I’ve always attracted psycho chicks. One wanted to show me the razor cuts on her calves. Another called and hung up repeatedly the first month I knew her. That same one sprayed perfume all over me in an argument. A different one had me fuck her in dirt once, and then really hard on a seawall. The ex put a tail on me when we were together. Most of these chicks were in therapy. Two were therapists. I’ve never been able to shake this karma. Even when I landed a spot at a reputable firm and they sent me on a business trip.
It wasn’t so long ago I swiped an LA Times off a doorstep, drank coffee at Burger King, lived with my mother. But I wear suits these days, and ties. I charge drinks and meals to the company. The hotels offer turndown service, with candy. A valet I never see collects my dry cleaning. I sign my name everywhere I go, that’s all, just sign and go. It gives me a kind of immunity. I’m bolstered by perks, insulated by corporate connections, excused for long lunches, saved by do-it-all secretaries. But my status change hasn’t freed me from this peculiarity I have. I just attract more expensive lunatics now.
She came up to me in a DC pub and asked for a cigarette, but said she doesn’t smoke. My mother smoked for fifty years. This one had almond eyes and carried a suitcase. She pulled legal papers from her purse—parts of a lawsuit, crumpled, wrinkled, lipstick and food smeared. A judge would have laughed them out of court. She was suing her husband. He had tried to have her committed. She had fled her apartment and was staying with an Arab record producer. She said her father was a legendary songwriter who had willed his lyrics to her. My mother’s will was a small scribbled note that said, “take everything.”
There was ice on the sidewalks outside. We took several taxis to clubs that would not let her in. My mother took me to bars as a kid, put me in a booth with a soda. A man with tattoos on his arm and beer on his breath used to come around on Saturday nights. The psycho chick wanted to run away to Sierra Leone. I mentioned they were beheading people there. She stopped the cab to call an animal shelter and plead for custody of a cocker spaniel. Most of the drivers seemed to know her. I gave one a hundred dollar bill for a ten seventy-five fare. She carried a painting with her into a restaurant, one of hers that she felt close to. She spoon-fed me tortellini at a cheap bar. At the next stop she ordered a sixty-dollar bottle of champagne. We toasted my company.
She asked a maid who was better looking, me or a photo of her husband. She unloaded her suitcase on my hotel bed. In it were a Muslim rug and a belly dancer’s belt. We had sex once on the toilet and twice on the sink. I closed my eyes rather than look at myself in the mirror. She stayed up until three a.m. singing. Her audience was a snow flurry and lights from buildings twenty stories high. My mother had entertained the troops during the war. I saw her once in the bathroom, wearing garter belts and applying makeup.
The walls shook and the TV came on by itself while I slept, the psycho chick said. I had a hard time shutting her up. I was scheduled for an early morning meeting, the kickoff to the entire project. I have an internal clock and never need a wake up call. The men at work wear the watch and the ring; it’s a tribal thing, I’ve decided. She heard pounding on the ceiling from the room above, she said. I have never missed a deadline. My mother held my hand and said she wanted me there the rest of her life. I have tried every drug except crack. Someone is trying to reach you, the psycho chick cried.
I used to be unable to imagine twenty years at the same place. Lately I eat lunch at my desk. There is no longer a number to reach my mother. I am surrounded by coworkers with capped teeth. They know where they will be tomorrow, and the next day, and the following months, and for years, until the end.
The psycho chick had demos, killer songs, she swore, guaranteed hits, locked in the apartment. Coffee has become the most important ingredient of a day. It bothers me that the little thin strip won’t stay put behind the wider section of my tie. She demanded cash for breakfast and settled for eight dollars. My mother’s voice was only a whisper at the end. I’d tried to calculate how much time she had left from its sound. I was wrong by two days.
I used to hate flying, but now I believe the middle of the sky is where I belong. I had always shirked the nine-to-five routine, ridiculed that way of life. I’d resisted conformity in my clothes and attitude, was not interested in clocking in or climbing the ladder. Now I have accepted my metamorphosis into a good, middle-class citizen. There is nothing dangerous or unpredictable about me anymore. I have gained a few pounds and don’t have that lean, hungry look. I’ve become comfortable, dulled my edge, cleaned up my act and gotten in line, merged into the masses, moved on to the kind of life that others understand.