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  • 39. On the Weekends Sometimes

    By Ben Greenman

    We’ve recently welcomed a host of new authors to Harper Perennial, whom we’ll feature here in coming weeks. The first is Ben Greenman, the endlessly inventive author of Please Step Back, Superbad, and Superworse. Ben’s new collection, What He’s Poised to Do, is coming next summer—but meantime enjoy this new story, which showcases his uncanny talent for persuading the wistful to dance with the wry.

    He was Boyd.

    He worked in hospital administration.

    He played hockey on the weekends sometimes.

    He was twenty-nine.

    Each summer he took a trip.

    One year he went to Cyprus, where, by coincidence, a friend of a friend was getting married.

    Boyd did not attend the wedding though he did drink with his friend Panos and the groom whose name was Eugene.

    “Eugene,” Boyd said. “That’s an old-fashioned name.”

    “Boyd is, too,” Panos said.

    “Panos isn’t,” Boyd said.

    The air was not thick with wit.


    Panos was rich.

    He was an heir.

    He managed some of his family’s companies.

    He was also a musician.

    His band was called Wracked.

    Wracked had recorded a CD called The Ideology of Evil and a song called “Illegitimis Non Carborundum” that seemed funny to Panos, who had studied Latin at college.

    Panos had a wife named Annie who could not attend the wedding in Cyprus because her mother was ailing.

    The first time that Boyd met Annie, he knew how he felt about her.
    Boyd was in love with Annie.


    The wedding was uneventful, according to Panos.

    Eugene kissed his wife, Marina, passionately.

    Panos made time with a girl named Helene.

    “We didn’t go out back and screw or anything,” he told Boyd.

    “Screw” was far dirtier than other words he could have used, for reasons that Boyd could not pinpoint.

    Boyd flew back by himself to New York, where he had dinner with Annie and talked about Panos, who was still in Cyprus, hiking.

    Boyd drank too much, as he often did, and teetered on the brink of telling Annie that he loved her, as always.

    Instead he became cocksure and belligerent. “Cyprus,” he said. “Is that an island or a tree?”

    “You’ll come for dinner,” said Annie, who was charmed. “You should bring a date, though. You never bring a girl.”

    “I’m a bad collector,” Boyd said. “Better at pinning specimens.”

    Annie, still charmed, laughed.


    Boyd drank with Panos when Panos returned.

    They sat at a bar and Boyd downed four vodkas and teetered, once again, on the brink of confessing his love for Annie.

    Instead he began to talk about a comedian he had met named Bill Ball.

    “This isn’t just a fake comedian I’m making up,” he said to Panos, though Panos had suggested no such thing. “This is a real guy.”

    “I have seen a movie of his,” Panos said.

    “He grew up in Gary with his grandmother,” Boyd said. “Gary, Indiana, I mean. Not a guy named Gary.”

    “I’ll bet he uses that joke in his act.”

    “He got in trouble all the time with the police when he was young but then he got it under control.”

    Boyd had more to say about Bill Ball but he had lost his momentum.

    “Hey,” Panos said, “I saw that girl Helene again when I was in Cyprus. The one from the wedding.”

    “Did you screw her?”

    “A gentleman never tells.”

    “Right,” Boyd said. “That’s why I’m asking you.”

    “Ha,” Panos said. “Bill Ball has nothing on you.”


    Boyd went for a drink with Panos and Annie.

    Panos was not drinking.

    Annie was not either.

    Boyd was, which made it a drink.

    “We shouldn’t stay out so late,” Annie said. “Tomorrow we have to look at that sofa.”

    “And a coffin?” Panos said.

    He turned to Boyd.

    “Get it?” he said. “Because by making me go look at a sofa she is killing my manhood and, in a way, killing me?”

    “I got it,” Boyd said. “Hilarious.”

    “Did you get it?” Panos asked Annie.

    “No,” she said. “I didn’t bother.”

    “I’m no match for you,” Panos said. “That’s my philosophy.”

    “You don’t have a philosophy,” Annie said. “You’re an opportuinist, pure and simple.”

    “And that’s not a philosophy?”

    “It’s not if you’re willing to change it on the spot to gain a possible advantage.”

