6.12 / October 2011


listen to this story

I once befriended a guy named Gary, a pale, skinny guy with sideburns and a quasi-bouffant hairdo, a guy who wore soccer shoes and jeans and shirts bearing the emblems of German football teams, a guy who’d been living out of his car and on the floors of apartments rented by people he’d just met, which included a girl from Nashville who wore eye shadow and boots and ragged t-shirts and smoked weed and snorted Ritalin and kept a jarful of prescription meds given to her by her father for emergencies under her sink, all of which, for some inexplicable reason, added up to the kind of person who I myself found attractive and with whom I had seen Pulp Fiction at a vintage movie house, discussing afterwards the various plotlines while drinking fancy milkshakes and finally engaging, at the doorstep of her apartment, in a polite-if somewhat awkward-kiss, the story of which I would end up telling Gary a couple of days later, over beer and cigarettes, wondering if it had been stupid to try to kiss her, or if she liked me, or if she might be persuaded to like me, a line of thinking that would cause Gary to say something like, “Um, dude, I hate to break this to you” or “there’s something you need to know,” this something being that he, Gary, had recently had sex (though he hadn’t used the word “sex” to describe what they’d done) with this same girl, not because he’d particularly liked her, but because she’d come onto him, which meant that this girl was probably not the best girl to get involved with and, truth be told, Gary had already moved out of her place, had found an apartment outside of town, a small, single room with one wall papered with a scene from the Swiss Alps, a place where Gary had lived quite comfortably until, one evening, he’d experienced an allergic reaction to a cigar he’d been smoking, a cigar that had caused Gary’s lips to swell to epic proportions, though instead of going directly to the doctor and finding a solution for these swollen and apparently quite painful lips, Gary had stayed up all night gazing into a mirror, watching his lips get bigger and bigger, staring and drooling and laughing at himself and making stupid racist jokes, jokes that he repeated to me when he called the next morning and asked me to take him to the emergency room, which I did without hesitation because I considered Gary, who liked soccer and cocaine and typewriters and J.D. Salinger’s use of dialogue and Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted, to be a good friend, even if he was also a mooch who smoked a lot if not at least half of my weed and often seemed to want to hang out only to smoke my weed and complain about how lame everybody else was, which, in my mind, somewhat regrettably, often rang true, since the famous college town where we lived was replete with hipsters and frat boys and sorority girls and lame-os who wanted to be in bands and play shows in the semi-famous venues in our town, a place that had recently been hailed the next Seattle by Rolling Stone magazine, a prediction which had failed and would continue to fail to come true, in part, I’d liked to think, because no one had discovered me or heard of my band, a band that admittedly didn’t exist and never would, since I knew no other musicians except for this one Jewish kid who played drums and loved the band Rush, and let’s face it, I didn’t know much of anybody, since, as a transfer student living off campus, mostly in a paranoid haze due to the amount of weed I smoked, I had very few social engagements and tended to only befriend kids I met in writing classes, which included the aforementioned writer girl and also a guy who liked to drink bourbon and resent people who told him that his writing sounded exactly like William Faulkner (it did) and another girl who wrote a story about a girl who, at the story’s climax, took off her clothes and walked into a fast food restaurant and, using the gun she was toting, blew a box of chicken fingers to smithereens, and then last but certainly not least there was Gary, who loved music but did not sing or play an instrument himself though he had once dressed up in an Elvis costume he’d borrowed from our creative writing professor, a man who’d not only written a novel about an Elvis impersonator but had also subsequently become an impersonator himself, as a sort of experiment upon which, thanks to the urging of his publisher, he had based a memoir, and so Gary, who already sort of looked the part of the King, what with his bouffant hairdo and sideburns, donned the costume and a pair of glasses and, cradling in his hand a lucky 8 ball he’d found on the side of the road, paid another guy who had purportedly raped a girl that Gary had gone out with a visit, a guy who, after he opened the door and found Gary, dressed as Elvis, on his stoop, had no idea what to think, could have in no way predicted that Gary would take the aforementioned 8 ball and smash in his nose, just bam, slammed the ball right into the guy’s face, then turned around as the guy crumpled and, I imagine, walked nonchalantly away, disappearing into the night, never to be seen again, which was par for the course as far as Gary was concerned, he met people and created chaos and then disappeared, leaving whoever he’d met to wonder whatever happened to that Gary guy, you know, you remember Gary and maybe the person who wondered about Gary would think, I’m gonna track him down, and in an effort to do so would enter Gary’s name into a search engine, an act that would immediately prove how impossible it would be to locate him, since Gary’s last name is quite common and therefore are more than a few people with his name in the world, and anyway this particular Gary, assuming he’s still even alive, is probably still flying, as he has been known to do, under the radar, might not even have a phone number or address (physical or otherwise), might still be sleeping on other people’s floors and mooching people’s weed, a guy who, despite his wit and charm and intelligence, might never have gotten it together, might never have ever come close to solving the mystery of who he really was, in part because-and I’m going out on a limb here-he had never been able to get a straight or satisfactory answer about where he’d come from, a fact which I personally know to be true, as he once told a story once about how, when he’d been rummaging around in the attic of his mom’s house, he’d found a death certificate with his name on it and for a second he thought that he’d died or that this certificate was a prop that had played a role in some dastardly plot he had yet to uncover, until he finally realized no, this Gary the certificate referred to wasn’t referring to him, the Gary this paper referred to was another Gary, a man who, it turned out, had been Gary’s real father, a man his mother had refused, for all these years, to speak a word about, a man who, Gary eventually discovered, had drowned in a lake during a mysterious boating accident before Gary-the young Gary-could remember, a Gary that Gary had never in all his days known and never would, a Gary that might as well have been made up, a theoretical Gary that, for all practical purposes, might be said to have never existed, who could not be tracked down, and who had been reduced to a series of letters on a piece of paper, and thus remained forever unknown.

Matthew Vollmer is the author of a story collection, FUTURE MISSIONARIES OF AMERICA, and is co-editor, with David Shields, of FAKES: AN ANTHOLOGY OF PSUEDO-INTERVIEWS, FAUX-LECTURES, QUASI-LETTERS, “FOUND” TEXTS AND OTHER FRAUDULENT ARTIFACTS, forthcoming from Norton. He teaches in the creative writing program at Virginia Tech.
6.12 / October 2011