A/N: Special thanks to my beta, chiisai-kitty, for going over this with me before she even finished the last episode of Generation Kill. Craziness! Now, that's dedication! You're pretty fucking ninja. Sadly, these characters are not mine. But I had fun partying with them! And just a heads up, there's major language in this story … and that's not a character I created
Sadly, these characters are not mine. But I had fun partying with them! And just a heads up, there's major language in this story … and that's not a character I created.
So I exit the plane I just spent the past three hours scarfing down peanuts and seven airplane dinners in, and the first thing I see is this chick's boob. Seriously, I saw everything—nipple, jiggle, bra strap mark. Pretty fucking sweet. And then her baby had to go and fuck things up by moving in front of the boob to feed. Jerk. Well, it was nice while it lasted. And who the fuck breastfeeds their kid in the middle of the airport waiting room? Jesus, woman, have some class. At least do it in front of the bookstore, 'cause no one ever goes by there.
The first thing I see in New Orleans is a woman's naked tit. And it isn't even Mardi Gras. Doesn't get any better than that.
The second thing I see in New Orleans is my old friend Brad Colbert sulking by the Starbucks, his 6'4" frame and white-blonde hair calling out to me like a lighthouse in a sea of entertainingly annoyed airport-dwellers. It's almost comical seeing him in a non-camouflaged uniform like I've seen him in every day for the three years we spent together in the Marine Corps fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, his sergeant to my corporal, my driver to his passenger. He looks fucking awkward in jeans. Everyone's supposed to look good in jeans, but he just doesn't. And he also looks funny without a weapon in his hands. Weird, but true.
The guy's used to picking off gun-carrying hajis in trees and spotting targets a mile away, but he's too engrossed in the lame-o complimentary in-flight magazine that everyone just spits their gum on to see me approach him. At least, not until I walk up to him creeper-close and greet him by shouting, "Did you know there's a luggage store here, in the airport? A place to buy a piece of luggage like a suitcase or a backpack? How retarded do you have to be where you're just like, 'Fuck it—let's grab a big pile of shit, and we'll get a bag at the airport'. Fucking idiots."
Yeah, that's how I greet people. Deal with it.
He smirks, a smile that actually seems to reach his icy blue eyes, and retorts, "And here I was thinking civilian life would change you. Well, aren't you a waste of two billion years of evolution, Ray Person."
"Damn straight. Why the fuck do you think the Marines recruited me?"
"Certainly not for strength or intelligence."
Oh yeah, I forgot how he talks all educated and shit. Damn, that was nice.
"Good to see you again, Brad," I say, but I'm not being sarcastic or anything. This is our relationship. I give him shit and he either serves it right back to me or he tells me to shut up, but since he's no longer my commanding officer that's totally not going to happen. As much.
"You too. I'm gonna go take a shit."
"Lucky for you we're not Oscar Mike right now. Just remember, in the States you take a dump in the bowl, not a shiteous wooden box. Oh, and guess what? You don't have to cover up your shit either! They got these machines called toilets and they'll do all the dirty work for ya! It's like a computer for your shit," I reply.
Of course, he knows all that but hey, unless you have a room temperature IQ, you've probably figured out that I'm freakin' hilarious. Plus, when you become a Marine, you have to teach yourself how to go to the bathroom all over again, except this time your parents are over a hundred miles away and if you try and use a potty training baby toilet thingamabob you're not gonna have any friends. People think being a Marine's hard because you constantly face death and kill people and run twelve miles uphill with a ninety-pound backpack and shit, but they're wrong. The worst part about being a Marine is that you can't take a shit whenever you want to, especially if you're on a mission or if you're driving to a mission or if you're coming back from a mission (or any time when you're on the move, or Oscar Mike) and then when you finally can shit, you have to shit under pressure and in front of seventy other men. I'm tellin' you, expect to lose all toilet rights the moment you enlist in the Marines. Even the usually stoic Brad could always be counted on to rant about proposing a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the freedom of peeing.
"Thank you, Ray."
"Just lookin' out for you, bud."
And then he throws his bag at me and practically runs to the bathroom with his hands over his crotch, pushing babies and old ladies out of the way because he has to go so bad. Okay, so maybe he doesn't do that. Maybe he just drops the bag at my feet and strolls over to the men's room. Maybe he also stops to hold open the women's room's door for a mom with a stroller and doesn't even attempt to sneak a peek of the hygienic Holy Land. Mad props to him for resisting the temptation of seeing three hot lesbians getting it on in a women's airport bathroom. Hey, it could happen.
I chuckle absentmindedly, attracting the glare of this little twerp in a neon yellow sweatshirt. Kid manages to look sinister even though he's sucking on a lollipop and playing with some stupid handheld videogame controller that I'm secretly a little jealous of.
"What are you looking at, munchkin? Yeah, you there! Offa my planet!" I jeer. Kid sticks his tongue out at me. I stick my tongue out at him. I win because my tongue's bigger. Fuck yes.
"Ray, if you're not going to grow up, can you at least learn how to behave yourself in public?" Brad remarks, walking back to me. He sees the little fucker and smiles at him, probably trying to assure him that not all adults are as screwy as me. But then the kid runs, fucking runs, back over to his dad, who's competing to be the best parent of the year by focusing his attention on adding cream and sugar to his coffee instead of watching his kid in a crowded post-9/11 airport.
"Nice going, Brad. Hey, I was so miserable without you, it's almost like you were still here. How was your shit?" I ask.
