The End of the Centuryby Lis Anna-Langston
Stuart was my favorite roommate. Once he discovered gin our apartment was a revolving door of busted romantic encounters. It was the summer of 1999. Stuart's band was on hiatus. Rumors of a breakup persisted. Prince played nonstop on every station. This was during the brown rice, miso, P.J. Harvey phase of my life. The phase where I started eating nut butter and organic rice cakes. I'd decided chasing guys, swilling tequila and staying out all night were not good hobbies. I turned my attention to a search for meaning. As luck would have it there was a school for enlightenment in Central Florida. Because pretension knows no limits, the school was built in the style of a fancy grownup tree house and desperately overpriced. I signed up immediately. Stuart had an adventurous spirit and saw this as an opportunity to expand his social life. On evenings when I didn't have to work part time at VideoXpress I meditated to the deep, wholesome sounds of Deepak's voice and Stuart borrowed my car to go to the gay bar. That's how he found Floyd.
Floyd was a mess. He’d spent the last five years living with an ex-Menudo band member on South Beach. Ex-Menudo was a lush. So was Floyd. Originally from Indiana he'd spent the last few years slung up in a South Beach condo listening to his lover, ex-Menudo, swearing in Spanish parading around in hot, pink, satin daisy dukes, crying on the cordless phone because he couldn’t get his manager to book him any gigs. Proof that boy bands destroy lives. Floyd told me and Stuart everything about his former life, right down to the size of Ex-Menudo’s cock which impressed me tremendously but not Stuart because in conversations where size matters you don’t want to be the competition. Floyd was nice in an aw-shucks-corn-field-homegrown-pass-the-strawberry-jam kind of way. That is to say, when he didn’t talk and I stared at his broad-shouldered, dirty-blonde, sapphire baby blues, he was mercilessly hot. When I found him in the kitchen rummaging through my hippie provisions I explained the health benefits of probiotics and bee pollen instead of rolling my eyes and locking myself in my room.
“My ex was a health food nut, too,” Floyd informed.
I liked ex-Menudo even though he added Vodka to his smoothies in the morning and shaved his balls.
Three days later Floyd made a German Chocolate Cake from scratch with honey and whole grain flour to pander to my new hippie, crystal-clutching diet. I wanted to marry him. As it turned out, his MeMaw on his mom’s side was a baker. Stuart dragged in from B-Side Records with an armload of pre-releases and handed them out like candy. Since he’d been working constantly they decided to go out. That was fine. I had meditation and German Chocolate cake.
My Indiana Vestal Virgin. I wanted to tell him how hot he’d look driving a tractor.
The phone rang in the middle of the night. I pulled my pillow over my head and went back to sleep. The next morning I found Floyd hunched over the breakfast bar, frowning, listening to the message.
“What’s up, buttercup?” I asked casually, sprinkling bee pollen onto my fresh yogurt.
“My Ex says he’s going to throw all of my stuff onto the street if I don’t drive back this weekend and get it.”
Stuart’s lips pinched together. “Can’t he wait?”
I shrugged, standing at the entrance to B-Side Records, listening to Madonna bounce and tumble out of the speakers. “He says ex-Menudo will throw everything out the window.”
“Sheesh,” Stuart groaned. “I do not like this.”
I shrugged. “Floyd is worried about his Fatboy Slim collection.”
As usual, Stuart’s intuition was perfect. Floyd left driving a U-haul but did not return that night. Stuart paced the kitchen while I made brown rice and seaweed for my school potluck.
“Should I call?” he asked.
“He’s a grown man,” I said.
He stomped off to his room and turned on Coldplay. Loud.
The live album. Not a good sign.
Right about the time Stuart was about to have a nervous breakdown Floyd zipped into the parking lot with a truck full of prissy Little Bo Peep furniture. I was dead center in the living room poised in Downward Facing Dog when the sliding glass door opened. A glowing, bronzed Floyd smiled at my ass and said, "Now there's the money shot, Adeline."
Then he sweet-talked me into helping him upload.
“What’s with all of the glass knobs and curly cues,” I said, letting my fingers slide through the grooves of the dresser.
Floyd shrugged. "I picked it up for cheap after it was used for a set piece."
Stuart didn’t care. His Indiana honey pie was back in central Florida with us.
That was all that mattered.
I joined a Yoga Studio. The teacher was a bossy, taut bitch who treated deep breathing like a form of tyranny.
