice of key lime pie while he visually gorged himself on my d”colletage.

“You know, Addie,” he breathed huskily, adenoids and all, “I love your clavicle.”

I looked down at the slim little bone jutting out of my champagne sheath. I commented how nice a strand of matinee-length pearls would look cascading over it, but he just flailed for the waitress.

I escaped his clutches at my front door. I was not in the mood for a palsied tango, and anyway, his breath smelled like smoked chubs. I told him to order the Dover sole, but the chubs cost three dollars less.

Val Wayne was getting it on with one of his numerous lady friends on the disco couch. I have entered upon this scene so often that it fails to shock me anymore. He raised his head and asked how my evening went.

I elaborated on the vagaries of the seafood trade and the dressing up of fatty fish in general. Val agreed that no reasonable person should be forced to share one’s dessert, no matter how much the meal cost. For a second I thought his playmate underneath gave me the ol” crook-eye, but I expect she was merely twitching in discomfort with her ankle way up there.

I retired to my bed, a worn-out husk. Dates with the Lemming can be so exhausting. But I suppose when we’re married I’ll learn to suffer his conversation and amorous groping, as do wives all over the world.

Turned on the radio to the inoffensive vocal standards station and read a dozen pages of Anthony Trollope before Val barged in.

“Heard the dentist music and wanted to come in and say good night.”

“Lady friend gone?” I asked.

“Yeah.” He sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed. ‘she got a charley horse and kicked me in the head.”

Imagine getting a charley horse in the throes of passion! It lacks dignity.

“I heard you wrestling with the Lemming at the front door,” he said. “Why don’t you just give in?”

Involuntarily, I wrinkled my nose and frowned.

“Why no sex? I mean, he’s repulsive, but you’re so repressed, I think you need it.”

“We have plenty of sexual tension,” I replied. “He says my clavicle is his favorite part of my body.”

Val agreed that my clavicle was my most attractive feature. But then Val has said I look like the skeleton hanging in our old high school biology lab.

“He’s sure wasting a lot of money on you for nothing,” he observed.

“Why do you think he takes me to all those nice restaurants?” I said. The Lemming is not without guile, but he has no idea what he’s up against. I can hold out for years. He’ll get his nauseating reward when he slips those four carats on my ring finger.

Val Wayne went to bed and I turned off the light. I laid there for ages, longing for sleep. My petty sexual dramas are a great source of hilarity for Val. Switched the radio station, looking for operatic love songs, but came upon the Metal Madness show. A song by Metallica assaulted me. Its rapid, pulsing bass line was a sound that usually sent me scrambling for my Neil Diamond records, but tonight it soothed me to sleep like a lullaby.