Shitting's kind of like our inside joke, or as close to an inside joke as we have. Not the actual like, technical part of shitting, because if you really think about it that's the human race's inside joke. No, wait, it's every animal's inside joke, because like that book I just saw in the airport bookstore says, everyone shits. Well, okay, so it really said everyone poops, but I think "poop" in all of its literary forms just sounds foolish. Hey, I have an inside joke with a cheetah because we both shit! Swick! (Sweet and sick, yo. It's time-saving.)
But yeah, Brad was the team leader of the second platoon of Bravo Company in the United States Marine Corps' 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, which is really just the government's way of saying he was in charge of making sure that me and three other guys didn't die and were pooping and peeing the right colors. But see, that doesn't sound so good on a medal, now does it?
"Fan-fucking-tastic," he replies, picking up his bag and starting to stroll towards the exit.
We're leaving New Orleans tomorrow afternoon, so we just brought carry-on bags. Mine is filled with two changes of clothes, a box of condoms, flip flops, and these really cool sunglasses that make me look badass. Brad's bag probably contains the complete works of William Shakespeare, four different outfits, a compass, and batteries. Maybe a puppy.
"Scale of 1 to 10?"
"8.5. Crapped out the three pounds I've gained since I've come back."
"Good for you, buddy. Was there an automatic soap dispenser in the bathroom? Isn't it weird how everyone automatically assumes that the goop in soap dispensers is always soap? I'd like to fill one with mayonnaise, just to teach people a lesson in trust," I respond.
Damn, I wish I could install an automatic soap dispenser in my bathroom back in my apartment in St. Louis. That'd be so sick. Or even better, an automatic soap dispenser that's filled with chocolate syrup; I'd totally put that in my kitchen to facilitate the ice cream sundae-making process. Or maybe it'd be in my bedroom, if you know what I mean. Just sayin'.
Brad shakes his head and doesn't reply, even though I know, I just know, that he's biting his lip so that he doesn't burst out laughing. Yeah, our relationship's cute like that. We're like an old married couple, except when I told Brad that he said that was the second gayest thing he'd ever heard, the first being Dave Matthews Band.
As we walk out of the exit doors, we're instantly blinded by the bright New Orleans sun. I love it. Brad smoothly takes this random-ass pair of sunglasses from his jeans pocket—who the hell puts their sunglasses in their jeans pockets?—that make him look like a Man In Black instead of a man in a black shirt. After some fumbling, I manage to open the zipper of my bag and grab the gold-rimmed aviators that survived Iraq. I don't need a mirror to know that I be pimping right now, even more so with the swagger I've adopted to go with my sunglasses persona. 'Cause that's how I roll, bitches.
Everything's fine until Brad suddenly stops walking and looks expectantly at me. Oh, right, I was in charge of arranging our transportation. "Please tell me you got us a rental car," he sighs, staring down at me.
If he wasn't wearing his fugly sunglasses right now, I'm pretty sure the intensity of his glare would have melted my face off. Of course, my bitchin' sunglasses would have stayed put on my skull because they're too cool to be melted. Not that my face isn't, but whatever. You know what I mean.
"Hells yeah I did! For forty-eight hours we are the proud, responsible renters of a 2010 Hummer H2. Thought it was appropriate and shit 'cause it's the closest thing to the cozy Humvee we drove back in Iraq. Thing's tricked out with titanium wheels and everything. Like, if we have fight terrorists to get to the hotel then no worries man, we're totally covered."
"Could be worse. You could have rented a Volvo," he mutters.
"You know it. Almost picked two motorcycles because I know that's your choice method of transportation, but I figured we wouldn't be able to gossip like old times if I had to chase you and your maniac speeding fetish all around New Orleans, or Naw'leans as I'll be referring to this glorious metropolis for the rest of our brief stay here."
Brad's twenty-eight, but he's as batshit crazy about motorcycles as a teenage boy with waaay too much time on his hands. The fool pays like five thousand bucks a year in motorcycle insurance because he's gotten caught going 130 miles per hour on his Yamaha R1 racing bike a few too many times. He doesn't look or talk or act like it, but he's a total BAMF.
"Thanks for being so considerate, Ray. My Iceman heart just melted into a pile of pink, floral-scented goo," he deadpans, bringing up his Marine nickname. Everyone called him the Iceman because he always, always, remained cool during attack. The guy had definitely earned his nickname and then some; back in Afghanistan, he helped take out an enemy missile battery and was awarded a Navy Commendation and a fuckload of sweaty handshakes from power-hungry military bureaucrats.
I'd pierce my bellybutton before admitting this to anyone, but Brad's my hero. And not just because he puts up with me.
"Oh gosh, and just in time for Valentine's Day! How sweet," I respond, one-upping him. Suck on that, bitch.
Able to see defeat when it's right in front of him, Brad wisely doesn't reply, and we go and fill out paperwork and obtain the keys to this sahweet yellow Hummer. Like, I'm seriously contemplating getting all Grand Theft Auto and driving this baby back home to Missouri, that's how gangsta it is.
"Good golly, Brad, this brings back so many memories," I tease as I hop into the front seat and fasten my seat buckle. Back in Iraq he'd always sit in the passenger side of the Humvee, just like he's doing now. Only this time he doesn't have a gun with him. That I know of.
He changes the subject. "I printed out the instructions for the hotel; I booked us a suite at the Mariott in the French Quarter. I looked them over; you should be able to follow them."
I roll my eyes dramatically and snap, "Uh duh, dude. You're talking to the guy who spent eighteen months illegally driving a Humvee on evil haji sand while being shot at by guys in black pajamas."
He smirks but doesn't say anything. So I do.
"I still can't believe you agreed to come here, Brad. New Orleans is like country music city."
Yeah, Brad hates country music like a personal trainer hates McDonalds and the people who eat at that fine establishment. It's a bad habit of his.
