Please Don’t Turn Around by Gabriel Duran

I’m looking carefully at the ice cream flavors listed in a cheerful yellow chalk scrawl above our heads. I don’t understand why making something harder to read is regarded as artsy and charming.  An old man is trying to engage us in conversation. I do my best to ignore him.

            “Where are you guys from?” he asks.  I make a “hmm” sound, indicating that I am busy. 

            Erika fails to take my cue: “I’m from Natick! I used to come here all the time! I love this place!”

            Maybe I’ll get Chunky Monkey. The old man informs us he is from somewhere no one’s ever heard of.  Erika and he turn as a pair and look at me expectantly.

              “I’m from New Hampshire!” I exclaim, with what I believe to be convincing excitement.  I’ve lost my enthusiasm for Chunky Monkey.  I want Purple Cow, I think.  Mostly because of the name.

            “Ohhh!” Says the old man, “You guys just had quite the ice storm!”  I nod.  Apparently we just had an ice storm.  I haven’t been to New Hampshire in weeks. I had no idea.  I make a mental note, quickly to be forgotten, to call my parents.

              I return to staring at the chalk board, tuning out my unwelcome companion.  Erika continues to converse with him, probably to annoy me.  I don’t believe it’s possible to take an interest in anyone more than ten years older than you.  I glance at her.

            The top of her head barely reaches my chin stubble, but she compensates for her stature with volume and intensity.  She wears her brunette hair down over her ears, which she complains are too big when fishing for compliments.  My own hair-cut is supposed to resemble Daniel Craig’s as James Bond, but on me it just looks like bed-head.

            “I’ll get Mint Chocolate Chip. And Purple Cow.”  I tell the energetic teenager behind the counter.  He has faint acne scars, sandy hair falling over his eyes and a voice that sounds like Tweety Bird.  “That’s quite a combo!” he chirps loudly, eyeing Erika as though he’d said something clever.  I glare at him as I pay.   The old man finally wanders off.  He seemed nice.

            We settle down at a table and move on to more important topics.  “Kung Fu Panda was the best fucking movie I’ve ever seen!”  I inform her.  She disagrees.  I hate that.

            “I thought it was kind of offensive,” she says. I stare at my Purple Cow suspiciously, doubting my choice.  It takes me a moment to register the absurdity of her response.

            “It’s a kid’s movie.  How could it be offensive?”

            “It sends an unhealthy message to kids about eating.”

            “That’s stupid.”  Erika is convinced that everything sends an unhealthy message to everyone about eating.

            We glare at each other, readying for battle.  Both of us have just completed unnecessarily long and pedantic term papers on television and children’s development.  Despite spending most classes writing mean notes to each other, we both know far too much about this topic. More than enough to fuel a bitter and pointless debate.  And we’re both loud.

            “The movie uses food as a reward.  The panda doesn’t get to eat until he’s done training,” she says, so everyone in the diner can hear.

            “No,” I intelligently point out.

            We have already attracted the attention of many of the diners by being young and interesting and good-looking,  but now our mutual lack of volume control has most eyes on us.

            “It’s good for them.  It portrays a fat protagonist in a positive light.  It says that fat people can be useful, productive members of society,” I say, as a slightly overweight woman walks by with her husband and three children.  I am unsure if this is awkward.  I take an energetic scoop of Purple Cow.  It is okay.

            “Thank you!” says the slightly-overweight woman, as she turns around.  She is looking right at me.  Oh no.  “It is so good to hear you say that!  We overweight people love to feel appreciated!”  I can’t tell if she’s joking.

            “Heh,” I say.  I stare at my spoon.

            “We just saw Kung Fu Panda!” she says, “They loved it!”  The children nod enthusiastically.  They loved it.  Good.  They’re on my side.   

            “How did they feel about it?” I ask, “did it give them eating disorders?”

            “Oh no! They thought it was great!  We all laughed so hard!  I thought it sent a very healthy message!” she replies.  Her husband stands quietly in the back, eyeing the door. He sizes up his chances of escape.