    “Should I go?” Boyd said, jokingly.

    “Take him with you,” Annie said.

    “Tonight I’m going to lay awake in bed replaying this conversation over and over again in my head, thinking of how great it was,” Panos said.

    He kissed Annie and Boyd ordered another drink.


    The next time, Boyd promised himself that he wouldn’t drink.

    The next time was at a nightclub.

    Wracked was playing.

    Panos owned the nightclub, or at least the man who did owed his family enough money that he acted like he did.

    They had packed the place by declaring it Ladies’ Night, which meant free drinks for women.

    “You should have brought Annie,” Boyd said.

    “Why?” Panos said.

    “She could have gotten us free drinks.”

    “How many do you want?” he said, crooking a finger at a waitress. “Kelly will set you up. I’m due onstage.”

    Kelly set Boyd up.

    Wracked’s set was short; they played “Illegitimis Non Carborundum,” “A Lot of Little Touches,” “Mammon, Don’t Treat Your Daughter Mean,” and “Nietzsche and Costello.”

    The last song was Panos’s favorite, and he performed it in every set.

    “You cannot fill a hole,” Panos sang, “no matter how you try, and all that fills the hole is you after you die.”

    A woman down the bar from Boyd was smiling at him.

    She was wearing a green minidress.

    Boyd slid away from her.

    “One more song,” Panos said. “It’s called ‘Plantation Day.’ This one goes out to Bill Ball.” He hoisted his beer bottle in Boyd’s direction.

    Later Boyd saw Panos talking to the woman in the green minidress.

    He kept patting her arm.

    Boyd approached them and introduced himself.

    “I thought you already played ‘A Lot of Little Touches,’” Boyd said.

    Panos lowered his eyebrows.

    “I’m leaving,” Boyd said quickly. “You coming?”

    “No,” Panos said. “I’m going to hang.”

    “Enjoy,” Boyd said.


    Boyd returned a book to Annie and Panos.

    He had borrowed the book months before, and returning it never crossed his mind until he remembered that Panos went to the gym every Sunday morning to practice Sikaran.

    Annie brightened to see Boyd when she came to the door.

    She took the book and turned it over in her hands.

    “Can you believe there was a time when these things were considered valuable?” she said.

    “Civilization was so primitive,” Boyd said.

    “It makes me embarrassed just thinking about it,” she said. “I’m going to turn on the TV just to get back to reality.”

    She turned it to a channel that was showing an old movie.

    She turned down the volume until it was only a murmur.

    On the screen, a beautiful woman in a gown was energetically explaining something to a young man in shirtsleeves.

    Boyd suddenly felt sad that he had worn a long-sleeved shirt.

    “Sorry I missed you at Wracked,” Boyd said.

    “Panos was mad I didn’t go,” Annie said. “But I could swear he told me it was going to be a different night, and I had work. How was it?”

    Boyd made a show of looking around to make sure there was no one else in the room. “Amateurish,” he said.

    Annie laughed. “Spoken like a true friend.”

    “I’m telling you the truth. That’s what friends do.”

    “I know,” she said. “I’ve seen the band. I commend you on your honesty.”

    “How’s your mother doing?” Boyd said.

    Annie smiled sadly.

    “She’s not doing better, but she’s not doing worse, which I get is something.”

    She put the book back on the shelf.

    “You know how you said friends tell the truth?” Annie said.

    “Of course,” Boyce said. “I just said it.”

    “Can I tell you something then?” she said without turning around.

    “Of course.” His heart beat idiotically.

    “Get a girlfriend. Please. There are so many women I know who would kill to date someone like you.”

    “I will.”

    “What about now?”

    “I’m seeing a woman from work a little bit.”

    “Office things are always nightmares,” Annie said.

    Annie and Panos had met at the office, in a way.

    Annie had been working as a paralegal for one of the family businesses.

    After their second date, Annie had told Panos that she didn’t feel comfortable working for his family.

    Panos had told her that she didn’t need to work at all.

    “What’s her name?” Annie asked Boyd.


    “The woman in your office.”

    “Jessica,” Boyd said, which was the name of the actress on the TV.

    “Oh,” Annie said. “Good. That’s great.”

    He didn’t like her tone, which meant he loved it.