Back in Iraq, instead of going on important and dangerous missions like we actually trained for in camp, we drove Humvees around and blocked off roads and shit. We did get to be useful when we seized an airfield and entered Baghdad after it fell. Anyways, I was the driver of the Humvee and Brad was the team leader, and he was pretty chill when it came to me passing the time and instigating group sing-a-longs. But the guy just does not like country music. Like, if I even hummed some country song I'd get punished with Brad finding some really intelligent way to tell me to shut the fuck up or, if I was really lucky, a view of his baby blues fixed in an Iceman steely-eyed glare.
"No, Ray, that's Nashville," he chides, like I answered a question incorrectly. "New Orleans is the city of obese Americans, plastic necklaces, and shrimp."
"But seriously, why did you come, man? I called you in the middle of the night two days ago, and you just agreed to get on a plane and meet me hundreds of miles away from your beloved California and your motorbike and new MacBook Pro, just so you can spend Valentine's Day, the one day where any dude with a functioning dick is pretty much guaranteed to get laid no matter his relationship status, with a guy you haven't seen or properly spent time with in over four months in an area of the region that you once so lovingly referred to as 'the red butt pimples on the crack of America's size-fourteen ass.'"
Two days ago I got stupid drunk. My relationship with my girlfriend of four years had just crumbled because she said we wanted different things in our lives. Translation: I wanted to get married and she wanted to keep fucking her ex-boyfriend like I just found she'd been doing the whole time I was in Iraq. So she left our apartment forever to never return and I left our apartment to get booze and returned to drink myself numb.
"You sounded … quiet," he murmurs softly. That's a nice way to put it. I actually remember that part of my night; I wasn't like blubbering or crying or anything girly, but I made the phone call when I was in my depressed drunk stage. My Southern Comfort-addled brain told me it would be a really good idea if I phoned Brad and asked him to spend two days in New Orleans with me.
Why Brad? Because he knows me better than anyone else on the planet or in Heaven or in hell or whatever afterlife you believe in. And why New Orleans? Well, I was just fucking drunk.
After some moments pass, he deadpans, "And, of course, I wanted to know why you wanted to spend Valentine's Day with me."
Oh yeah. Today's romantic V-Day. Whoop-dee-fucking-do.
I stare at the road and reply, "I just didn't want to spend it with the newly created figurative ghost of my relationship with the ex-girlfriend."
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Brad turn to look at me. He had called me the next morning—yeah, at six in the fucking morning when he knew I'd have a killer hangover, the bastard—to ask if I really wanted to go to New Orleans. After mentally cursing him with every English and Arabic swear word that I knew, I had explained what prompted me to drunk-dial him like a teenage girl wasted on peach schnapps. He had listened patiently, even when I started puking.
"And don't kid yourself, Brad. You're the only mofo in my address book that I could count on not having any plans for Valentine's Day. Plus, your love life is even more fucked up than mine."
This is true. Brad used to have a fiancée, a high school sweetheart, but she had dumped him to marry his best friend. He doesn't like talking about it. Now I understand why.
He doesn't retort like I half-want him to. Instead, he just nods and looks out the window.
Wanting to change the subject, I proclaim, "Good Lord, Brad, can you imagine what we'd be doing if Trombley was here? Probably squished in the corner booth at the tourist-infested Hard Rock Café eating soggy nachos and talking about his imaginary babies and shit."
Trombley was this trigger-happy Marine psycho who was part of our team and was piss-scared of dogs, but he was entertaining as hell. I was glad he had sat behind me in the Humvee, even if he had poor taste in music; fucker only knew the words to like one out of every five songs I'd sing. Kids these days. Except he was recently married and the guy just would not shut up about his wife and their future 2.5 kids. Gag me.
Brad chuckles, a facial movement equivalent akin to Haley's Comet.
Encouraged, I continue, "Jesusfuck, Rolling Stone would probably drag our sorry asses down to a gay steamboat river tour, or make us go to like a fuckin' museum and buy every book and Christmas ornament in the pathetic gift store. Walt would probably do whatever we told him to and just be a great chick magnet with his baby blues and the muscular ballerina legs he developed standing upright in the Humvee for ten hours straight. Shit, Brad, we totally shoulda invited Walt! Between me, you, and him we'd attract so many hotties that our hotel room would look like a music video! Damn!"
I wasn't being all literary or whatever and using Rolling Stone as a metaphor of the music rag that called Lenny Kravitz the next Jimi Hendrix (let's be real here, no one will ever be the next Jimi Hendrix, especially not Lenny Fucking Kravitz) because being intelligent is Brad's job. Nah, for like four weeks this reporter from Rolling Stone traveled with us as we invaded Iraq and then he wrote articles about his experience in the magazine. I never told him this, but he's a pretty damn good writer. However, his best work occurred during the golden age when he used to write for Hustler, and I personally think he was better at writing porn reviews and hot letters, but hey—I'm not a tweed-wearing, briefcase-carrying Harvard grad wannabe literary critic who enjoys drinking wine coolers on the verandah. I'm just not.
And Walt was just this cutesy Southern boy who liked singing as much as I did, and what's more, he liked singing country music. I mean, he was so good Brad would sometimes allow him to sing some Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash. Everyone agreed that he was the second guy in the unit who it'd be okay to go gay for, the first being "Fruity" Rudy Reyes, this dude with a weirdly feminine face on an extremely masculine body whose personal items that he brought to Iraq included Starbucks coffee and Neutrogena face shit. Guy was married and everything, but still.Starbucks coffee and Neutrogena face shit?!
