Vermont: Home of Lousy Sex
Iris knew as each day passed that she was getting too old for men and Yankees but she kept getting involved with them anyway. Often she would sit down and say to herself in a voice that was reminiscent of her mother's voice,
"Iris, you are too old for men and Yankees. Find yourself a nice woman. A woman from Mississippi or Georgia. A woman who can fry chicken and cook cornbread."
This time, Iris was ready to listen.
Iris sold most everything she owned, including that big polar fleece coat that made her look like a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. She had everything she owned packed into her baby blue 1970 VW bus she bought in Durham four years earlier. Iris was headed south. Just one final shift at the restaurant and she would be on her way to Pensacola. Iris liked the way it sounded, sunny and warm. Pensacola. In Pensacola there would be lots of waitress jobs for a girl with her experience and lots of women. Southern women with dark tans and warm hearts. Women who could fry chicken and make cornbread.
Iris handed the menu to the man in the booth. He looked up at her name tag. "I love girls named after flowers," he said.
Iris smiled and thought, 3,426. Three-thousand four-hundred and twenty-six was the number of times men in New York City had made some flower remark about her name. This guy was just like 99% of those guys. If any one of them had been captured by a crazed, gun toting crack addict and forced into a florist and asked to explain the difference between an iris and a chrysanthemum, every last one of them would have ended up with their brains splattered all over the refrigerator walls. Still, for some unexplained reason, they loved to mention the fact that they knew an iris is a flower.
Iris never told one of them the truth about her name. Actually, Iris was named after her granddaddy's favorite hunting dog. Just after she was born, he showed up at the hospital to see his new granddaughter. He took one look at her and said, "Hell, look at the tuft of hair sitting on top of her head. She looks like my coon dog, Iris!" The name kind of stuck.
"I'm, Chad," he said as he looked at the menu.
"I bet you're from New Jersey," Iris said as she thought to herself, "Chad," what kind of a name is "Chad." I'd rather be named after a dog than be named Chad.
"I bet you're not," Chad said. "I'll just bet you're from down in the bayou."
Chad said bayou in two distinct syllables. Buy. You. The sad part, Iris thought, was that Chad really believed he was being clever. Iris smiled. "Close," she said and she told him the special of the day was roast beef.
"I'm a vegetarian," Chad said.
Iris looked at him. A man. A Yankee. A vegetarian. Three strikes and you're out. But there was just something about him. Iris listened hard for that voice that sounded like her mother. That voice that said,
"Iris, find yourself a nice woman. A nice woman who fries chicken and eats it."
But there was just something a little bit wicked about Chad.
Chad wanted the house salad with the honey-dijon on the side. He said it twice. On the side. He was adamant that if the dressing was on the salad he would send it back. He wanted no crackers. Crackers in restaurants were made with animal oil. He only ate crackers that had been made with pure vegetable oil, and they were not the kind of crackers that restaurants served. He wanted bread instead of crackers. Whole wheat bread.
Chad wanted the linguini with vegetables if the sauce was not a cream sauce. Iris was asked to make sure that no milk went into the sauce for the vegetable linguini. Also, he needed to know what kind of vegetables were in the vegetable linguini. He did not want an abundance of broccoli. Restaurants cooked broccoli until it was mush. Broccoli was supposed to be slightly steamed. It was supposed to be al dente, like pasta. No chef would cook his pasta until it was mushy, so why did they insist on cooking the broccoli until it was mush. Iris shrugged her shoulders.
Chad said he really wanted iced tea but he had seen a report on the news that said iced tea in restaurants was often contaminated. He also said that iced tea was often made with a tea mix that was like Kool-aid. He never ordered Kool-aid in a restaurant so why should he order tea from a mix. He asked her to check and see if the lemonade was fresh or if it was from a mix like the Kool-aid tea. By the time Iris was finished taking his order, she had enough notes for a dissertation.
All Iris could think about was getting on the road and heading her VW south. That and Chad. For some reason Iris couldn't get Chad out of her mind, the way a popcorn husk sticks between your teeth. Not a pain, not at all a pleasure, just a constant feeling of bother. Iris grew increasingly upset that Chad was leaving her bothered and hot. Chad picked at his food. Iris knew that men who picked at their food were lousy in bed. Iris knew vegetarians were lousy in bed. And through an extensive process of trial and error, Iris knew that most men and Yankees were lousy in bed. Of course there were always exceptions.
Chad continued to make inane iris jokes and Iris tried not to respond, but when Chad paid the check and refused to let go of the twenty until Iris told him what time she got off, she capitulated. It was New York City and Iris was entitled one last fling. At the end of her shift, Iris surrendered her apron, pulled a paper bag out of the giant refrigerator with the remains of the steak from the farewell dinner the night before. She saw a giant mound of ground beef for the meatloaf special that she would no longer be recommending and pinched off a small ball of the mangled meat and cupped it in her hand before sticking it in her brown bag. She stuffed the bag into the pocket of her jeans jacket with the wad of tips and she stepped out the back door and walked up the alley and back to the corner where Chad was propped on a mailbox.
