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Thief of Hearts

by Anthony Paull
Thursday Nov 3, 2011
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I’m behind schedule. I’m on this stupid whole foods diet because I watched a ridiculous documentary on healthy eating habits, and now my whole life is centered on baking enough pinto beans to get enough protein so I don’t die of malnutrition. It’s all rather fun except the beans have me running to the toilet every time I’m about to write or have sex. Hence, my column is late, my love life is on hold, BUT I’m going to live really long. I just have to eat like a goat and designate the toilet as my new bed.

Have you ever slept on a toilet? It’s fun ’til you wake up. I promise. It’s rather glamorous ’til you’re talking to publicists and the media about your new book while having a movement. Then it’s a test as you strategize the many ways to take a crap without making a sound. I haven’t perfected the art form yet therefore some of my friends have stopped calling. Well, except James. He calls, but only when he’s in a heap of shit. Of course, he masks the smell by stating he bought my book.

"Oh my god! I totally downloaded it on my IPhone. I mean, I think so." He has a breath. "But I can’t find it. I don’t know how to open it. I mean, you’re not going to be mad at me if I don’t read it, are you?"

"No. I don’t care if you read it. I just want you to buy it."

"Oh, I totally did!" he laughs. "I mean, who has time to read anyway? I don’t even have five minutes to read your column."

"Thanks!" I gripe. "I’ll make sure to include you in the next one."

"No! Don’t do that!" he cries. "I don’t want people to know how crazy I am!"

Of course, the excitement in his voice tells me the opposite - that starring in the next segment would ultimately be thrilling, something new to feed his mammoth ego. I guess that’s why he launches into a tale. "I met a guy named Tom at the bar," he says. "He seems into me, but every time I text him, asking what he’s doing, he just responds with chillin."

"Well, what do you want him to say?"

"I want him to say he wants to do me." Over the phone, he squeals in delight. "You’re the dating expert. How do we make that happen?"

Still on the toilet, I’m feeling pretty real, so I say screw it and put it out there. "How about this? Stop being desperate. Relax and let it happen by itself."

"Sorry. Tried that," he scoffs. "Doesn’t work."

"Ugh. How many times have you texted him today?"

"Just four."

"Really? It’s only 10 am."

"So? He’s up early because he goes to bed early."

"How would you know that?"

"Hehehe," James laughs, showing me rather than telling me. Later than night in a packed parking lot, we sit staring up at Tom’s apartment window, where a light shines on the twirling blades of a ceiling fan. "Strange, he usually has the light off by now," Tom notes.

"I can’t believe this. You’re stalking him."

"It’s not stalking. It’s called marking my territory." As I begin to disagree, he blares the horn three times, peeling out of the parking lot. I’m surprised he doesn’t stop to pee on a tree. "That should keep him awake," he says. "Now watch. I’ll text to see if he’s going out."

"And if he doesn’t respond?"

"I’ll set off his car alarm. At least that will get him downstairs."

"That’s it. You need to take me home," I demand, as James texts while racing down the highway at an alarming speed. I shake his arm, telling him to focus on the road. I don’t want to die, not here. Maybe on a toilet marketing my book but not here. "Take me home!" I scream.

"Forget that! We’re going to the bar. There’s a band playing. They’re so indie, they can’t even afford microphones. You’ll love them!" Sending Tom a text, he writes that he’s in a really lonely place and needs someone to talk to. "Should I add that I’m thinking about hurting myself?" he giggles. "Or would that be too forward?"

I don’t respond, sensing that silence might be my only saving grace. I’m afraid if I talk, I’ll just start lashing out. After all, I’ve seen this scenario before. For James, it’s not about liking Tom. It’s about making Tom like him, which he thinks is possible if he strategically sets up the proper setting and markets himself right. Forget raw passion and organic chemistry, James plans to manipulate the law of attraction. "It’s like how an author sells a book. It starts with a great cover. You can be my campaign manager." Purchasing me a cheap beer, he feels that’s enough to get my vote. "Now, when he arrives, I need you to be my wing man. I need you to be defensive about me. Tell him I’m amazing and hot, but that you’ll kick his ass if he tries to date me."

"Are you serious?" At the rear of the bar, a crowd of dirt-jeaned kids gathers, bobbing to the beat of a band filling the room with drums and horns. The faint smell of body odor bites at my nose. "How do you even know he’s coming?" I ask.

He grins mischievously. "Because I have his credit card," he says, flashing it. I can’t help but see red. "What? I didn’t steal it. He left it at the bar the other night. I just texted him that I found it."

Ten minutes later, Tom enters the bar, searching for James, who rushes off to the bathroom, telling me to advocate for him. He hands me the credit card.

Later, in a sleepy, confused state, Tom passes me three times before I cave in and talk. "He’s in the bathroom. Here’s your card."

Baffled, Tom takes it, offering a distorted ’thanks’ as I wonder what I should say next. Should I recommend dating James? Should I hype him up as a great catch? A few awkward moments later, Tom says that he follows my column and likes what I write. After a friendly conversation, he disappears and James finds me in the crowd.

"So...did you tell him that I’m the most amazing guy?" He’s absolutely giddy. "Did he buy it?"

"Actually no," I smirk, turning to view the band. The crowd, coated by fog and white light, sways in unison. "We talked about my book. He’s buying that instead."

Anthony Paull’s debut novel Outtakes of A Walking Mistake was recently chosen as an NPR Finalist for Best Teen Novel Ever.

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