I value my sanity. And I know exactly how much it’s worth to me. One hundred and eighty dollars. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should start this story at the beginning.
I met Ken at a reggae club. I don’t particularly like reggae. I was there to pick up hippies. If you can get past the b.o. and patchouli, they’re pretty good in the sack.
Go ahead a slut shame me. It’ll just make me hornier!
But Ken wasn’t a hippie. He was a tall, African man with a magnificent set of choppers.
While we writhed on the dance floor, I frowned and refused to make eye contact. It’s the only way to get a man’s attention – act like he disgusts you.
But inside I was wondering what it would be like to be gently bitten on the shoulder.
We went out to eat. Dutch. I mean we split the check. The food was Thai.
Over dinner, Ken told me his story. He was from Kenya and his parents owned a tea plantation. He’d gone to boarding school in London and university in Berlin. Now he was in Seattle, to see something of the States.
Wait a minute… I smelled bullshit. Ken was a clerk at the Blockbuster for Christ’s sake. But what the hell, everyone has a right to reinvent themselves. I don’t lie myself. When you can spin the truth like I can, you don’t need to.
We started seeing each other two or three times a week. I won’t repeat certain crude sexual stereotypes about black men. Let’s just say, I voted for Obama.
One day, Ken asked to borrow $200. He needed it for the rent. “I don’t know, Ken. Can’t you get it from your parents? Don’t they own a tea plantation?”
I mulled it over. What did it mean if I didn’t lend Ken the money. If Ken was my boyfriend, then I was a tightwad. If Ken was some vaguely untrustworthy guy I was dating for sex, then I was a slut. Neither one sounded good. So we drove to an ATM and I gave him the cash.
We went out a few more weeks and then, well, as exotic as Ken had seemed at first, he ended up being really boring and square. We didn’t have a whole lot in common. For instance, Ken’s favorite drink was Bud Light. Mine was LSD.
I needed to get rid of Ken. I asked myself over and explained that it wasn’t him, it was me. Ken took it well. He gave me a warm hug and said he’d miss me. Sweet.
On the way out the door, I remembered the loan. “By the way, I expect you to still pay me the money you owe me.”
“Oh, of course, of course. Sit down.” Ken ushered me back onto the couch. He left the room and returned with a check for the full amount.
A few days later I got a call from the bank. The check bounced. In fact, it superbounced. Ken had written it against an account he’d closed out over a year previous.
I drove over to Ken’s house right then. I knocked on the door and, when the knob turned, I shoved the door open.
“Ken, that check you gave me bounced,” I began, affecting the calculating demeanor of a TV Mafioso. “Why would you do that, Ken? Did you think I would just forget about the money? Well, I’m not going to forget about it!”
I poked my finger hard into his chest. “When do you get paid?”
“Fridays,” Ken whimpered. Crocodile tears were streaming down his cheeks. “You can shut off the waterworks, sister,” I hissed. I actually said that to him, even though it didn’t make sense, him being the wrong gender. But I’d heard a guy say this to a woman in a bar once and I’d been waiting years to repeat it.
“Sometime over the weekend, I want you to put $20 in an envelope and drop it into the mailslot at my office. And I want you to do this every week until you pay off the $200 you owe me – and the $20 the bank charged me for your fake-ass check.”
On Monday morning Jackson was there, winking at me. But the next week, nothing. After work I drove over to Ken’s house again.
What timing! I pulled up behind another car that had a blonde at the wheel and Ken in the passenger seat. Ken noticed me in the rearview mirror. I smiled and waved.
Ken got out of the car and after the Blonde drove off, Ken sauntered over to my window.
“Hi, Ken. I’m glad to see you’ve moved on. But I’m worried about your girlfriend. Maybe I should tell her how go around ripping off poor, defenseless WHITE women.” Yes, I played the race card.
I waited another week and then decided I needed some backup. But I was new in town. I had just moved to Seattle to work for a comic book company and the only people I knew were geeky fanboys.
Thom was sympathetic and agreed to help turn up the heat on Ken. But he wasn’t very intimidating. Thom was not only your classic, 90-pound weakling, he was also somewhat effeminate.
One of his pickup techniques was to confide in a woman that he was sexually confused and needed help sorting things out. This would involve him trying out her vagina, “to see what it’s like.”