    He rushed to reassure her.

    “It’s nothing serious.”

    “But someone to have brunch with on Sundays: that matters.” She looked at the clock. “Speaking of which, I should get ready. Panos will be back from the gym in about a half-hour.”


    “Also, you have to come to dinner this week. I want to ask you some questions about how Panos and I should do our week in Spain. I want to go to Barcelona but he keeps saying Madrid.”

    Boyd walked to the doorway, opened it, and turned back to Annie, who was standing right next to the television screen, on which the actress was now kissing the young man in shirtsleeves.


    There was a woman at work.

    Her name was Kathy.

    She looked vaguely like the actress in the movie that had been playing on Annie’s television.

    She was beautiful except for the space between her eyes, where something went a little haywire.

    He couldn’t put his finger on it but it made him anxious.

    Kathy was recently divorced and had a four-year-old daughter.

    She liked Boyd and told him so, often.

    “We should go out,” she liked to say, “because we’d make a handsome couple.”

    He had no intention of going out with her, but the more he thought about Annie, the angrier it made him, and he didn’t know what else to do.

    He took Kathy for a drink and they ended up pressed against the door of her apartment while she fumbled with his belt buckle and released a string of profanities that he wished he found even faintly exciting.

    In the morning her daughter wandered into the bedroom and said hello to Boyd.

    Her name was Annie.

    Boyd was out of there before breakfast.


    Panos was taking a business trip to Chicago.

    He had Boyd drive him to the airport.

    “Usually when I make this drive it’s to go somewhere myself,” Boyd said. “This is the first time I have dropped someone off in years.”

    “Come with me, then,” Panos said. “The whole business part takes about twenty minutes, and then it’s on to steak, whiskey, cigars.”

    “You want me to just park my car and buy a plane ticket?”

    “Why not? Nothing’s keeping you here.”

    “Actually, I’m supposed to go out with Jessica tomorrow night.”

    “Who’s Jessica?”

    “A woman from work I’m seeing.”

    “Look who’s going to get lucky Saturday night.”

    The inside of the car was silent for a while.

    “Where are you going on your date?” Panos said. “Fancy dinner?”

    “Probably just a movie.”

    “What movie?”

    Boyd named a comedy that he saw on a passing billboard.

    “I saw the previews for that,” Panos said. “It looks bad. They probably won’t even make a sequel.”


    Boyd was drinking.

    It was Saturday night.

    He wheeled out of a bar and thought that maybe he would go see the movie after all.

    He saw Annie sitting alone is a coffee shop.

    His hand was halfway to the door handle when he remembered Jessica.

    He took out his phone and laughed and smiled into it until he was sure that Annie had seen him.

    The movie was manic to the point of bleakness, and Boyd didn’t stay all the way through.

    When he got home, there was a message from Annie inviting him to dinner the following Sunday.

    “Panos gets back Tuesday,” she said. “In fact, he told me he’s going straight from the airport to work, and then he’s having a drink with you. Tell him I said hi.”


    Chicago was uneventful, according to Panos.

    The man he was meeting had agreed to sell his company without much resistance.

    Panos had stayed at his favorite hotel.

    He said that he had known Laura, one of the bartenders there, longer than he had known Annie.

    “Not that there’s any comparison,” he said. “Laura is a god-damned amazon. You should see that girl when she’s getting out of the shower. My pants were still on, and I was so hard I couldn’t even stand up.”

    “That wasn’t how I thought you were going to go with that,” Boyd said.

    “I’m just saying—some people have these bodies that are immune to time,” Panos said. “That makes me curious.”

    “And you have to indulge that curiosity?”

    “Have to? Probably not. But things happen when they happen, and I’m not going to worry about them.”

    “And you’re not worried people might find out?”

    “People? You mean Annie? Don’t let the bastards grind you down. And anyway, what will happen to me if she finds out? I don’t believe in capital punishment.”

    “But you do believe in capital punishment,” Boyd said.

    Panos chewed this over.


    Boyd was at work, looking at the wall above his desk.

    Kathy had been calling him over the course of the morning.

    She didn’t leave voice mail but he could see that it was her from the tiny screen on his telephone.