The one person we had on evening shift at VideoXpress quit. It worked out because I was on break from the school of enlightenment. They called it a fortnight of mindfulness. Floyd was tired of sitting around waiting for everyone to get off work and offered to keep me company.
I hunched over a new stack of titles waiting to be logged into the system as Floyd cracked open little airplane bottles of booze and poured them into his Pepsi can.
“Being bad can be especially good,” Floyd said, adopting a preacher tone, wandering off to browse.
Half an hour later he popped fresh popcorn, bought sodas from the machine, pulled up a chair in front of the big screen TV and popped in Terminator.
“Um, I’m only watching French New Wave.”
Floyd glanced back over his shoulder. “Whoops. Sorry, doll.”
He prowled the aisles for four minutes then returned and popped in The Professional. Okay, Luc Besson. Close enough. Around 11PM the store became a ghost town. I pulled my chair next to Floyd's and pretended to watch The Usual Suspects. But really I was sneaking glances at him, thinking how hot he’d look tossing bales of hay out of the back of a pick up.
He leaned over, whispering in my ear, “I could lock the door if you like.”
I straightened up in my chair. “Why?”
He jerked a thumb toward the clock. “Because you closed fifteen minutes ago.”
I slid back down in my chair, trying to be casual. “Oh, yeah. Okay.”
At closing I had to count down the drawer and the adult video titles in the back.
“The pornos,” I wailed.
“Three of them are missing.” Three empty cases had been stuffed back on the shelves. “I have to find these or pay for them if they come up missing on my shift.”
Floyd picked up the plain, black cases, studying each one. “Why don’t they have covers?”
“It’s not allowed. We’re not licensed or zoned to display adult entertainment. Only rent the titles.”
Floyd looked at the titles on the spines. “Okay, here,” he said, “you count down the drawer and I’ll see if I can find these.”
“Yes. Some pervert probably misplaced them,” he winked.
Ten minutes later he returned with pep in his step. “Done. I found them and put them back in the cases.”
“Yes, Adeline. Really.”
Everything was fine until Floyd borrowed my car to go grocery shopping. Stuart appeared in my doorway looking grim. “Have you noticed Floyd acting strange?”
“I’ve noticed you acting strange.”
He ignored my comment. “He’s been locking things up in a briefcase.”
“Consider this, maybe he’s just happy to have a briefcase. Before he drove back to Miami he had nothing.”
“I don’t think so. He’s humming this weird song lately. I can’t place it.”
“He is a unique and special snowflake.”
Stuart snorted and walked off. I followed him into his bedroom. Floyd was a slob. His stuff was everywhere. Stuart jerked open a file cabinet, rummaging around.
“That’s a violation of privacy,” I said, stepping closer so I could peer over his shoulder.
He turned around just so I could see him roll his eyes.
He snatched a briefcase out from behind the dresser like a stepchild, thrusting it at me with a look of no mercy. I sat down on the bed and tried several combinations. Floyd wasn’t the smartest man on the planet. “What if he has a generic combination,” I asked.
I rolled the numbers into place. 1, 2, 3.
The simplicity of it stunned me. I opened it up. It was empty except for three black VHS tapes. Stuart pushed the briefcase aside, uninterested.
I pulled it back onto my lap. All of the labels had been scratched off. “I think these are the tapes that were missing from work.”
“What? Why would Floyd steal pornos?”
“To watch,” I ventured.
That kicked him into gear. The fact that I might have to pony up a ton of cash to pay for missing videos did nothing for Stuart but the thought of competition was unbearable. He snatched the tapes out of my hand and marched into the living room. He jammed one of them into the VHS player.
A scene flashed onto the screen, flickered and adjusted. A barn, hay tossed on the ground, blue sky beyond the big wooden doors. And lo and behold, there was Floyd standing there with a shovel in his hand.
Stuart squealed. “Oh my god.”
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought Floyd would look hot on a tractor.
So, there he was glistening with sweat, top button of his jeans undone. Stuart and I waited absolutely breathless, and then the most horrible thing in the world happened.
A girl walked into the barn.
Stuart moved closer to the screen like he was seeing things. I had no idea what to do. It was like watching a train wreck. There was bad flirting, the old I’m lost routine, then clothes fell to the ground and they were doing it.
Ramming his finger against the TV screen, Stuart yelled, “That’s a girl. A girl. A girl. That cannot be a girl.”
Denial is a funny thing.
“It’s definitely a girl," I said.
Stuart reached for the rest of the tapes on the floor but I snatched them up quick.