"Ray, I know that technically I am no longer your superior officer, but could you please keep your eyes open and your mouth shut so we can actually make it to the hotel and have this legendary night that you've dreamed up?" Brad mutters, lowering down his window to spit.
"Sure thing, dude," I reply, reaching over to turn the radio on. After a few quick turnings of the dial, I experience some major personal success and find this old-school country music station featuring a warbling guy singing about horses and sunsets, which of course earns me a blistering glare from Brad. God, his eyes are so blue, I wish I could just keep them in my pocket and take them out to help me remember what the sky looks like on a cloudy day. Naht. I give him my best puppy dog eyes, but no dice; my chocolate brown gaze would totally work on a weaker man. I reluctantly change the channel, pumping my fist in the air when I come across Alice Cooper's "School's Out."
"Fuck, man! I love this song! My band actually sounded professional when we covered this shit. Listen:
School's out for summer,
School's out forever
School's been blown to pieces—c'mon Brad! I know you know the words! Lemme hear that beautiful Iceman singing voice I've come to know and love!"
Dickhead stares at me for the few seconds he has before the next singing part comes in, and I can just tell he's weighing the pros and cons of singing with me. Then, with a noticeable fuck it-like attitude, he begins wailing with me as I tap the guitar parts with my fingers on the steering wheel.
"No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks!"
As soon as the song finishes, Brad remembers he's supposed to be all stoic and Iceman and whatever, so he looks out the window and exclaims, "Jesus, Ray, aim for the road, not the woman with the stroller. You're a terrible civilian driver."
"Your mom said I'm a great driver in bed. She's a civilian."
"Which mom, Ray? My biological mother, the one who deemed herself mature enough to open her legs and embark on one of the oldest and most sought-out rituals known to mankind yet did not want to deal with the responsibilities of her very adult actions? Or my foster mother, the one who felt it was beneath her highly desired upper-middle class status to sleep in the same bed as her husband and partake in the same activities that anyone with an open pair of shaved legs, much like your cream-of-the-trailer-park-crop momma, would enjoy?"
"Both of them. At the same time."
Then I awkwardly ask him about his civilian life in California, and he ambiguously responds, "Aah, suburbia, where they cut down the trees and then name streets after them."
Uh, okay, dude, way to get all philosophical when making small talk. Well, now that I've got that polite crap out of my way, I start bullshitting the rest of the car trip, cracking jokes about everything that could be poked fun at. But I get real quiet once I pull up in front of the hotel and am immediately welcomed by the doorman and the valet. Woah. This is a seriously nice place. And Brad's paying.
I nervously joke, "Damn, homes, who'd you have to threaten to get this hick into a fancy-smanchy hotel like this?"
"It's called using the Internet, Ray. I'll go check in. That way we won't get kicked out as quickly."
"Make sure the maids know to put a fuckload of chocolate on my pillow!" I yell at Brad's retreating back. Now, I'm not super positive, but I'm pretty sure Brad's shoulders shake a little, like he was trying not to laugh.
While Brad talks to the concierge, I look around and marvel at the immaculately decorated interior of the hotel lobby. That's amusing, for like three nanoseconds. I decide to wander over to the brochures display, hoping to find a brochure on a good strip club or bar but there aren't any. I know right? What the fuck! Why are there two whole rows filled with museum information. Who comes to Naw'leans to go to a freakin' museum exhibit? You know what, I'm going to be gender-racist for a second and say that a woman probably organized the display. Just puttin' it out there.
Brad comes over and says we're ready to go. So I hesitate and pick up a paper for a local coffee shop, just to annoy him. Mission is accomplished when he sighs, but I don't push it and we just go in the elevators all the way up to the top floor.
As soon as Brad slides the hotel card in the slot and opens the door, I scurry past him and immediately exclaim, "Damn, homes! Take a look at this! There's fucking cookies and chocolate-covered strawberries on this random-ass table in the hallway! Un-fucking-believable! Man, this is better than that bumfuck hotel the U.S. government stuffed us in when we got to meet the prez! Woot woot! Iceman comes through with the hotel suite!"
"Thank you, Ray," he replies, grinning broadly. Brad likes being good at everything he does, whether it's picking out a hotel room or cleaning his M-4 rifle or repairing the Mark-19 automatic grenade gun mounted on top of the Humvee. He's neat, orderly, and well-prepared, and he likes when other things are as well, like this ridiculously awesome hotel room.
Seriously, there's this whole wall that's just made of windows; you can see the Naw'leans skyline perfectly. There's a widescreen TV, a complimentary picnic basket of packaged goods on the wooden coffee table, and doors leading to bedrooms and bathrooms and kitchen areas. Now I'm just waiting for Ashton Kutcher and his gay little trucker hat to pop out from behind the sofa and he better do it fast, 'cause the longer I'm in here the more I want this to be real.
"This place is so sweet I'm kind of sorry that the only time I'm going to spend in it is right now, because we'll be in those Bourbon Street bars I've been dreaming about ever since I watched Easy Rider in the fifth grade," I shout as I claim my bedroom.
"100,000 sperm and you were the fastest?" Brad remarks dryly, walking over to the other bedroom.
"Ha ha ha. I'm gonna change, and then we can use our Marine scouting abilities to find and take over the best bars and brothels in the Big Easy and debrief as many hotties as possible! I didn't get any Thai pussy when I was in the Marines like I was promised, but I'm gonna make it my mission to get some nice, tight, sweet-as-apple-pie American pussy now that I'm out on the prowl," I respond. As I shut the door, I see him looking at me with an amused expression on his face.
"It's a quarter to nine. How long is it going to take you to put on your lipstick and heels and get dolled up for tonight?" Brad yells through the door.
