An Excerpt from the book "Boys" by Scott Semegran
We sat across from each other in the small living room of my small apartment, on the floor around my beat-up coffee table, piles of coins and dollar bills on top, two tall boys of beer on ratty paper coasters from the restaurant there too, counting our tips. It was not a good night for tips but the quantity of coins and bills looked deceiving in their unorganized state, looked like we had a lot more money than we actually had. We enjoyed the optical illusion, briefly. We smiled as we pushed the piles of coins and bills around in front of us then raised our cans of beer to toast.
"To Pasta Warehouse," I said.
"To Pasta Warehouse!" my friend Alfonso said.
"No, say it the Mexican way. When you toast, say 'Salud!'"
We touched our cans together then gulped the cheap beers, crushing the cans when we were through, tossing the cans to the side on the floor, returning to organize the coins and bills, hoping to make rent. We were an odd looking pair of friends. I was lanky and short and white. Alfonso was massive and tall and Hispanic. But what we lacked in commonality of outward appearance was made up by similar character traits of kindness, empathy, and extreme loyalty. We were good young men and good friends to each other.
"You count yours. I'll count mine. Let's see what we got," I said.
"All right," Alfonso said.
We each counted our loot, stacking coins by type, stacking wadded dollar bills, slowly but surely. When everything was accounted for, we looked at each other unenthusiastically.
"Wha cha got?" I said.
"$19.43." Alfonso said. "Wha choo got?"
"$21.25. I win!"
We both laughed a hearty laugh, one filled with exuberance as well as relief. It couldn't get much worse.
"You are the winner. Of what, I really don't know. Want another beer?" Alfonso said.
"The GODDAMN has more tall boys for 99 cents. I think they're still open."
We left my apartment and hurried down the indoor hallway toward the building exit. My apartment building was old and kinda rundown and a little neglected and the floors squeaked and cracked as we ran down the hall, a loud racket that was annoying to all the tenants of the building. We knew this and shooshed each other as we changed gears to a speed-walk. All we could think about was more beer.
Outside, we careened through the parking lot, walking briskly. The apartment complex--probably built in the early 1970s from the cheapest building materials possible--was nestled in some hills covered in live oaks and the asphalt covering the parking lot rolled and humped and curved its way to the main street. We sped-walk with purpose: beer.
"Are you worried that we don't have the rent?" Alfonso said.
"Nah. If I need to, I will call my folks for help. Don't worry about it. OK?"
"Or we can just pickup extra shifts."
"Another eight hours for another $20 in tips?"
The convenience store was on the corner across the street from my complex: The G.D.A.M. Or, as we called it, The GODDAMN. The G.D.A.M. actually stood for something along the lines of Gerald's Deli and Asian Market considering the owner's name was Gerald and he was Asian and he sold Asian stuff as well as sandwiches. But to us, it was The GODDAMN. That's where we bought our beer, cigarettes, and cat food, and sometimes dinner. A couple of bucks went a long way at The GODDAMN.
Inside, the owner Gerald sat behind the counter, surrounded by display after display of scratch-off lottery tickets and penis enlargement pills and energy drinks and condoms and candy bars and, well, you name it. Gerald knew us and always greeted us when we came in his store late at night.
"Hal-oh, my friends!" he said.
"Wazzup, Gerald!" Alfonso said.
"Got Miller on special. In the ice."
We dug in the trough of ice, pulling out two tall boys of Miller beer. 99 cents each.
"We should probably get Mr. Whiskers some dinner too," I said.
We perused the pet food aisle and grabbed a can of cat food. 50 cents each. Back at the counter, we placed the beer and cat food on it for Gerald to see. He had a sly grin on his face like one of the creatures in the cantina from the movie Star Wars. The skin on his face was smooth and pale except around his eyes, where crow's feet--pointed and jagged like arrowheads--revealed the wisdom buried deep in his skull. He was an amiable dude except there was something about him that let you know he'd be ready if the shit ever went down. It wasn't exactly the best part of town, for sure.