“This has to be a fluke. Put the next one in.”
I squeezed them tight and shook my head. “These are old. Forget about them.”
“Adeline, I’m having an Aerosmith moment.”
“Shit. Hold on.” I jammed the second tape into the player. It was already queued to the middle of the tape. The scene was full stride.
“Don’t turn around,” I said quickly.
“It’s Floyd and two girls.”
“What?” Stuart spun around, gawked at the tangled, naked bodies on the screen, grabbed his head and screamed. “Why is this happening to me?”
“I told you not to look.”
“Gross. there’s two of them.”
“Yes, I mentioned that.”
The three people in the video rolled around on white, girly, Little Bo Peep furniture. I didn't have to tell Stuart his bedroom was filled with furniture from a porn set. He knew it. Together our eyes fell on the last tape in my hands.
Stuart grabbed my arm. “Get the Stoli.”
Tape number three. The horrifying mystery.
I was at the refrigerator, hand gripping the bottle of Stoli when I heard it. The look on Stuart’s face confirmed my fear. The front door slammed shut.
“Hola, I have returned with provisions,” Floyd yelled down the hall.
I wedged myself into the tiny space between the refrigerator and wall, hiding half of my body and all of the tapes.
Stuart leapt to attention. “Hi,” he screeched, cleared his throat and said much more manly, “How are you?”
Floyd stopped in the hallway. “What are you doing?”
Violating your privacy, I thought.
Stuart went in for the quick save. “We were just about to make vodka martinis.”
“Without me?” he inquired.
“I know. I’m sorry,” Stuart said, channeling his guilt.
“Well, then I came right on time. As usual.”
I felt around next to the fridge for a plastic bag to hide the tapes.
Stuart offered, “I’ll help you bring in the groceries.”
A second later I heard them walk down the hall. Once the door shut I ran full speed to their bedroom, dropped the tapes into the briefcase, slammed it shut, spun the lock, shoved the case under the bed and stood up to run.
All without knowing what was on tape number three. I turned and smacked right into the open closet door. A searing pain shot through my nostrils. I stumbled into the hall, holding my nose.
Exactly three seconds later Floyd and Stuart walked in carrying grocery bags.
Floyd glanced over at me, brow furrowed. “Are you okay, Adeline?”
“What? Me?” I said, in this high-pitched nasal voice. “Yes. Why?”
“Your cheeks are flushed, your hair is a mess and you’re holding your face.”
I pulled my hand away from my face to touch my hair.
Floyd’s jaw dropped open. “You’re bleeding.”
I reached for my nose. Stuart glared at me.
The phone rang. All three of us looked at each other. Floyd lowered his bags to the floor and walked to the phone. “Hello?”
He listened a minute, then held the receiver out for me. “It’s for you, Adeline.”
Stuart walked to his bedroom and slammed the door.
I picked up the phone and said hello. Talking made my nose burn.
“We got robbed,” my slacker boss Conner blurted loudly into the phone.
I groaned. Better him than me. “That sucks.”
“Yeah, I need you to come in.”
My whole body slumped forward. “For what?”
“Because I’ve got to go down to the police station and deal with this crap.”
Conner hung up without saying goodbye. He wasn’t really a goodbye kind of guy. I hung up the phone and turned around. Floyd was in the kitchen setting bags of groceries on the counter.
“I have to go into work,” I yelled.
“Do you want company?” Floyd yelled back.
Nick Cave's Murder Ballads blared from Stuart's bedroom. Ominous sign. Best not to leave Floyd alone.
“Yes.” I yelled back.
When I walked down the hall to get my bag of crystals and my purse, Stuart flung his door open and pulled me inside. Little speckles of blood dotted his closet door. I frantically wiped them away with my hand. Music blared from the speakers. Stuart leaned in, whispering loudly in my ear, “Did you see his screen name?”
I nodded, whispering back, “Rod Biggers.”
An attack of creepy shivers made Stuart's whole body tremble. “When you get to work, look up the name in the adult movie database.”
“Stuart,” I growled, low and intense, putting emphasis on every single letter of his name.
He flopped his head to the side, rolled his eyes and said, “Come on, Adeline.”
“You are playing with fire.”
He put his hand on his hip. “Wouldn’t you want to know?”
I lied. “No.”
“Come on, please.”
I held my ground. Finally I said, “I’ll do it for three new albums of my choice and that Trent Reznor poster where he’s wearing all black and looks like he's about to climb on top of my naked body and kiss my hot, hungry mouth."