"Not long, dude. You know how I always travel in style. The more important question is, how long is it going to take you to drop the stuffy-pants attitude and actually live your life tonight?"
He doesn't reply, obviously too dumbfounded with my surprisingly deep awesomeness to come up with an adequate answer. I add, "Yeah, that's what I thought!"
After I change into a clean pair of jeans and a plaid button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up—ladies like a guy who cleans up nice—I walk back into the living room to find Brad sitting on the couch wearing a blue polo shirt, jeans, and Birkenstocks. Birkenstocks.
"Iceman wearing faggoty hippie sandals? Holy hell!" I mock-exclaim, plopping myself down on a chair and propping my very manly Converse sneakers on the table.
Brad shrugs. "They're comfortable."
"Yeah, and butt-ugly. Man, I wish I brought a camera so I could show this to all of the guys. It's wrong on so many levels. Jesus, what's the world come to?"
He says nothing but stands up, checking his pockets to make sure that his wallet, room key, and cell phone are all there.
I continue, "You know the world is fucked up when the jihadist-killing Marine wears Birkenstocks, the most successful rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest player in the NBA is Chinese, France accuses the U.S. of being too arrogant, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the two most powerful men in America, hell the whole world, are named 'Bush' and 'Dick.' Need I say more?"
"Exactly. You ready to leave?" I ask, getting up and walking towards the door, grabbing a couple of cookies to go.
"Don't steal, Ray. That's the government's job," he scolds, closing the door behind him and following me over to the elevator.
Not caring that crumbs are shooting out of my mouth and bombarding the Oriental rug on the elevator floor, I proudly retort, "It's not stealing if the hotel's literally handing me their precious cookies on a goddamn silver platter. Save your political bullshit and let me enjoy this."
"So, what do you want to do tonight?" Brad asks as we stroll out of the hotel and out on the busy streets of the Big Easy
"Take advantage of the fact that Naw'leans and its French Quarter are one of the few places in the United States where possession and consumption of alcohol in open containers is allowed on the street."
"Okay, then," Brad chuckles. "We'll just take a pleasant Bourbon Street evening stroll."
I snort. Sometimes Brad's so proper and polite that stupid people could confuse him with a douche bag or a homosexual. He's neither. He's just the Iceman
I point at the seediest strip club I see and joke, "Look, Brad, there's your birthplace!"
"You know what, Ray, twenty years from now you're going to be saying that same exact thing to your illegitimate daughter. Only you'll be saying that to encourage her before she fills out a job application."
"So I'm getting laid tonight? Awesome!" I retort. Whew, for a second there I was danger close to being pwned, but luckily my comeback kicked ass.
"Ray, my sweet little guppy, are you making a special effort to be extra stupid today? Because you don't have to show off for me, you know."
Damn, Iceman's on fire. I shut up and focus my attention on a street vendor selling these SWEET neon sunglasses that don't have actual lenses, but rather horizontal plastic lines. They're called "shutter shades" and they cost $10 each and they are fucking awesome.
Brad had been politely standing on the corner while I bought three pairs—they'd make great Christmas gifts—so when I start walking towards him he just shakes his head sadly.
"What? With these double-cool shades I'll be able to pick up any Southern gal that looks my way! Don't you think, Brad?"
"I think the only thing you'll pick up is a pinstriped tan on your goddamn face. Those are really inefficient sunglasses."
"Eh, inefficient-ineschmiffent. I like 'em. Hey, wanna check out that restaurant with the dancing shrimp on the windows?"
Brad agrees, so we find a table outside, and from where we were sitting we have a picturesque view of the whole street. While waiting for our waitress, we scope out the best bars.
" Yo, Brad, is there a typo in the appetizer part of your menu?" I ask after the waitress walks away.
He scours the menu before finally replying, "No, not that I'm aware of."
"Really? Because mine says 'ragin' Cajun chicken wings,' but it's obviously supposed to say 'RAYgin' Cajun chicken wings.' And that's just fucking unprofessional, son."
Brad smiles crookedly. "I can eat and drink the same substance at the same time."
I don't know where the fuck that came from, but I like it, especially because Brad's acting somewhat silly. "Nuh-huh, man, that's impossible. I've already tried. Not properly set jell-o doesn't count."
He smirks and, using a spoon, extracts an ice cube from his soda and places it on his tongue. Oh. I shut up until our food comes. I distantly wonder if that's why Brad said that.
After our meal, we wander around some more until we come across a pretty bumpin' night club called Bourbon Rocks. Brad thinks it's too corny, but once we see the excess of beautiful women dancing on the patio, we enter the club grinning.
We make our way over to the bar, where the drink of the night is a fruity "hand grenade" in tall plastic green cups with a circular bottom that looks like the weapon that Brad and I have used in combat and actually killed people with. We share a glance before we both firmly order manly, politically-correct beer.
"There's poetry in a pint of Guinness," Brad quips as we slip into our seats at the bar.
"Wise words coming from the man who owns every Barry Manilow album."
"Because listening to Avril Lavigne makes you a scholar."
Brad says something about pleading contemporary insanity, but I'm too distracted by the hot brunette that just came over to order drinks. She's wearing a flashy gold tank top and these black things that can only be described as booty shorts. She obviously thinks she's the best thing since duct tape, and with the way she looks I kinda have to agree.
"Do you want to dance?" I ask, smiling and turning up my Ray-game.
She looks me up and down and smirks, "No."
Brad snorts. I reply, "Oh … I think you misheard me. I said you look fat in those shorts."
The girl's eyes widen and then narrow, and she grabs her drink and huffs away.
"Yeah, and it ain't the pants that make your butt look like two munchkins dukin' it out! Eat your vitamins!" I call out after her.