Robert, on the other hand, was six two and substantial. He was kind of big, bald guy you see at art openings wearing a black turtleneck and sipping cheap wine out of a plastic cup. Robert had the annoying habit of clearing his throat every time he spoke.
“We’re going over to Blockbuster to put the muscle on Mandingo,” explained Thom succinctly.
“Ughmmm. I don’t appreciate racial slurs,” replied Robert, “even when they’re ironic.”
“Just get your jacket,” said Thom.
“Ughmmm. All right,” said Robert. “But I’m not going to hit anyone. I’m a pacifist.”
On the drive over in the car, Robert gave us a lecture on the white man’s burden and the violent sequelae of colonialism.
“Who’s side are you on?” I fumed. “That asshole destabilized my economy!”
I entered the Blockbuster alone, found Ken, and demanded another twenty dollars. He hustled me outside to where Thom and Robert were waiting.
“Who are these guys,” snickered Ken.
“Who they are isn’t important,” I answered. “What’s important is they don’t like how you’re treating me.”
“Take it easy, Robert,” cued Thom.
“Ughmmm.” said Robert. We waited but that was all he did.
I could see I was going to have to take the lead.
“Maybe I should go back in there and tell your boss what a fucking jerk you are,” I offered.
“Okay,” I shrugged and made for the door.
“Wait a minute.” Ken took out his wallet and handed me a twenty.
When we got back into the car I asked, “Do you think that guy’s afraid of me?”
“Ughmmm. No.” said Robert.
“Yeah, I know. It’s a problem. I’m trying to make him believe I’m crazy, crazy enough to do anything to get my money back.”
“If it makes you feel better, we believe you’re crazy,” said Thom.
On Monday, Ken was still in default.
So I went to see my boss, Gary. Gary was a contradiction, a die-hard liberal and one of the meanest people I’ve ever known. This democratic socialist saved an answering machine message from an ex-girlfriend. She’s crying and begging him not to leave her. Gary would play this message at parties.
Like many despised and paranoid people, Gary was a gun nut.
“Gary, I need to borrow a gun.”
“Sure,” he shrugged. “Do you want a revolver or an automatic?”
“I’ll take the revolver. It’s classic. It really says ‘gun.’”
“What about bullets? Do you want bullets?”
Did he think I was stupid? If I killed Ken, I’d never get my money back.
That afternoon I went over to Ken’s house. In the car I mussed up my hair and rubbed spit into my eyes to make it look like I’d been crying. Then I banged on his door.
“I know you’re in there,” I yelled. “I saw you peek out the curtains.”
Ken let me in.
“I can’t take it any more, Ken.” I tried to shake uncontrollably. “The humiliation is too much. I want my money.” Then I pulled the gun out of my jacket and aimed it at his chest as I had seen numerous crazy women do in soap operas.
Then Ken reached over to the end table, opened a drawer and pulled out his own gun.
I opened my arms wide. “Go ahead and shoot me, Ken. Your ass is going back to Africa.” Then I tried a more rational approach, “Look, just give me the money, and you’ll never have to see me again,” and I turned around and left.
About a week later I tried to call Ken with the intention of threatening him with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but one of his housemates picked up. Ken had vacated the premises owing two months rent. He’d also quit his job at Blockbuster.
Now what? I called a cartoonist I knew who was a process server. We strategized. Ken might still be in Seattle. Find out if Ken submitted a change of address at the post office. Stake out Ken’s favorite bars. Keep a picture of Ken in my wallet and ask everyone I met if they’d seen Ken. Ken. Ken. Ken. Ken!
When I hung up, Robert, who’d been at his desk eavesdropping, asked, “Ughmmm. What would it be worth to you to get rid of this Ken problem?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“Would it be worth, say, $180?”
“Yes! I’m interested. What do you have in mind?”
“Ughmmm. Then why don’t you just forget about the whole thing.”
There was a tiny explosion in my brain that wasn’t an orgasm or an aneurism. It was an epiphany. Robert was right. I was driving myself crazy a 180 bucks?!?!
So I pulled out my dossier on Ken, a manila file folder labeled simply, “Fucker,” and I dropped it in the wastebasket.