I'm So Sentimental
    Gadi Dechter
Two weeks after I break up with Kate, Marcel takes me to a house party. Most of the people there are from his office, which is to say, unattractive. I hover around the carrot stick bowl, having no one to talk to, since I don't work for the same company these people do.

"What's wrong?" Marcel keeps asking me, whenever he floats by the table.

"Marcel, you don't have to baby-sit me, I'm not going to start crying," I say.

"Great. I don't want to baby-sit." He walks away.

I eat some more carrot sticks and wonder how much longer I have to endure this. Marcel drove me.

I eat some more carrot sticks and try not to look lonely. I stroll through the apartment. It's furnished, unlike mine. I marvel at the hopefulness of people who buy furniture.

I spot Marcel in the kitchen chatting up a girl. She's got her back to me and I see a tattoo showing just above her ass, a large tattoo of a coiled snake. From the way they're talking it looks like he knows her. She's a pretty girl, if vulgar. A lot of flesh. Her arms are soft and thick. Her hair is dyed black and her lips are painted bright red. She looks like a bartender, like she slings cocktails at some hipster dive. I fix myself another drink. All they have is gin and vodka at this party. Candy-ass homosexuals, I mutter to myself. Then I go over to Marcel and the girl. He's telling her some lie.

"That guy over there, he's a white supremacist," he's saying, pointing to a white guy in the corner. "He calls blacks niggers to their face."

"Really?" she asks, horrified.

Marcel nods. "I'm going to go fuck him up." He turns and walks away fast.

We watch Marcel go over to the guy and shake hands exuberantly. They must be old friends from college. Marcel is already drunk.

The girl stares at me and smiles. I don't know what to say. I had hoped for an introduction.

"I told him he didn't have to baby-sit me," is what comes out.


Her tits are swollen, bulging out from the black tank top. My God, I am filled with hate for women.

"Marcel. He brought me here." I point at him. He and the white supremacist are laughing about something.

"Oh, is that his name?" She didn't even know Marcel.

"I told him I don't need a baby-sitter," I repeat lamely.

"Why would you?" she asks. She looks around. I'm losing her.

"Why would I is a good question," I chuckle like a moron. Crash and burn, baby.

"Are you okay?" she asks, but she wants to get away.

"How did you end up here?" I try again, flashing her my best smile. Kate said I looked handsome when I smiled. I try to summon back some of the confidence. I push back my shoulders, smiling still.

The girl shakes her head, confused.

"What's your connection to all these tools?" I add in a low voice that contains, I imagine, a hint of musky conspiracy.

"I'm with my husband. We're celebrating his thirtieth birthday."

She walks away, to the kitchen, where her husband is. I try to feel sorry for the guy and not for myself. At least I'm not thirty yet.

"She's married and her husband is thirty," I say to Marcel.

"No shit," he says. "That's why I ditched her the second you gave me the chance."

"Who's married?" asks the white supremacist. (Turns out he's a Jewish guy named Asher whose apartment we're in.)

I point her out to Asher. She's in the kitchen, leaning against her husband.

"I like her ass," says Asher.

Marcel nods thoughtfully, inhaling on his cigarette.

The three of us stand by the window, spying on the married girl making out with her husband. Marcel makes wet kissing noises. Asher and I laugh. Suddenly, I don't feel so lonely anymore.

Later, my spirits buoyed by drink, I insist Marcel and I go to this other party I know about. We try to convince Asher to come along, but he feels obliged to tend to his remaining guests, who include the married girl, her thirty-year old husband, and their entourage of friends.

"Nice to meet you, come again!" Asher calls to me with a parting wave.

Outside Asher's house is a long white limousine.

"That belongs to the married girl," I point out. "They're driving around all night in celebration of his thirtieth birthday." (This happens to be true; I overheard her bragging about it to someone at the party.)

The driver is the largest black man I've ever seen. He stands menacingly by the front door of the shiny white Lincoln.

"The party you're driving around?" Marcel says to the driver.

Marcel is a small guy, about 5 feet 5 inches. The driver looks down at him.

"Well, I was talking to one of the girls, she's got a snake tattoo above her ass? She's a white supremacist. She was talking shit about African Americans, saying nigger this nigger that."