I turn to Brad, who wisely doesn't say anything. After taking a sip of my beer, I tell him, "I'd call her a cunt, but she lacks the depth and the charm."
He replies, "Well, they do say opposites attract ... so I sincerely hope you meet somebody who is cultured, attractive, honest, and intelligent."
"Fuck you, Brad. I've been halfway around the world; I have a ripped bod even though there's not a lot of it; I always tell the truth even though most of the time people don't believe me; and just because I don't quote faggoty books written by whiny emo fucktards doesn't mean I don't have a brain! Fuck, I could eat SpaghettiOs and shit better sentences than the stupid ones you choose to quote. Bet those dipshits couldn't drive an armored Humvee through enemy territory under heavy fire and survive to write an fifty-line sonnet in iambic pentameter."
I hear a giggle to my left, and turn to see two girls laughing. One's even hiding her mouth behind her hand in the most adorable way; I determine that she's the hotter of the two, with long reddish hair and green eyes. She's wearing some sort of shirt/dress black clothing thing that's too long to be called a tank top and too short to be called a dress. Whatever it is, she looks good in it, especially because she's wearing purple high heels that made her legs look perfectly capable of being wrapped around my waist. Her friend is still cute, with wavy blonde hair and a short red dress. Brad wouldn't be slumming, that's for sure. I could already tell there'd be no need for us to go to a strip club tonight.
The ginger sees me checking her out and giggles, "That was really funny, the part about dipshit authors fighting in a war and writing sonnets about it."
"Yeah. I mean, can you imagine what Shakespeare would have been like if he fought in some medieval Elizabethan war? 'If bows and arrows be the weapon of love, shoot on' or 'all the world's a battlefield' or 'some are born to kill, some achieve being able to kill, and some are killed.' I'm sorry, but the guy's writing would suck ass. And then he'd probably die," I reply. Hah, and Brad said I wasn't intelligent.
She laughs again and introduces herself as Melissa. Tonight she's celebrating being a single lady with her fellow single lady and roommate Claire; they both go to Tulane. I call dibs on Melissa by rubbing my nose. Brad nods; he doesn't seem to mind. His girl majors in political science, so they start talking about politics and stuff. Isn't that some sort of social no-no? Whatever, Brad was making it work. Brad could make anything work.
Melissa asks where my accent is from, and I tell her, along with what we're doing in Naw'leans (but leaving out why we're here) and we talk for a bit. She orders us a couple rounds of what she calls the club's best drink, the Kamikaze, and after two drinks I agree with her assessment because these things are ah-mazing.
Brad's girl drags him over to the dance floor, and I'm waiting for him to grimace or walk away but he just grins like a horny jack-o-lantern and presses himself against her writhing body. Melissa grabs my hand and starts dancing, and with the way her body looks and feels, I'm not complaining. Like me, she knows all of the words to the songs that are playing, even the ones with the really dirty lyrics, and we whisper the words in each other's ears as we dance and rub ourselves all over each other. She knows when and where to bump and grind, even dipping all the way to the floor, and it's so fucking hot I seriously contemplate ditching Brad to bring her back the hotel suite. Or see how kinky she gets in public.
Just as I'm about to make my move, Melissa tugs my hand and steers me over to the bar to order shots. Brad's girl whispers something in his ear, and they follow us.
"The people who are most commonly associated with jell-o—kids, elderly folks, people in hospitals—are the ones who really know how to appreciate the simpler things in life. And that isn't a coincidence. Think about it," I say for a toast.
Melissa laughs appreciatively, but Brad retorts, "I'd lose brain cells if I did. Are you sure you want to be doing jell-o shots?"
"Fuck, Brad, I'm celebrating! I'm 22 years old. I didn't get to go bar-hopping on my 21st birthday because I was in the middle of a fucking desert getting shot out at by the Iraqi Republican Guard! So hell yeah, you can bet your butt I'm gonna take a goddamn shot!"
And I take a goddamn shot. And then another. And then another. Then somehow I'm holding a fruity hand grenade drink in my hand while standing on my chair and telling everyone who'll listen about being in the Corps.
"Join the Marine Corps, people! You visit exotic places, meet people, and then kill them. I didn't go to Vanderbilt 'cause I wanted to enlist in the Marines to major in killology, and it's totally worth it if you're lucky enough to survive. And if you're really, really lucky, then you get to come back home and discover that your girlfriend, little Miss Suzy Rottencrotch, has been cheating on you the whole time she was writing love letters that you would reread every goddamn day! And then all people do is thank you for your service, like enlisting in the Marines and bombing cities and killing people are things that Hallmark makes thank-you cards for. Helluva time, my friends! Pain is temporary, but pride lasts forever! Hoo-rah!"
Marissa or Jessica or Clarissa or whatever her name is starts to look really anxious and she backs away from me, trying to talk Brad's girl into leaving with her instead of making out with Brad. That's okay, because right now I NEED to sing karaoke with Brad, for the sake of my health. I tell Brad that.
He pulls back from blondie, and as she's kissing his neck he snarls, "Ray, what the fuck have I done to make you think I'd want to sing karaoke?"
"You always sang with your best pal Ray-Ray back in Iraq! 'Member?"
"Yeah, well, spending too much time under the hot desert sun makes you do stupid stuff," he retorts definitively, starting to focus on his girl again.
This is NOT acceptable. I need to sing "Livin' On a Prayer" and I can only sing it with Brad
"Brad, you make me so angry I could punch a baby," I whine, punching his shoulder since there aren't any babies in this particular nightclub.
