I'd walk close to buildings counting bricks, run my finger in the grout till it grew hot and numb. Bricks in a row, rows on a floor, multiply floors, buildings, blocks in the city. I knew there were numbers for everything— tires piled in mountains at the dump, cars on the interstate to Maine, pine needles blanketing the shoulder of the road, bubbles in my white summer spit. I dreamed of counting the galaxies of freckles on Laura MacNally, touching each one—she loves me, she loves me not—right on up her leg, my pulse beating away at the sea wall of my skin, my breath inhaling odd, exhaling even. To know certain numbers would be like standing next to God, a counting God, too busy to stop for war or famine. I'd go out under the night sky to search for Him up there: God counting, next to Orion drawing his bow. I'd seen an orthodox Jew on the subway, bobbing into the black volume in his palms, mouthing words with fury and precision, a single drop of spittle at the center of his lip catching the other lip and stretching like silk thread. At night I dreamed a constant stream of numbers shooting past my eyes so fast all I could do was whisper as they came. I'd wake up reading the red flesh of my lids, my tongue flapping like ticker tape. I come from a family of counters; my brother had 41 cavities in 20 teeth and he told everyone he met; Grandpa figured his compound daily interest in the den, at dusk, the lights turned off, the ice crackling in his bourbon; my father hunched over his desk working overtime for the insurance company, using numbers to predict when men were going to die. When I saw the tenth digit added to the giant odometer in Times Square tracking world population, I wondered what it would take for those wheels to stop and reverse. What monsoon or earthquake could fill graves faster than babies wriggled out of wombs? Those vast cemeteries in Queens— white tablets lined up like dominoes running over hills in perfect rows— which was higher, the number of the living or the dead? Was it true, what a teacher had said: get everyone in China to stand on a bucket, jump at exactly the same time and it'd knock us out of orbit? You wouldn't need everyone, just enough, the right number, and if you knew that number you could point to a skinny copper-colored kid and say You're the one, you can send us flying. That's all any child wants: to count. That's all I wanted to be, the millionth customer, the billionth burger sold, the one with the foul ball, waving for TV.
Such a Good Dancer
Desperate to be part of the night, we jerked like a bunch of spazzes to that screaming eunuch, Michael Jackson. Randi Muelbach kept remarking You're such a good dancer! drawing closer, letting me grab her saggy ass. My boogying was a sort of two-step hip gyration while holding my plastic cup of grain alcohol level. I had perfected the arm that remained still, kept it out like a bird feeder. Randi glued elbows to waist and swung forearms, hands and hips furiously. She was sweating something fierce. Her perfume was foul swamp flowers. From the futon on her floor I watched her pull her dress over her head. Fat and sadly flat-chested, legs already bluing with veins, thick knees knocked in, the way the back wheels of a Volkswagen buckle with a load. Disgusted with myself--two years in college and still a virgin--I would stick my dick in a girl and end that. As she stepped out of her underwear I said, After tonight I don't want us to ever talk again. OK? That's what I said. She looked down at me and said Sure, like it was nothing. Through the cinder block walls I could hear that whole dorm writhing on a Saturday night. Even Kim Putnam, the born again who wore only long skirts and was losing her hair, was getting banged and moaning like a wild woman. Sometimes it sounded like a crowd ooh-ing and ahh-ing at a car accident; sometimes I heard the night as one fuck xeroxed and traveling room to room like a rumor, or luck--good or bad, either way, I wriggled and fought on top of Randi Muelbach, who kept whispering in my ear Such a good dancer.