    Before lunch he screwed up his courage and went over to her desk.

    “How’s everything?” he said.

    “Annie’s with her father this weekend,” Kathy said. “I was thinking about renting a bunch of movies and buying some weed and staying in.”

    “Oh,” he said, holding out hope that he hadn’t been extended an invitation.

    “You want to swing by?”

    “Okay,” he said.

    He arrived at her house at nine with a six-pack of beer, which he proceeded to drink while Kathy smoked a series of joints.

    The movie was a comedy he couldn’t quite follow.

    He was preoccupied with the fact that Kathy kept trying to kiss his neck and his chest.

    Near the end, she unbuttoned his pants, slid down, and took him in her mouth.

    The scene on TV was some kind of argument.

    The main character had hailed a cab to take him to the airport, and the cabdriver had gone to the wrong airport.

    The cabdriver was Bill Ball.

    “Hey,” Boyd said. “I know that guy.”

    “Shh,” Kathy said, lifting her head.

    He tried not to look at the space between her eyes.


    The next day they had brunch together and then Boyd told Kathy that he had to get home because he was having dinner with friends.

    “What does one have to do with the other?” she said.

    “I guess what I’m saying is that I need to wind down,” he said. “I’m going to sit on my couch and in bed replaying last night over and over again in my head, thinking of how great it was.”

    “That’s sweet,” she said. “And maybe I’ll meet your friends one of these days.”

    “Maybe,” he said. “The woman in the couple is very hard to get along with. Women I’m seeing never like her, so I wait as long as I can before subjecting them to her.”

    He went home and put on The Ideology of Evil.

    The second song was “Nietzsche and Costello.”

    “You cannot fill a hole,” Panos sang, “no matter how you try, and all that fills the hole is you after you die.”

    Boyd wondered if this counted as a philosophy.


    Panos was late to dinner.

    Boyd and Annie waited.

    Boyd was on his second drink.

    “Jessica was going to come,” Boyd said. “She had to work late.”

    “Sounds like it’s getting serious.”

    “It’s not,” Boyd said.

    “But I’m sure she wants it to.”

    “I’m not picking up those signals.”

    “Or sending them, I bet.”

    “I’m just going through it at a normal rate,” Boyd said. “Things happen when they happen, and I’m not going to worry about them.”

    Panos arrived.

    He was in a bad mood because the Chicago deal had hit a hitch.

    “I might have to fly back there tomorrow,” he said.

    “Really?” Annie said.

    Panos didn’t like her tone.

    “Oh, you’re right,” he said. “I won’t go and we won’t make any money and you won’t be able to buy your fancy sofa or wear your designer clothes or take a trip to Madrid.”

    “Barcelona,” Annie said.

    “Whatever. Either way, you’re still spoiled.”

    “Hey,” Boyd said.

    He hadn’t meant to say it.

    “What?” Panos said.

    “Nothing,” Boyd said.

    “No, dive right in and help her out,” Panos said. “But be careful—she’s so shallow you might break your neck.”

    “You should use that joke in your act,” Boyd said.

    “Wracked?” Panos said. “That reminds me, I need to practice guitar.”

    He laughed and kissed Annie and Boyd poured himself another drink.

    “You’re not cold in that shirt?” Panos said.

    “Not really,” Boyd said.

    “Okay,” Annie said after a little while. “I’m going to go.”

    “Where?” Panos said.

    “For a walk, and then I’m going to have a beer in the bar on the corner. I have lost my appetite for this place.”

    Boyd looked at Panos, who seemed relaxed by the news.

    “Stay out as long as you like,” he said. “Like I said, I need to practice.”

    “I’ll come, too,” Boyd said. “I could use a drink.”

    Panos lowered his eyebrows and Boyd braced himself.

    Panos laughed and said, “Enjoy.”

    They left him there to hang.


    © by Ben Greenman. Used by permission of the author.

    For the love of Marvin Gaye, I implore you to buy Ben’s Please Step Back, the finest novel about soul music ever written.

    While you’re at it, check out Ben’s other books, nicely collected at his site.

    For those who like a little celebrity video fun, catch Ben’s cameo in this little video, from the comic musical of his own devise:

    And wish him a happy birthday—it’s September 28!

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