"I thought you were practicing enlightenment."
"I gave up hot guys and booze because they were getting me nowhere. I will never give up Trent Reznor."
Stuart gripped my fingers tight and shook. I knew he was serious and as much as I wanted Trent tacked to the wall at the end of my bed watching me, I knew logging into the adult picture video database was wrong in every conceivable way.
I had to get Floyd out of there. Nick Cave would be followed by The Clash, then The Cramps and then The Gun Club. I wanted no part of that play list. I wiped blood off of my swollen nose, grabbed Floyd and left before Ship of Fools was the tune I’d have to hum.
Conner tapped a pack of cigarettes against his thigh in that totally annoying way and handed me a deposit bag.
“What’s this for?”
“You have to make the drop at closing. We can’t keep money in the store.”
“What difference does it make? We already got robbed.”
“I got robbed." He rammed his finger into his skinny chest. “Not you.”
The store smelled like popcorn. Apocalypse Now played on the big screen. All in all, it was better than whatever was blasting from the speakers at home.
Floyd looked over at me. “Tonight feels a little weird.”
The phone rang. I snatched it up. Stuart slurred, “He went to Miami to make more adult pictures, the skank.”
“I’ma watch the third tape. I saws him.”
Culture Club belted out the chorus, “I know you’ll miss me blind…” in the background.
“I’va gotta go. I found more stuffs.”
He pressed the button on the cordless phone. One short, sharp beep and he was gone.
Floyd cocked his head. “Stuart is a real drag.”
“No you don’t,” I yelled, pointing my finger in his face so quickly it actually frightened me. “You will not pick on him.”
Floyd raised an eyebrow. “That was fierce, Adeline.”
“Stop it. This is not a joke.”
He leaned forward so slowly, so purposely that I reached for the counter. “Jokes aren’t my specialty," he whispered.
His mouth was inches from mine. His breath smelled like red hots. If I’d been meditating regularly like my book on awakening inner fire had insisted, I’d be more fully prepared. Instead, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to think of something to say.
Floyd’s fingers lightly traced my cheek, up and over the fine bones of my nose. “You’ve got a black eye. It’s very sexy.”
I reached for a stack of titles to enter into the system. Instead I knocked over Floyd's diet coke. A dark stain splashed across his white tee shirt.
"Oh, god," I wailed.
Floyd stepped back and pulled the tee over his head, revealing his perfect, broad, eye-candy chest.
It made me lightheaded.
"There are some employee tunics we're supposed to wear in the back. Hold on. Let me get one."
I walked quickly around the counter. Floyd followed me to the middle of the store, stopping in front of the screen. I ran to the back and returned thirty seconds later with an ugly tunic. I handed it over and was about to make a joke when he grabbed my hand. "Just say you're sorry."
I turned. Big mistake. Scenes from Apocalypse Now flashed across his bare chest.
He slipped his hands onto my hips and I squirmed. "When was the last time you rode dirty, bareback hit it and get it?"
A breath rushed into my throat and stopped. I couldn't get enough blood to my head. I felt woozy.
The doorbell went ding dong and I jerked my head around to see one of my regulars staring right at us.
“Don’t mind me,” he said smugly. “I’ll be in the back.”
I locked eyes with Floyd. “What was that?”
“What was what, doll?”
“That. What we just did.”
“We didn’t do anything.”
I sucked in another breath. “But we...”
“Could have? Yes, but we didn’t.”
True. We did not. Okay. Find your center, Adeline. Find it fast. Deep breath.
Floyd laid his hand against my lower back. “You're always so in control. The perfect foods at the perfect time in the perfect mindset. What makes you come unglued? What do you want? What’s your naughty little secret, Adeline?”
“Everyone has one. What’s the one indiscretion you keep to yourself?”
Floyd slipped his hand down the back of my jeans and when I felt his fingers on my ass I crashed into his chest like a shipwreck. In one perfect action he lowered his lips onto mine and I melted.
You know that kiss you've always wanted?
Yeah, it was interrupted a few minutes later by the customer in the back. He walked to the counter to check out. Or more appropriately, check Floyd out, giving him the old I think I’ve seen you on a tractor somewhere look. The customer pointed at Floyd, “You look really familiar.”
"It's the tunic," Floyd said, pulling it over his head.
At exactly 1:48 AM we walked through the sliding glass door. The apartment was quiet. The soundtrack of Stuart's life had gone silent. In the middle of the living room floor, Floyd’s briefcase was wide open with the three black tapes propped up next to a handwritten note that read:
I know who you are. I saw what you did.