"I got Marlboro on special. Buy two, get two free. Want some?" he said.
"Yep." I said.
"Beer and cat food? Looks like a party night," he said, cackling afterwards, stuffing our purchase in a brown paper sack--a cartoon of his face emblazoned on the side.
"Yeah, it's party time," Alfonso said, sarcastically.
"Oh friends, life is hard but beer always make it better. Enjoy! See you tomorrow." He slid the brown paper sack across the counter to us.
We smiled and waved goodbye and walked out of The GODDAMN and crossed the empty street. To our right, the city skyline of Austin, Texas, stretched above the street in the distance, glowing with a mix of fluorescent and phosphorescent and neon lights, a few skyscrapers poking the night sky, wispy clouds slithering behind them. Just a mile or so away, it seemed to us like thousands of miles.
"I wish we could go out tonight, have some drinks, meet some chicks, get our dance on. Something. Anything, except sit at home doing nothing," Alfonso said.
"Yeah," I said.
Back in my apartment, we plopped down around the coffee table, opened our beers, took some swigs, and I opened the can of cat food, the sound of the lid bending and crackling and popping open, called to the cat, who appeared instantly, meowing and purring and nuzzling and flustered. Alfonso got a kick out of my cat's crazed behavior.
"Ha ha! Look at Mr. Whiskers. He's psycho!" he said.
"Poor little dude," I said. "I forgot to feed him this morning and we were gone for over 12 hours."
I set the can of cat food on the carpet and Mr. Whiskers devoured it in a matter of seconds. He purred contentedly, rubbed his kitty face along my leg, rubbed his kitty butt along Alfonso's leg, then jumped on the couch to give himself a bath.
"He's lucky to have you as an owner," Alfonso said. "I'm lucky to have you as a roommate, Seff. I don't know what I would have done if you didn't help me out."
"No worries, buddy."
"As soon as I save up some money, I'll get my own place," he said, looking down with what I could only discern was shame.
"Don't worry about it, stay as long as you want."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. It's kind of nice having a roommate, actually. Mr. Whiskers likes it too, another hand to scratch him."
"We gotta get some better shifts at the P.W. Why do they give all the good shifts to the females?"
"Cause they're hot!"
"True. True. But we gotta get some more cash. You need to talk to Laura Ann about switching or picking up some of the shifts the females got."
"Why do I need to talk to Laura Ann?"
"Cause she likes you."
"No, she doesn't. She's way, WAY out of my league. WAY OUT!"
"Nah, I've seen her checking you out. She likes you."
"No, she doesn't. Quit saying that and getting my hopes up."
"It's true. You should talk to her, pick up some good shifts and help a brother out. Do it!"
"OK, I'll talk to her tomorrow."
"Do it now."
"But I don't have her number."
"I do," Alfonso said, a sly grin stretching across his face. "I got her digits."
"How do you have her digits?"
"That's none of your goddamn business, I just do. A pimp has to have his hooker's digits!"
We cackled uncontrollably, rolling over on the floor, beer flying here and there, Mr. Whiskers bolting out of the living room for a safer hangout.
"Seriously, though. She digs you. I can tell," Alfonso said.
"Whatever. What time's your shift in the A.M.?"
"I got the 10 which means I have to be there at 9:30. When's yours?"
"10:30. I'll just ride with you and hang out before my shift. Cool?"
"Want to watch I'm Gonna Git You Sucka?"
We turned on the tiny TV, which was hooked to a massive stereo system with large speakers, one of the few things held over from my previous life of comfort from upper middle-class privilege in San Antonio, Texas, a life that seemed like an eternity before our current life of slight desperation, basically a few missteps away from destitute poverty. We barely had enough to live on and were quite a ways from making the rent. But, we still had a couple of weeks before rent was due and we had each other and sometimes that's all you need to survive, sometimes that's all you need to hold off reality a little bit, to make things more bearable. That and something to laugh about.