"What'd you say?" asks the driver.

He looks over at me. My heart starts fluttering. I think I might pass out.

Marcel is undeterred. "That's right," he says. "I almost punched her in the tit."

"It's true," I say, trying to play along. My voice cracks with fear, however, eliciting a warning look from Marcel.

"Who said that?" the driver asks.

"Hey, you want to smoke crack?" Marcel asks.

"Say what?"

"You want to smoke crack? I know a place."

Oh, Jesus.

The driver tilts his massive head to one side and looks back and forth between Marcel and me quizzically. I can see his temples throb. I can see veins bulging in his neck.

"You fucking with me?" he asks.

Marcel lights up a cigarette real slow. He shakes his head no, all innocent.

I'm already backing up, planning my escape route. I should be able to outrun this huge guy, I think.

"You're crazy, you know that?" the driver says, shaking his head.

Marcel blows smoke straight at him.

"I'm not crazy. I'm a civil right's propagationist. Trying to de-impinginate the perpetration of white-on-black violence," Marcel announces in a black pulpit voice.

"You crazy," says the driver warily. He's trying to figure out which side of the joke he's on.

"Uh-uh. I ain't crazy, Black," Marcel says.

That decides it. The driver takes a step forward. I flinch and jump backwards. Marcel looks over at me, disgusted, then turns and struts away down the street.

I offer what I imagine is a mutually bewildered glance with the driver, then follow my insane friend. He's my ride.

"You better watch your friend," the driver calls.

I turn my head slightly, but not all the way, and hasten my steps.

"Yeah, you, motherfucker."

He's talking to me. I'm walking away fast now, overtaking Marcel and passing him altogether. I'm sweating and my head is spinning.

"Do me a favor," I say to Marcel when we reach his car.

"What's that, babe?"

"Just do me a favor," I repeat.

"You got it, babe."

He opens the door for me and I get in.

The night has begun to perspire. There's already a sheen of dew on the car windows. I watch Mexican men in cowboy hats enter the Comfort Lady dance hall across the street. A cop cruiser glides by.

We're not far from Kate's house.

I try hard not to give in to despair. I try to focus on my heart, on its pounding, not its aching.

Marcel leaps into the front seat. His head wobbles. "Whoa," he says.

We drive in silence to the next party. It's in a huge old Craftsman in Koreatown and there are lots of people there. All young kids in their early 20s. Some people are costumed, it being a Halloween party. There are pretty girls everywhere.

"Young sluts," I point out to Marcel as we bound up the shallow stairs to the porch.

When I was a child I read a novelist's account of a young man coming to town who, seeing all the pretty girls, is overwhelmed by a mighty sense of hope and promise. He walks down cobblestone Brooklyn streets, tilting his cap to girls in pretty summer dresses, whistling a wry but happy tune. I imagine Marcel and myself embodying this virile pose as we push our way through the house and into the backyard.

"Holy Moly," says Marcel.

The backyard is massive. It's holding at least 300 people. We stand there for a moment at the backyard entrance, jostled by boys and girls and plastic beer cups. This is my social community. This is my LA scene.

"Lets go hit on girls," I say, believing it.

Marcel motions for me to lead the approach.

I forage a path into the heart of the crowd, scanning every girl along the way, waiting for a friendly look in return or a familiar face. I'm almost at the other end of the yard when I realize I'm moving too fast. I'm like someone who's looking for someone, but I'm not looking for anyone in particular. I'm just barreling through this crowd and pretty soon I'll be at the fence.

I turn around and Marcel is gone.

Then I see him, talking to a girl in a circle of friends. He's hanging onto her shoulder, nearly falling over. She seems to find this endearing, judging from her laugh. Her white teeth gleam in the moonlight.

I try not to stare. I think about walking over, but I don't. I'm at the fence now, trying again not to look alone, and without even carrot sticks for company.

If Marcel makes it with this girl, I'll be here a long time. I prepare myself for the wait. I have to keep an eye on him. In his present condition he's liable to leave abruptly and he's my ride.

People seem to be having a good time.

It's damn crushing, this sensation, made all the more suffocating for it's familiarity. All I want to do is to go up to a girl and say hello. It doesn't seem like much, but I've never been able to. The force of cosmic recognition socks me in the gut: it doesn't get any easier.