            “We loved it!”  shout the kids.  I take a triumphant bite of Purple Cow, and smile smugly at Erika.  Ah, the sweet taste of victory and black raspberry.

            We get in a heated fight about her ex-boyfriend and go home.

***

            “The thing most people don’t realize about America,” I explain to my friend Todd, “is how great it is.”  We are on a bus in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he has been attending school for three years.  I am worried he may have forgotten.  If Todd doesn’t move back to the U.S. when he graduates, I can’t live in his basement, which has been my plan since high school.  We came to visit Todd largely to partake in the famous Hogmanay New Year’s celebration. It was rained out. 

            Chris chimes in, “you know what the problem with the UK is?  Everyone wears Yankees hats.”  This is true.  The only Red Sox hats we have seen have been on each other.  And it’s not fun to glare at people who have no idea what they’re wearing.  They just look bewildered and slightly hurt.   It only makes me hate them more.

            “Also the food is terrible,”  I tell Josh, who looks irritated to be included in the conversation.  He looks longingly at Doug and Claire, who had the good sense to sit at the other end of the bus from us.   Chris and I are determined to point out the clear inferiorities of Scotland,  even though our lives here have been pretty much the same as back home.

            We get up around two o’clock, having refused to adjust our sleep schedules. We spend an enjoyable three hours of sunlight wandering the city and complaining. We then buy a two liter bottle of Frosty Jacks hard cider and drink until we pass out playing soccer video games and yelling at each other.   Todd and I have almost come to blows several times over virtual soccer goals.  Pretty much the same as in the States, though with the admittedly wonderful addition of Frosty Jacks. It is definitely Scotland’s contribution to Western culture.

            “I fucking love Frosty Jacks,” I inform the bus.  I spent most of last night donating that wonderful hard cider to Todd’s toilet.  We have also donated a Christmas tree, a traffic cone, and several street signs to his flat.  I don’t know where we got them, but I do appreciate that Scotland does not have a law against peeing in the streets, apparently.

            “You know what else sucks about here?” asks Trevor, “there are no girls anywhere.”  Actually there were two, but he told them to “fuck off” when they tried to take some of Josh’s french fries.  I can’t really blame him. We have lost most of our money betting on soccer, so fries have become a luxury item.  Trevor has also been upset by the language barrier, which caused him to storm off in disgust after trying to converse with a Scottish girl in a night club. He found her accent indecipherable.  I sympathize with this.  I have long since given up trying to understand what anyone is saying. Not that I listen to anyone in America.

             The bus stops.  I don’t take much notice, as I never have any idea where we are.  I just follow Todd around blindly.  I don’t even know where we’re going right now.  I hope never to become lost, because I can’t remember what street or part of the city he lives in.  My friends made me memorize it; but I was drunk and have a bad memory anyway.

            An angry looking bald man gets up to depart.  He’s wearing a ripped denim jacket, which people still think is cool in Scotland.  I size him up as an asshole.  I’m surprised he isn’t wearing a Yankees hat.  He stops and turns around.  Uh oh.

            He looks at me.

            “You know, I’m sure individually you’re all lovely people.  But together, you’re a bunch of loud fucking pricks,” he tells us.  I understood that one.  We are lovely people individually, I think.

            We stare at him.  No one says anything.  He glares at us, then steps off the bus.

            “What did we say?”  asks Chris, eventually.  I can’t think of anything.  We agree we were being polite and quiet.  We feel very hard done by.

            “You know what else is better about the States?” says Trevor, “No one calls us pricks.”

            On the way back to the U.S., I get in an argument with the ticket taker at the airport.  I don’t know what about, because I can’t understand anything he says.  I am then detained by security for losing my ticket in the thirty feet between the ticket counter and the security checkpoint.  There is much incomprehensible arguing before they let me look for it.

            My photo album for the trip is entitled “Gabe Chris and Trevor rub Scotland the Wrong Way.”