He takes one look at me, disentangles himself from the girl, and turns around. "Then you mustn't be very angry. Anyone can punch a baby. Babies won't hit back. If you were really angry, you'd punch me. Because not many people can punch me, and I hit back. Hard."
Tarissa or Lalissa or whatever –issa she is takes off with Brad's blonde and it's just me and the three of him. While Brad's busy paying for our drinks, I get hit on by this weird-ass bleached blonde cougar with fake nails that dig into my arms as she asks me my name. I discover it's pretty damn hard to push away seven women at the same time, even for an ex-Marine.
Brad comes back and swiftly assesses the cougar situation, pulling me away from the crazy bitch and icily telling her, "Sorry, Ray here only dates sisters and first cousins. It's the Person way. You're lucky though, he'd impregnate you with his kisses. It's happened before."
The woman slinks off, and I hug Brad. "Really? I'm a dad? I always wanted to have kids. And now I'm a dad and I didn't even know it! Hahahaha. Isn't that funny Brad? Isn't it? Tee hee hee."
He smiles distractedly and hurries me out of the bar.
"Brad, my whole body smiles when I see you," I slur, trying to show him my appreciation.
"That's nice, Ray. Why don't you lean against me and we'll walk back to the hotel, okay?"
"Whew, thatsa relief. 'Cause I am in no condition to drive or operate heavy machinery right now."
Brad talks some more, but I'm too busy assessing the environmental situation to notice. Every building is lit up and it looks like someone was playing with Lite Brites. Was I playing with Lite Brites? Wow, if I was, I was really really good at it. I should really be a professional Lite Briter.
Then it becomes a matter of absolute importance that I ask, "If a turtle loses his shell, is he homeless or naked?"
Brad doesn't say anything, too busy walking us across the street. "Brad, answer me, damnit! It's essential that I know the answer!"
"I didn't peg you as the philosophical drunk," is all he says.
Well, fuck him and his philosophical drunk. Wait a minute, am I the philosophical drunk? Is he the philosophical drunk? Is anyone the philosophical drunk? Maybe I'm the philosophical drunk, now that I think about it. Argh. Oh. Apparently I become a pirate when I'm drunk. But then that means I'm not the philosophical drunk. Waah.
Once my head stops making noises, I yell, "Brad, I'mma let you in on a lil secret. This Christmas, my mom gave me a dehumidifier because she thought I'd have trouble adjusting to the air here. Don't ask me where the fuck that came from. So then I went out and bought a humidifier and put the two things in the same room to let them fight it out. She said that was stupid. Who the fuck gives their son a dehumidifier for Christmas? Especially a month after he comes back from Iraq! That seems pretty damn stupid to me. I don't understand it. Or her. Or anyone who hasn't done what I've done or seen what I've seen."
Brad glances at me and awkwardly pats me on the shoulder. "Good story, Ray."
"Wanna know something else? Do you ever wonder if like thirty years from now, we'll go over to Baghdad and there will be memorials there, like how all the D-Day veterans buddy up and go to Normandy and visit the beaches and the graveyard and shit?"
"I don't know, Ray. Why don't you focus on walking for a little bit, huh? I know, let's play a game of who can walk the best! On your mark, get set, go!"
We do, and that's fun until I try to step over a sidewalk crack (even though my mom doesn't get me, I don't want her to break her back!!!) and fall down, scraping my knees on the pavement and banging my shoulder on the side of the brick building. Brad helps me up, and then we walk together again. Walking is fun, even though Brad's better at it than I am.
"I am okay, Brad. Really. Okay I am. Sam I am. Green eggs and ham. Eew, yucky! Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says 'If an emergency, notify ...' I put 'DOCTOR.' What's my mother going to do? Bake me cookies? Fuck no! But in the case of an emergency, there's like a 98% chance that I'd be able to take care of it anyways. Because I've always had to be the person that takes care of emergencies in my life. Like how I always had to configure the radio systems in the Humvee and lotsa other stuff. Remember, Brad? I really wanna know, 'cause you're my best friend and my best buddy and my best person out of all of the six billion people living on this cruddy planet. Do you know that, Brad? You need to know that. Can you grasp the importance of that?"
Brad regards me with an unreadable expression in his face. Huh.
"Hey, d'you remember that time I stuffed three packets of Charms in Trombley's ass crack to wake him up?" I cry, fisting Brad's shirt to make sure he hears me.
And suddenly we're in a really nice room. Like, super duper nice. And then the white couch politely asks me to be a good boy and lie down on it, so I do. Then everything goes black.
Then everything goes white when I wake up on the couch directly in front of the wall of windows that's streaming in the morning sunlight that's currently burning my eyeballs.
I blink a couple times, but that hurts my head so much I immediately stop. Shielding my face, I try to sit up, but it feels so nauseating I stop halfway through and kind of curl up on the couch in a fetal position. Looking down I see Brad sleeping on the floor next to the couch, his face smushed on one of my sneakers, his hands still clutching an ice bucket that's empty except for the traces of vomit on the sides. My mouth tastes like vomit.
I stumble blindly into the bathroom after many minutes of intense concentration and baby steps. I glance in the mirror, and then wish I didn't. I look like hell. I splash some warm water on my face and force myself to take a shower because I smell so bad I'd throw up just being near me.
Of course, it isn't until after I finish the shower I realize I didn't think to bring my clothes in, so I wrap a towel around my waist and open the door to see my duffel bag sitting on the floor; Brad must have brought it over. I change and reemerge a few minutes later to see Brad sitting at the dining room table with a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich in front of him and another one at the place setting across the table, obviously meant for me. Upon closer inspection, I see a glass of orange juice, a bottle of Gatorade, and a container of ibuprofen.