Turning away from Marcel, I see Kate. She's facing away from me but I recognize her from behind. Some guy's got his hand around her waist. My heart leaps into my mouth.

The last time we spoke she was crying, begging me not to leave her. "You owe me another chance!" were her incredible last words. How will she react now, seeing me lost like this? Will she take revenge?

It's not Kate, I see, when the blonde girl turns. I don't know whether I'm disappointed or relieved.

"What you need is a cigarette," says Marcel, surprising me from behind.

It's true. My stomach has opened up and there's gnawing gaping hole that's howling.

There's another thing that doesn't change, desire. After the trauma of cessation passes, whatever lingering desire remains doesn't diminish or dwindle. It's fantastic how we lie to ourselves, convince ourselves in the hope of future.

After sex, Kate used to join me outside for a cigarette. We sat on the stone steps leading up to her door, watching the crowd exiting the old Herse D'Or, cracking jokes about mop-top hipsters come to sway at the altar of whatever twee band was playing that night. Those are my fondest memories of life with her, shivering on the stone steps, patting Jerry the ceramic garden frog on the head.

"All my boyfriends have smoked," she said. "It doesn't bother me." I'd been waiting years for a girl like that.

"But I don't want you to die," she added. Her tone was meek and apologetic and it got to me.

I quit a week later.

Afterwards, she complained about it, how I was changing, growing detached and disinterested. "Maybe it's the cigarettes. Maybe you should take up smoking again," she said, desperate, and I felt her tug on my ankle. She would hold on for months, dragged through the sand, like a happy chain gang iron burden.

Still, a tumor of nostalgia swells up inside me. Once the model of indie credibility, look at me now, lost and lonely amongst the Starbucks-swilling mainstream.

Marcel coughs through a deep drag and leans on me to keep from falling. I look at him. He's got these buggy eyes behind heavy black glasses. And pipe cleaner legs. Tonight he looks like Elvis Costello on the cover of My Aim is True. His head is bobbing up and down like a diseased old woman.

What happened to all my friends?

I feel my face scrunch up and collapse. I'm crying without control, flushing with the heat of sorrow, feeling tears explode from my eyes like firecrackers.

"There, there," says Marcel, patting me on the shoulder.

Some people around us are looking at me and wincing. It's embarrassing for them, I know.

Jesus, I can't stop weeping.

"He's got AIDS," Marcel explains to them, shaking his head solemnly.

There's an angel at this party. She's standing about 15 feet in front of me, with a girlfriend, looking bored and lovely.

Marcel has hooked up with a guy named Tamper who's holding a fifth of vodka and we're sitting on a hump of grass near the back porch, sharing it with him. Tamper is wearing a black afro wig and grinding his jaw like a lunatic.

"You want some coke?" Tamper asks.

"No, thanks. I OD'd two weeks ago and nearly died," says Marcel.

"Bang, out of nowhere. I was clinically dead. A night very much like tonight."

"Bang," I echo loudly.

Tamper reacts badly. I can see him force the bitter coke runoff down his throat.

The angel and her girlfriend look over. For a second we engage. But I can't hold her gaze; my eyes are too sore from the crying. Marcel grabs the vodka from Tamper's hands.

"You probably shouldn't drink anymore. That's what did it," Marcel counsels.

Marcel isn't lying, either, that's the funny thing.

In the hospital after the paramedics resuscitated him, Marcel was released with a sheet titled, "So You've Decided to Overdose." I have it posted on the side of my cube at work.

Tamper moves away, leaving us with the booze. I sneak a pull of vodka when the angel isn't looking. I don't want her to get the wrong idea.

How should I describe her? She's got thick coils of rich brown hair and a long, slender neck. I can make out the firm outline of her small ass through the thin cotton of her skirt, an ankle-length skirt that looks like a French tablecloth. And flip-flops -- Kate called them "flippers."

Her full lips are frozen in a scowl. Perfect.

"It's not polite to stare," Marcel slurs in my ear. I can feel his spittle spray my neck.

I jerk away, ashamed at being caught in an moment of earnestness.

"Do you want to talk to her?" he taunts me.