***

             The remarkable thing about baseball, which everyone seems to forget, is how incredibly boring it is to watch in person.  Josh, Todd, Chris and I are seated in what are probably the worst seats Fenway has to offer.  We’re watching the lower division Red Sox affiliates play in the celebrated Futures at Fenway event.   It is designed for those who are too cheap and poor to go to real Red Sox games.  That’s us.  We are disappointed because we are too far away to heckle the opposing team, even after I figure out which one that is.  Perhaps this is a good thing, as the last time we went to a minor league baseball match, one of the players tried to fight Trevor in the parking lot afterwards. 

            After about 15 minutes we lose interest in the game.  Talk winds it way, as it inevitably does, to that same time-worn topic that always brings old friends together.  Scrubs, the greatest TV show of all time.  We all watch this show religiously, as we are very boring people with few distractions.   Naturally, we all take passionate and obstinate stances on it.  We share these enthusiastically with the rest of the seating section. They have also lost interest in the game.  We argue for a while about JD’s vices and virtues and debate what he should do, what he will do, and what we would do if we were him.  My roommate Josh frequently criticizes JD for being narcissistic, which I take personally, because I am also narcissistic.

             We are drinking, which Fenway makes as difficult and as expensive as possible, especially for residents of the great mountain state of New Hampshire.  Fenway is bitter because we can get alcohol for so much cheaper than they can.  And the good people of Fenway don’t want us to drive back up North drunk, but Chris is determined to thwart them.   He has already spent more money on beer than on his ticket.

             Conversation moves on, again quite naturally, to masturbation.  We discuss how Josh and I are rooming together in an apartment in Boston for the summer; how we will have nothing to do all day, and how incredibly bored we will be.  This is true.  We live together right now and are frequently bored.  I have seen every episode of Scrubs at least four times.

            “At least I can get a lot of exercise. I’ll probably be wicked jacked by the end,” I say to everyone. 

            “Your right forearm, maybe,” says Todd.

            “Actually both,” I reply, “I’m ambidextrous.”

             The couple in front of us turn around.  They are horrified.  The man is in his forties and has one of those very intimidating upside-down-horse-shoe mustaches.  I am immediately afraid of him.

            “Are you guys really talking about masturbating at a baseball game?”  He asks.  I assume it’s rhetorical.

            “Heh,” I say.

            “There are kids here.  Do you have no awareness of people around you?  That’s disgusting!”

            Someone in one of the front rows has fallen asleep.  People are seeing how many peanuts they can put on him.  I stare intently at this.

            “That’s really messed up,” he says.  They turn back to pretend to watch the game.

             Conversation resumes.  Eventually, out of kindness or boredom, Horse-shoe mustache forgives me.  He and his wife decide we are hilarious, if terrible and socially oblivious people.  Or they are just really, really sick of baseball.  They join in the Scrubs debate with gusto.

            Chris would inform us later that he absolutely should not have driven home.

***

             The Revolution are losing.  This is not uncommon.  If I make the effort to trek all the way out to see one of my favorite teams play, they almost inevitably lose.  Also it usually rains.  I find soccer more engrossing than baseball, and most of my friends refuse to go to games with me.  Consequently, I am not as loud and obnoxious as usual.  It is just Chris and I, and we have behaved ourselves, as far as I can tell.  I am proud of us.  We have not been drinking.

             It is the eighty-ninth minute.  The game is tied 0-0.  Don’t ask me why I find soccer more compelling than baseball.  I have been utterly silent for the past twenty minutes, using all my energy to will the Revs to be less awful.  

             There is what I decide from my excellent vantage point 400 feet away to be an egregious foul on my favorite player, Taylor Twellman.   The referee does not blow the whistle.  I am furious.

            “FUCK YOU!”

             Gillette is a surprisingly quiet stadium during soccer matches, as the Revs are incredibly unpopular and draw only parents and their twelve-year-old youth soccer playing children.  I am convinced none of them enjoy it.  You would think they’d welcome the distraction.

             The result of this relative quiet is that rows upon rows of people hear me shout this, probably including the ref.  There isn’t much profanity at Revolution games apparently.