Chad gave Iris a rose and told her, "A rose is a rose is an iris." He winked. Iris believed it was possible to be that corny and pull it off. Iris believed that Gertrude Stein could have pulled it off, but coming from Chad, it was just stupid. He said he had some beer at home, so Chad and Iris and the rose made their way up the four flight of stairs to his apartment. On the wall was a giant PETA poster of a vivisected monkey. Iris ceased being hot and bothered and was now just bothered. Chad gave her a beer and told her it was from Ceylon. It might have worked with tea, but with beer it was lame.
Chad had an old iron bed that doubled as a couch. Actually, Iris believed that Chad never had any intentions of using the bed as a couch, but she played along flipping at the corner of the covers to reveal Star Trek sheets. Iris took a swallow of beer and smiled at Chad who, she now knew beyond a reasonable doubt, was a lousy fuck.
Chad reached over and tried to kiss her but Iris resisted. "Let's play a game," she said. "I'll be the evil veterinarian and you be my research monkey."
The very mention of the word "game" gave Chad a hard-on. He produced a fine skein of thick hemp rope, threw off his clothes, and began hopping about doing his best monkey improv. How typical Iris thought, at the first chance to get laid the little poseur would sell out his simian brothers. He would never think of eating a monkey but he saw nothing wrong with indulging a little vivisection role play.
The evil veterinarian tied the naughty research monkey to his Star Trek sheets. Iris went into the kitchen to get another beer. His refrigerator was a disgusting display of misplaced nutrition. There was spongy tofu and crusty lentils. Every other recognizable food item was from Vermont. Iris was suddenly glad that she had never made it to Vermont. With food like this, Iris though, they should change the state motto to "Vermont: Home of Lousy Sex." She opened a cabinet or two and found no grits. Chad continued to make monkey sounds. Iris was just about to leave when she remembered the brown bag in her pocket.
Iris opened the drawer and pulled out a sharp knife. Removing the bag she unwrapped the leftover steak. The rare meat sat in a pool of its own blood. Iris lifted the cold steak and sliced it into thin strips. While she sliced she said in a loud voice, "That monkey is too noisy, he will have to be punished." Then she said, "You're eating this up, aren't you Chad."
Chad said, "You bet my evil vet."
Iris laughed as she threw the dish towel over Chad's eyes and straddled his body. She lifted the tin foil that cupped the juice from the steak. "Open your mouth, monkey boy, and take your medicine," she said as she poured the blood into Chad's eager mouth. He coughed.
"What the fuck was that," he said tossing his head to remove the dish towel just as the sliver of rare steak fell into his mouth.
"It's my experiment to turn the rare tofu monkey into a carnivore," Iris said as she tried to hold his jaws together. Chad managed to spit the meat out.
"Now Chad, if you'd told me you were a spitter and not a swallower I never would have come up here."
"Let me go you bitch."
"Chad, that is no way to talk to the evil veterinarian. Now open up."
Chad clenched his jaws and fought at the ropes, but Iris was from Alabama and she knew a thing or two about tying rope. There was no way Chad was getting loose without her help. He continued to fight which only made Iris more determined to make him a carnivore. Iris held his chin between her knees.
"Open up, monkey boy. My Nobel prize is riding on this experiment." But Chad refused. Iris took a bit of the ground beef that had grown warm in her pocket and smeared it on his lips, but Chad wouldn't budge. Iris took another bit of the ground beef and rolled it into a ball. "You're making this experiment way too hard, Chad," she said as she tore the ball in two and stuffed the meaty marbles up his nose.
"Fuck you, bitch," he shouted as Iris tossed steak into his mouth. He spit and then he began to cry. Unchewed meat littered his pillow and damp bits of ground beef hung from his nose. Iris climbed off his body and sat on the edge of the bed. She felt like a real bully. How could she expect a guy from New Jersey who slept on Star Trek sheets and only ate fruits and vegetables to hold his own against her.
"I'm sorry, Chad," she said as she untied his left hand, "but you just can't let an absolute stranger come into your house and tie you up. It's insane."
Chad grabbed her arm and twisted it. "You fucking bitch," he screamed as Iris easily pulled away from him. She went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator and took out the last two beers.
"Mind if I take your last beer, Chad? And just for your own edification, '33' is a Vietnamese beer. There is no Ceylon anymore. It's Sri Lanka now."
With that, Iris opened the door and walked into the hall. She hurried out onto the street and ducked into the alley where her VW was parked and headed for the Holland Tunnel.
In New Jersey she thought of Chad. He never told her exactly where in New Jersey he was from. She stuck her Patsy Cline tape into the deck. The tape was old and stretched, and by the time Patsy sang "Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray," she sounded more like Tom Waites after a valium overdose. The clock in the van said 11:47 P.M.. Iris believed if she kept a heavy foot on the gas pedal, by dawn she would be in South Carolina. She dreamed of pulling into a shabby diner and flirting with a waitress who never dreamed of being anything else. A waitress with generous thighs and voice like spun honey. A waitress who would bring her grits and biscuits with sausage gravy. A waitress who would ask her name and say, "Honey, I got a huntin' dog named Iris."