Waiting for the Deeze
The Deeze was late. In fact, Sonny knew the Deeze was missing. Not call-the-police missing, but missing nonetheless, maybe wandering lost on the streets of Columbus or passed out in an Ohio State dormitory or punched out in the yard of a frat house for taking a beer from their cooler. Sonny was officially worried – so much so that he stood on the porch and, like watching a tennis match, he kept turning his head left and right in hopes he’d eventually see the Deeze ambling safely down the street toward the house.
The Deeze didn’t know how to defend himself – Sonny had known that since seventh grade when Sonny had to yank the Deeze away by his shirt collar from Braxton Conner before Braxton could hit him again. Then Sonny beat up Braxton while the Deeze and the other kids watched. These days, the Deeze was maybe 120 pounds with arms so skinny that Sonny wondered if the Deeze had ever done a pushup.
It was Saturday, and they always partied. Sonny had been drinking Rolling Rocks since 2 P.M., and turning his head left and right forced him to rest a hand on the porch railing to steady himself, the old paint peeling off in his palm. He kept, however, a back part of his brain sober. Logic was housed there, protected by a stone fortress whose walls resisted the sledgehammer blows of each new beer. The part of his brain inside the fortress reminded him he had a twenty-dollar bill in the back pocket of his jeans – part of the leftover grocery money his dad sent him each month. That part of his brain always cautioned him to use a condom and not to drive drunk. It even chided him for being totally wasted at 6 P.M., for procrastinating on writing that econ paper due Monday. Inside those walls he realized the Deeze was lost, maybe hurt. That part of his brain asked, Shouldn’t we look for him?
Sonny gulped his Rolling Rock. They’d bought four cases because there were four of them—that is, if the Deeze showed up—and because that’s what you did in college: You went to class, took notes, maybe you studied, but on the weekend you spent the money your parents sent you and you partied with your friends.
Sonny stretched his neck and looked left but only saw cars parked against the curb on both sides with tree branches arched over them, the sky muddled with clouds on this warm September evening, making the daylight escape faster than it should. The Deeze should have been here by now. Something is fucking wrong.
Sonny wasn’t alone on the porch. Two pretty high-school girls dressed in tight jeans leaned against the gray porch railing, their backs to the street, sharing the joint Jack had given the one whose tits pushed against the fabric of her emerald green tank top. Sonny didn’t trust these girls because they giggled too much and smoked the guys’ pot like they paid for it.
Jack had invited tank top, and she brought her friend. He had met them at a Ted Nugent concert two weeks ago, an event that kicked off the 1973 school year. In his story to the guys later, he had made out with tank top behind a dormitory, gave her the Chittenden address, and told her about the party. He’d given her the first joint when they’d arrived and suggested she use their phone to call more of her friends.
A heavy hand slapped Sonny’s back, jolting him to post his hand again on the porch railing. “Still no Deeze, huh?” Jack stood next to him and glanced down Chittenden Avenue.
Sonny shook his head, making his brain bang against his skull, like an ice cube might in a glass of water. “Maybe we should look for him,” Sonny offered, although the part of his brain inside the fortress realized immediately that searching for the Deeze was illogical. The Deeze was hitchhiking to Columbus from the University of Dayton. Where should they look? Sonny looked up to check Jack’s face and wondered if Jack was also worried. He had to look up because Jack towered over the 5’ 10” Sonny. Jack was like six foot and a bunch of inches, a guy so tall the jocks on the street kept inviting him to play on their intramural basketball teams.
Jack threw back his hippie hair and drained his can of Rolling Rock. He tossed the empty can over the railing onto the lawn and peered down the street. “Look where, dude?”
Sonny shrugged and finished his beer.
“Another?” Jack asked. But he didn’t wait for Sonny to respond. Jack turned and then, noticing the girls—more specifically, the joint they were passing between them—asked, “Any left?”
Chinese tattoo snickered. “Not much. Got any more?”
Jack nodded and went into the noisy house.
With the Deeze absent, Crawford took charge of the music inside the aging house. Crawford majored in architecture and told the guys he figured the house – with its narrow staircase, dingy wallpaper, and smallish kitchen – had been built in the 1940s, about thirty years ago. The stains on the walls screamed stories about the parties previous OSU students threw there. Party hearty, the walls told Sonny. We did.