Cold shivers gripped my body. Floyd stopped, looking down at the spectacle. He turned and looked over his shoulder at me. “Do you know anything about this, Adeline?”
I shook my head.
Stuart did not return. I called everyone he knew. B-Side records said he’d taken a brief leave of absence because his grandmother died. Except she’d been dead for four years so he was lying. It was just me. All alone with a fresh tub of miso and lots of time to consider enlightenment. Real enlightenment. Real non-attachment. Real ways to avoid suffering.
Stuart appeared ten days before rent was due, sporting angry, unkempt patches of facial hair and his favorite Ramones t-shirt.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” he said, staring at the carpet.
“Where did he go?”
“Is he still here?”
“No. He left the night you set out the tapes."
“Did he say anything?”
I shook my head.
“Oh,” he said.
And that was that.
Stuart sulked a little more than usual, which would have been noticeable if he weren’t so given to melancholy anyway. I hated seeing him plod around listening to Sinead O’Conner sing, “There is no other Troy for me to burn…” or worse, Nothing Compares 2 U. Ugh. In a way I missed Floyd just as much. I’d been equally taken with him.
One night after a particularly grueling test on Chakras I found myself thumbing aimlessly through new releases when I saw the name. Rod Biggers. I wanted to catch a glimmer of Floyd’s dreamy eyes staring at me from the screen. Just for old times sake. Not a big deal.
At midnight I locked the doors, popped some corn and sat down for the adventures of Floyd. In the video he was a fireman, stripping out of his soot-covered uniform to save a naked woman in a plush bed with animated flames licking the curtains. Seeing Floyd naked again drove some ancient primal desire of mine to the surface. I watched the entire video, then walked to the back for more. In the next video he sported a park ranger uniform and stumbled upon a naked girl sunbathing. Next he was a Doctor checking on his very hot patient. I squealed with delight. A visual postcard. I watched him try on all kinds of identities. Carnival worker. Doctor. Gas Station Attendant. Chef. Guy next door. But my favorite one of all was the Police Officer and how he pulled off his sunglasses and leaned into the car, saying, “I’m going to have to write you a ticket for traveling so fast through my county. I like it slow and easy.”
The turn of the century loomed larger. I didn't fall in love or backpack across Europe. It was the summer I traded in dreams for fantasies. I bought a new wardrobe. Denim jackets and strappy camis. The band took a vote and got back together. On New Year's Eve, during the last night of the 20th century, I went to a local bar to see Stuart perform. The lead singer had pluerisy and his grandma had taken him to the emergency room. It was the last gig of the century and the first big gig they'd booked since getting back together. I huddled with them in a cramped back room while they agonized over what to do.
The drummer was the first to make a call. "Let Adeline do it."
"Do what?" I said.
"Sing. You know all the songs. You live with Stuart."
After half a decade of all male music making they decided to put a girl out front. I was horrified by the very thought of it.
"What?" I croaked.
Stuart stepped forward. "You're right. Let's do it. You're the one who rehearses with me at home."
He grabbed my hand and opened the door at the same time.
"But I haven't said 'yes' yet," I pleaded.
"I know you can do this Adeline. Do it for me," Stuart said so confidently that it made me misty eyed.
I didn't have a single reason why I couldn't do it. Enlightenment evaded me. I was still working part time at the video store. I owed Stuart. Even if he didn't know it, I owed him for the night that Floyd removed his tunic and made me scream.
When the blue stage light fell across my face I was stricken with fear. Trying to pull myself together I latched onto the first thought that entered my mind. I imagined taking my clothes off in front of Floyd that night. Stripping down bare. Surrendering right there in that dark video store with the front door locked. I imagined each song was one long striptease in front of Floyd and it worked. At the end of the first set we got a standing ovation.
A single bead of sweat rolled down Stuart's cheek as he glanced over at me and winked.
At the school for enlightenment my instructor Indigo Rainn liked to say, "You're only free once you surrender."
On that stage, at the end of the century, I understood that it's okay to let things happen, to lose control. That all good things in life come when least expected, when you're not owned by your expectations anymore. It all came to me in a sudden flash. In that single moment I understood Zen. Not as a far fetched religious principle but as a tool for engaging in a deeper dialogue with myself. As a tool for getting real.
We played all night, into the next morning.
It was the end of the year.
The end of the century.
The beginning of all things good.
I dropped out of the school of enlightenment and went on tour.