Corey doesn’t wake up nights with post-college debt terror. He laughs a lot, Corey does. He’s genuinely happy. He’s got money for hanging at the hippest new bars and actually drinking a half dozen of their $25 designer cocktails, or going to an Opeth concert. He’s taking flying lessons.
In other words: He’s got the life I was told I had to go to college to get. All our working class fathers wanted their sons to get a degree. Have what they called a “better” life.
But that’s the fucking joke: The trades are the only thing left in this country that haven’t been outsourced or downsized – that give a person some control, some power in deciding their work life. Some dignity. I could have gotten into the plumbers union, or the electricians union, worked a day job and then done my music at night.
I wish there was a time machine, where I could go back and tell those fathers we had: There is no shame in working with your hands, especially when it means that you hold your own life in those hands, too.
This is the stuff I'm thinking, lying face down in the grass, when Corey's foot swings into my ribs. “Matthew, man, go the hell home." He says it’s not right that I’m hiding out, letting Lisa do all the party-getting-ready work. He says she was right to be pissed about the way I talked to that little girl.
“How would you feel if somebody said that to Angela?” he said.
Angela is my little sister, and that question hit home. She is partial to cannolis and a little chubby herself.
So I admitted he had some good points. “But Corey, man, everything sucks,” I said. “My life fucking sucks.”
“Even if it does, that’s not Lisa’s fault,” he said. “Come on, man. This is Lisa we’re talking about. You’ve loved her since second grade.”
I didn’t answer him because he was right about that.
“Remember Sister Mary Joseph?” he said, imitating her old lady voice, “Matteo DiMarco, stop staring at Miss Manzini.”
“I’d always try to get you to pass her notes from me,” I said.
“And we’d all get caught. Like that time you stole a rose for Lisa from the Procession of the Virgin, and then gave it to me to give to her.”
“Because you’d never get in trouble. Mary Joseph loved you.”
“She did not,” Corey lied.
So I did my own best imitation of her old lady nun voice, “‘Corrado, you are such a good boy! Your name means courage and heart! You’ll be such a good man!’”
Corey shook his head. “You think me being the owner of Salvicci’s Garage is what she had in mind? You think she’d be proud I’m fixing carburetors and rebuilding engines?”
He said if Sister Mary Joseph wasn’t dead, she’d be disappointed in him. I reminded him that he’s doing better than any of the rest of us from the neighborhood.
“You’re just talking about the money,” he said.
“Hell yeah I’m talking about the money.”
“Look, I’m grateful for that. I am. But you know where I’m jealous of you? You always knew what you loved. I never did. Still don’t. You always loved Lisa. You always loved music.”
Yeah, great, I told him. Fat lot of good it’s done me. I’ll be dead of old age before I pay off my debt, I hate my life, I don’t do music anymore, and now Lisa is starting to hate me.
“Matt, walk it back. Start over. You still have your whole life. Your vinyl collection and all your recording equipment are over at your parents. That part of you doesn’t have to be dead. I know your apartment’s too small, so go to your parents and get the recording studio up and going again. Start bringing that part of you back to life. You can still do what you love.”
But that’s what shows me without doubt that Corey doesn’t understand. There is no time to do any of that, because between Lisa and me, we work six part-time jobs. Sometimes seven or eight. And we’re still always broke, stressed out, miserable.
“Go home and tell that girl you love her,” Corey said. “Admit you were wrong – because you were – and be a person.”
We made a deal. He pulled out his tool box and fixed my busted up bike for free so I didn’t have to risk my life trying to ride it back home in its current condition.
The next time, when he pointed me in the direction of my apartment, I had no choice, and started to move.
“I’ll see you tonight,” he called after me. “I might be a little late.”
A short time later, I leaned my bike in the yard, locked it up and climbed the stairs to the kitchen door. I hung in the doorway and saw, first of all, the sagging backside and widening hips of Lisa. We’re both getting fat from lack of a healthy life style, and making too many dinners out of cheap box wine and one of those $3 giant containers of cheeseballs we buy at CVS. Which is another reason I had no right with the oinking sounds.
She was leaning over, spreading the table with a red plastic tablecloth.
"Lisa," I said, coming through the door. "Let's cancel the party."
"Go fuck yourself," she said. She didn't turn around.
Don't wear those purple jeans tonight," I said. "You'll look like Fat Tessie from the cheese counter at DiBruno’s."
In a flash, she grabbed the broken blender and hurled it across the room at me. I tried to dodge it, but it glanced my head. I lost my balance and fell on the floor. She stepped on my chest with her right foot, pinning me to the ground.
She was crying. She was crying and it was my fault, and that made me feel really, deeply sorry. I was surprised, and actually a little grateful, at how sorry I was able to feel.
"You have turned into a miserable slimeball, Matthew," she said. “Why did you let that happen?” She was not yelling. She spoke very quietly, with the tears still on her cheeks. “You never think things through. You take stupid risks, but not the important ones. You say thoughtless things to innocent people. You’re selfish. You spend too much time feeling sorry for yourself, when plenty of people are facing the same problems you are, and worse.”
I wanted to say, “But I did most of those things when you still loved me, and you didn’t complain.”
Instead I kept quiet, because she was speaking hard truth. I didn’t know what to do. I needed to tell her that we couldn’t afford the doctors and therapists. But instead, I just stayed there on the kitchen floor, feeling the crumbs and sticky residue of unmopped splatters. I felt her words hitting me like tiny blades and thought: daggers, stilettos, bodkins – because those theatre majors we used to live with knew a lot of Shakespearean words for weaponry.
“Yes, Matt, I’ve gained weight,” Lisa said. “Did it ever occur to you there might be a reason?”
“Cheeseballs,” I said.
She stared at me and seemed to blink in slow motion. “Cheeseballs?” she repeated. “You think it’s from cheeseballs?”
She lifted her foot off my chest and knelt down, bending toward me, still staring like I was some kind of specimen in a petri dish.
I didn't move. Neither of us reached out to touch the other. It was a moment of sorrow in which we realized just how dead life can become.
She stood up, looked at me still lying on the floor and then turned, walking down the hall and into the bathroom. I heard the door close and the water go on. The sound of the shower made it hard to hear, but I’m pretty sure she was throwing up. I tried to sit up. I slid my ass over to the liquor cabinet and pulled out the bottle of Echo Spring. I cradled it in my arms, rocking back and forth. I didn’t want to stand up, so I slid and crawled, slid and crawled, out onto the fire escape again. I drank from the bottle, closing my eyes and letting the bourbon burn its way from my tongue, down my throat, across my chest and into my stomach. I lost track of time.