             Dozens of children, parents, and grandparents turn around to stare at me.  Their looks are a mixture of confusion, disgust and loathing.  I am still standing.  I look back at them.

             “Heh,” I say.

            “He’s very sorry, please excuse my friend.  He’s been drinking,” says Chris.  I sit back down.  The game ends 0-0.

            We get up and leave before the grandparents accost us.

            “What the Hell is wrong with you?” Chris asks.  I don’t know. 

***

             I’m in the movie theatre and I’m feeling really good about it.  This has been one of those rare trips to the movies where everything has gone just right.  I have successfully snuck in my can of Arizona Grapeade, which is crucial because it’s delicious.  Movie theaters don’t make money from selling tickets, but from concessions.  It is because of people like me that Circle Cinemas would go bankrupt and close in the following months.  I sip my Grapeade greedily.  It tastes like sugar and grapes.

            It’s also going well because no one has yet threatened to kick my ass.  In a recent trip to the Imax to see Speedracer, I overestimated the legroom I was accorded and accidentally kicked the man in front of me in the back of the head several times as I adjusted my feet.  I like to sit cross legged and then switch back about every thirty seconds.  He likes to not get kicked in the head, I learned. 

            After maybe thirty minutes of this he turned to me and told me, much louder than necessary, “I will beat the living shit out of you if you fucking kick me again, motherfucker.”  I looked intently at the screen, determined to figure out if Racer X was indeed Matthew Fox.  After the movie, while hustling quickly away, I told my friends how close I’d been to throwing down. 

            Today is going better. We are watching a movie that you didn’t need to be on hallucinogens to enjoy.  And I am drinking Grapeade.

             Forgetting Sarah Marshall is very funny.  Perhaps too funny.  I take a large, probably annoying gulp of my Arizona delicacy. 

            “I’m here to murder you!” says Jason Segel to Kristen Bell, on-screen.

            “HA HA HA!” I say, emptying the contents of my mouth onto the seat in front of me.  Oooh nooo.  

            Maybe he didn’t notice.  I decide to play this one cool.

            “What the fuck!” says the guy in front of me.  Damn.  He looks around at me.  I look determinedly at Kristen Bell.  She is very attractive, for a little person.

            “Ummm.”

            “What the Hell are you doing? Apologize to him!” says Josh, incredulous.

            Oh! Good idea. 

            “I’m sorry, man,” I whisper loudly.  Fuck!  I am missing the movie!  What funny thing is Jason Segel doing now?

            The guy in front of me looks at me for a beat, I think deciding if it is worth getting thrown out of the movie to punch me.

            “Whatever,” he says finally, furious.

            I debate going to get him paper towels.  Kristen Bell is now in a bikini.  Jason Segel says something witty. My generous side loses out.  He’ll survive.  I take another -careful- gulp of Grapeade and adjust my feet.  Good thing he is still getting juice out of his hair, or I may have kicked him.

            I make sure to get up and leave before he does.  I look back at Josh, deliberately trailing three or four people behind me.  “That was pretty good,” I shout back at him, “but Kung Fu Panda was the best fucking movie I’ve ever seen.”

Published by peace is illegal

I am a writer of pornography, of politics and murder.

2 thoughts on “Please Don’t Turn Around by Gabriel Duran

  1. What a hilarious set of stories. I’ve read them a few times now and laughed very hard each go-through. Gabriel Duran seems like a very self-aware writer, unfortunately a rare thing these days. His deadpan prose belies a keen observational skill. While his subject matter is more Tucker Max (though it’s already abundantly clear to me that these are stories are on a MUCH higher level than Max’s), Mr. Duran’s self-deprecating wit has a lot in common with David Sedaris.

    Great choice for publication! I really hope to see more of Gabriel Duran in the future. I’m not a usual reader of Gloom Cupboard, but I’m so glad I stumbled upon it because I found this.

  2. Just want to say your article is striking. The clarity in your post is simply striking and i can take for granted you are an expert on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grab your rss feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the ac complished work. Excuse my poor English. English is not my mother tongue.

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