"Nah," I scoff at the idea. Secretely, I'm terrified. Of course, I want to talk to her. Why can't I talk to her?

"Hey, fatty!" Marcel calls out to her. To my unbelieving horror. To my absolute terror.

"Yeah, you, that's right, I'm talking to you," he says when he gets her attention -- and the attention of every girl within earshot, which is plenty of girls, believe me.

She stares at Marcel, still confused. He wiggles his fingers at her and blows a kiss.

"My friend here thinks you're super cute," he sings out, pointing at me.

Did I mention she's not fat? Did I mention the thin arms jutting like brittle sticks from her t-shirt? The sharp cheekbones? The miniature waist?

People are beginning to buzz around us, vultures smelling controversy. Boys with muscles and baseball caps and beer, getting ready to get indignant and violent.

I'm oblivious to the imminent danger. I'm in shock, staring at my angel, watching her expression slide from gorgeous bored to darkened disbelief.

"I bet nobody's ever called her that," whispers Marcel to me, deliriously happy.

He smells. I push him away as hard as a I can. He collapses on the grass.

She's looking at me now. I notice a dim flicker of hurt pass across her eyes like a shadow. It's heartbreaking. I can't hold her gaze; I'm too ashamed.

She turns and walks away with her girlfriend, up the porch I'm going to run after her. I'm going to catch her as she's descending the front porch stairs. I'm going to grab her by the hand and twirl her around and apologize. I'm going to conjure up a remark that will excuse, explain and exculpate me all at once, not to mention endear me to her forever. I'm going to run my fingers down her face and kiss her neck and call her baby.

"Hey, faggots," someone says nearby, interrupting my reverie. I look up and see a flannelled meathead scowling down at us.

"This is my party and you're not invited. Get out."

He's got a coterie of thick friends with him. I pray to God that Marcel goes lightly into the night. Actually, I don't give a shit. I stagger to my feet and head straight for the house. The crowd parts for me. At some point I notice the music has stopped. Someone kicks me hard in the ass as I head towards the door. I stumble but lurch forward without stopping.

I'm looking for my angel, but she's gone.

When I reach Marcel's car, I see that he's right behind me. He looks so sad and small, lurching forward shakily. His eyes are soaked with cocktails, staring vacantly behind glasses that lay askew on his mottled skin. He stops ten paces from the car to spray vomit on the curb.

He fumbles with his keys.

"Why did you do that?" I cry.

Marcel looks up in surprise. When he giggles, I hear the gurgle of bile rising up in his throat, then subside again.

"Tell me why you would do such a thing. What did she do to you?" I'm begging, pleading with him.

"Oh, who knows, who cares..." he slurs, waving his hands this way and that, nonchalantly.

I grab his shoulders and shake him hard. His glasses fly into the street. His head flops around like a rag doll's. His tongue hangs limply from his mouth.

"I care, Marcel. I do." I'm surprised at the sincerity of my feelings, though I know it's the cardinal sin. Avoid sincerity at all costs. Avoid being earnest. That's the rule. That's the secret to survival.

"You must be drunk," Marcel is saying. To be reacting in this way, he means.

"I don't want you to ever do that again!" I'm yelling, wagging my finger at him absurdly. "Do you understand me? I mean it!"

"Sure, babe," Marcel promises. "Never again."

"Hey, shut up down there or I'll come down and kill you, by God!" somebody yells from a window.

I'm so tired.

On the ride home, I swear to myself over and over again that I'll never hang out with Marcel again. He's not a good influence and he's depressing besides.

He pats me on the knee. "You'll feel better in the morning." Before I go to bed, I call Kate. My heart drums insanely as the phone rings. Please, please, please pick up, I mutter into the receiver, and the words echo inside the phone and out of the speaker and all throughout my head.

She doesn't pick up. I don't even know if I dialed the right number. I am defeated.

I crawl into bed.

Marcel is already there, wearing my pajama bottoms, curled up in a ball, smiling ludicrously. He pulls the covers snugly over us.

Gadi Dechter is the screenwriter of "Stanley's Gig," a Starz Original Movie starring Faye Dunaway and Marla Gibbs. He also writes plays, advertising copy and fiction. He lives in Los Angeles and is a graduate of Yale University.


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