Christian Is Smooth
by Rob Jacklosky
This is the thing. Christian’s attitude was go hard or go home. If you saw a girl you liked, you had to put it out there, lay it on the line, not be shy about it. You did what it took. You played 110% and left it all on the floor. This game was not for candy asses. If she was a waitress, it meant going to the International House of Pancakes, day after day, sitting at her station and ordering expensive items off that glossy menu. The Patty Melt International, the Chuck Wagon Deluxe, the Triple Scoop M&M Sundae. Whatever it took. It meant noticing the little things, like how, on her nametag, she spelled Judi with an “i.” It meant being clever, really clever, by playing with her name, and calling her “Judi-with-an-I.” “Hey, Judi-with-an-I, how are you doing today?” Then, giving her that wink and head wag and a quick, confident sip of the A&W Root Beer Float. It meant, find out stuff about her: where she lived, what she drove, noting her habits.
Fine Jewelry might be necessary. Christian had a collection of fine jewelry at the ready. He’d size up the girl in question, and decide right off what kind of trinket she’d like best. A golden unicorn usually did the trick: brushed 18-carat gold for the tough nuts. A sterling silver star on a thick chain. That sent a nicely ambiguous message. But you could usually get by with a marquisite heart.
Most times, gifts weren’t needed. But a flower couldn’t hurt. A single flower--- classy. But not a big flower. Certainly not a giant paper flower. One time, it was a four- foot long paper carnation he won at a game of chance and skill down the shore at a boardwalk stand. He had to decide between the giant carnation or the plush toy. The Carney barker was barking at him, so he had to decide quickly. In retrospect, the plush toy might have made a more impressive presentation. Donna just looked at him in a kind of deflated, pitying way when he pulled the enormous carnation from behind his back and offered it to her with both hands. She took it reluctantly, looked at her friends standing there on the curb. (He probably should have found a more intimate opportunity. But when he saw her there standing next to her car, he just pulled over, grabbed the flower off the passenger seat, and rushed over to her standing in a knot with her friends). She could probably see it peaking out over his shoulder as he crossed the street, before he officially handed it to her. She threw it in the truck of her Trans Am and sped off with just a little flick of her hand by way of thank you and goodbye. Christian was by nature an optimist, but as he stood in the wake of her exhaust, glancing up at her friends, who seemed to be repressing a collective giggle, he felt that the big flower hadn’t been a success. Maybe she was out of his league anyway. Maybe a flower, no matter what its size, wouldn’t have done any good with a girl like that.
Those were second-stage concerns, in any case. With enough charm, and enough handwritten notes, jewelry might not be necessary. The notes he wrote he might leave on the table at the IHOP. He might leave them under the windshield wiper of Judi’s Pontiac Firebird, with the proper research. But he would never leave a note in a plastic baggy in a wrought iron fence again. Especially when the note had a return address. At least not Judi’s wrought iron fence. Not that the fence was the problem there, because so clearly it was the lack of research that was the problem. He should have guessed that Judi had a boyfriend. Because, on reflection, who else could that big guy with the shaved head who was always trailing her be? Well, now he knew. Chalk that one up to experience. Now he knew: a note in a glad bag stuck in a wrought iron fence minus proper research equaled an enormous skinhead on his front porch. Which was scary but not as bad as all that, until his mother came to his defense.
The screaming was the first worry. Who was that screaming? Christian tried his best to face down Judi’s boyfriend. But his mother was screaming behind him “Who’s that? Who is that on my porch?”
“You made a big mistake,” the boyfriend said.
Christian was still trying to place his face and figure out which mistake he was talking about. There were so many notes, left in so many places. But then he placed the face (next to Judi), remembered writing his return address on the note he wrote to her. He had worried over that, and decided to be bold -- to go hard or stay home. Now he was home, and this guy, this really big, bald guy was practically in his living room, telling him through the screen door that he made a big mistake. How old was he? Christian was squinting up at him, trying to determine his age. Maybe he could count his rings or something.
“You made a really big mistake,” he said again. Unnecessarily, Christian thought.
Now his mother was scrambling down the stairway. Christian could hear her loafers tapping down to the first landing. He had seconds to defend himself, now. He rallied himself, and felt ready to deliver a response, when he looked past the behemoth and saw Judi standing there a few feet off to the left, on his lawn, her arms crossed, looking down at her knees. She looked up at Christian. She looked embarrassed too. Christian was frozen by this glance. His mother was now up in between him and his foe. She was tiny compared to him, but wiry and game. She was bobbing and weaving, poking her finger at him, demanding what he was doing on the porch. He held up the soggy note, half inside and half outside the plastic bag.
“He wrote this note to my girlfriend. And he’s going to be really sorry,” he said.
“Get off of my porch, you jackass,” Christian’s mother said.
“I’m going to get you, him,” he said, now confused about who he should be addressing. “You made a big mistake,” he said again as a way to get his bearings. “I’m going to get him.”
“Like fun you are. Get off my porch, or I’ll call the police, you big dope. I’ll take care of him.” His mother threw a dismissive nod in Christian’s direction.
Inexplicably, the gorilla backed down the stairs, glaring at Christian. Christian had tried to elbow past his mother to take part in the stare down, but she elbowed him back. Christian felt a certain loss of momentum and moxy all of a sudden. Though no one saw it -- except for Judi, his mother, the big goon, and scattered neighbors -- a certain loss of smooth seemed to follow him out of this encounter. He made a resolution then, as he saw Judi being pulled down this front walk, to write fewer notes, and begin eating at Friendly’s.
Rob Jacklosky has published fiction in Sonora Review and Sendero. He has a novel-in-progress called “Banbury Cross.” He is an associate professor of English at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where he also lives, and which real New Yorkers like Don DeLillo insist is “not really the Bronx.”