"Guess jell-o shots bring out my inner whiny PTSD bitch," I mutter, sitting down as slowly as possible.
Brad looks up and regards me for a few seconds before softly replying, "Yeah, well … how are you feeling?"
"Like a dumbass frat boy."
He nods and shrugs his shoulders.
"Brad, I'm really sorry about last night. About everything."
And I really am. Because I got so hammered, Brad couldn't sleep with a girl that he seemed really into, and he had to spend his one night in Naw'leans making sure I didn't asphyxiate or get arrested in my inebriated state. I know he tolerates me, but I didn't know he tolerates me that much.
Brad takes a sip of his black coffee and gives me a patented Iceman thousand-yard stare. "I know you are, but you needed a release. You just needed to act your age, and I actually mean that in the best possible way. You needed to be a regular twenty-two year old guy for a while."
I nod, or try to dip my head a little before it starts pounding, and then focus my attention on successfully biting my breakfast sandwich. Once that's accomplished, I swallow the ibuprofen and gulp some orange juice, feeling slightly more alive.
"I like how you matched your shirt with your eyes," Brad says conversationally, bringing me out of my reverie. I look down and see that I am wearing a blood-red tee shirt. "Can you please pass me the ibuprofen that you've been hogging?"
"Screw you and your baby T-rex arms," I retort, flicking the container over to his side of the table.
We finish breakfast in a comfortable silence. Then I look at my cell phone and reflect that we ate brunch in a comfortable silence, as it's now 11:45 in the morning.
"Brad, wasn't check-out like an hour ago?"
"Pulled some strings. Doesn't hurt that we're in the nicest suite this hotel has to offer. Don't worry about it."
"What time is your flight again?"
"Three. Yours is at 3:45."
"Yep. What are we going to do for the rest of the day?"
"Well, first I need to shower. Maybe just walk around?"
"Maybe. I'm barely managing full sentences here. I'm going to take a nap while you shower. Wake me when you're done?"
"Sure," Brad replies, getting up to put his plate and mug in the sink. He turns and regards me imperceptibly for a few seconds before exiting the kitchenette. Yep, that's the Iceman for ya.
I finish the sandwich and mosey over to the bed I should have slept on last night. I collapse, not even bothering to pull down the covers, not even caring that I'm resting on that icky outer comforter that the maids never wash. That's not important right now.
"Time to move ass, Ray," Brad says gruffly, shaking my shoulder. For a second there I wonder if I'm back in Iraq, but then I feel the soft pillow on my cheek, so that's not possible. "I know you're up, Sleeping Beauty."
I stretch my arms and open my eyes to see Brad hovering over me. Once he sees I'm awake and functioning, he says, "It's one o'clock. We need to check out and head over to the airport now."
Brad explains, "I didn't wake you up after my shower. You looked like you could use the rest. I packed your bag for you as best I could, but like I said earlier, we really need to get going."
He throws my duffel bag at me and leaves the room. I check to make sure everything's there before I shuffle into the living room. I steal all the complimentary items in the hotel suite (shower stuff, tea bags, cookies, stationary, pens, etc.) and ignore Brad's bemused expression. Finally, with one last look at the skyline I barely saw, I follow Brad out the door.
Check out runs smoothly and we retrieve our Hummer. Brad asks if I want to drive, and I use all of my energy and sanity to throw him a scathing look before buckling my seat belt and peeling out of the parking lot so fast the swanky valet and doorman actually provide facial expressions showing shock and awe.
There isn't a whole lotta talking during the ride to the airport. Brad listlessly watches the passing scenery while I absently sing along with the songs on the radio, humming during the parts where I don't know the words. Sometimes Brad duets with me, sometimes he's off in Iceman-land. Although he's not the one with the killer hangover, he's quieter than me (even at a time where I'm being pretty damn quiet), even quieter than he normally is.
We check in separately but go through security together. Luckily our respective gates are in the same wing. Brad goes off to buy a newspaper, and when he comes back he throws an UsWeekly in my lap. I smirk. Daddy's back.
"Figured you needed to catch up on your J-Lo gossip," he explains, nodding at the picture plastered on the cover of the tabloid. Back in Iraq I used to talk about whether or not J. Lo was really dead. I still think she is, and that's the imposter wearing her butt jeans and ghetto sunglasses. Kind of like the whole "Paul is dead" theory but better 'cause she's a hot chick.
In a rare show of absolute seriousness, I thank Brad and tell him I'm touched. I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm bullshitting. I'm not. I'm really not.
"If you're being normal because of your hangover, you should get drunk more often."
"You know what, Brad? I think it only works when I get drunk with you."
He smiles and sits down on my right, and I feel like we're in Iraq again. Except we're both quieter now. He quotes an article about how Bush is calling for more troops in Iraq. I read aloud from a passage detailing which fall makeup trend Brad should try. I start to read Brad's horoscope, but as I'm telling him that his crush is going to notice him on the twentieth so he should really take care with his appearance that day the loudspeaker announces that Brad's plane is now boarding.
He lazily stands up. I do too. He offers me his hand to shake, which I accept. In the nine hundred or so days I've spent with Brad, I've come to know that he's not really a touchy-feely kind of guy, so this is big for him.
He nods and starts to walk away. I watch him. Before he crosses the corridor, he stops and turns to look at me one last time.
"I had fun. I'm glad I came. I would have gone to Nashville if you needed me to," he says ruefully.
I'm momentarily stunned by his emotional (yeah, this right here is the equivalent of Brad weeping into a box of tissues while watching The Notebook) but I quickly recover.
"Good, 'cause this was a test run, Brad. Just think of what kind of shenanigans we'll get into when we come back down here for Mardi Gras!"