The night was warm, and the four of them loved Zeppelin. On other days, Crawford usually played jazzy music even though no one else liked it.
After he came back with two Rolling Rocks, Jack handed one to Sonny and popped open his own, an unlit joint dangling between his lips. Jack carefully set the joint on the porch railing, ran a hand through his long hair, and exhaled heavily. “The Deeze’ll show up,” he said. “Stop worrying.”
Sonny kept his own hair cut short, a habit from his high school wrestling days. “I don’t know, man. He said he’d be here by two, didn’t he?”
Jack chuckled. “What do you want to do? Wander around Columbus looking for him?” He drank again.
Sonny lifted his can to his lips and the cold, harsh liquid plopped into his stomach. Then he turned to Jack. “He said he was coming.” The sober voice inside his head instructed Sonny to remind Jack of this fact.
Jack took the joint out of his mouth. “He’ll show up. Maybe he had trouble catching a ride.”
Sonny didn’t want to—afraid he’d miss the Deeze stumbling down the sidewalk—but he took his eyes off the street to stare at Jack, his best friend, a psychology major who always had the right answers. “Remember that party when he left and didn’t come back?”
Like a father consoling his kid, Jack patted Sonny’s shoulder and even used a dad’s voice. “Dude, he left with that girl.”
Tank top came over and eyed the joint pinched between Jack’s fingers. “You gonna light that up?”
Reminded about the joint, Jack grinned, raised it to his lips, and lit it. The smoke curled around his angular face as the girl watched him, her hand casually extended up, waiting her turn. Sonny glanced at her chest and the black bra straps that peeked out from her tank top. He looked away when she caught him staring, but she smiled at him, her eyes dancing a little. Green eyes. No wonder she wore an emerald tank top.
They all watched as Jack took another hit and then offered the joint to tank top, who took it gleefully and sucked in the smoke. “Hey, Lexie, c’mon,” the red-haired one pleaded, dangling her hand near the joint. “My turn.” Lexie handed it to her and swiveled her head to grin mischievously at Sonny.
After inhaling twice, Chinese tattoo dutifully continued the circuit and passed the joint to Jack who inhaled once and then offered it to Sonny who almost reached for it. Dope would bring chaos, he reasoned Sonny shook his head. The Deeze didn’t smoke dope either.
Jack strode back into the house but let the front door stay open. Sonny put his thoughts about the Deeze, missing or just late, on hold, like the paper he had to write and the clothes that needed washing and the job he had to get after college. I’m like my parents. I live in a house. I go grocery shopping. I do laundry.
The girls were talking now about David Cassidy – how he was cute but a lousy actor. Tank top caught Sonny staring again and raised the joint in a teasing way. “It’s almost done. C’mon, have some,” she said, lifting the joint to Sonny’s face. She grinned, rocking her head a little, her green eyes flickering against the glow from the streetlights. She was cute. Real cute with white teeth, milky skin, and straight black hair like from a shampoo commercial.
The voice inside the fortress advised Sonny to be careful, to look for the Deeze, but tank top’s smile and her tits jammed the signal from his brain to his hand. He reached for the joint, smoked the last of it, and threw the fluttery remains onto the bushes in front of the porch.
The high-school girls giggled when Sonny moved to the front door. He could feel their eyes on him, maybe evaluating his black jeans. He remembered the twenty and checked his back pocket to be sure it was still there, an act that prompted one of the girls to give a singsong hum. For some reason, Sonny wiped his feet on a mat that wasn’t there before stepping into the house.
In the sparse living room—an old couch Jack’s mom had given them, an armchair they found on the curb on trash day, a tall lamp behind a television in the corner—Crawford, another roommate, hunched over the stereo, studying album covers. Of the four of them, Crawford was the heaviest, his belly dipping over his jeans, his red XL OSU t-shirt tight around his middle. Other students, friends of Crawford—probably from his photography class the way they talked about the pictures on the album covers—hovered around him and suggested what to play next.
Sonny nudged Crawford with an elbow. “Play Frampton, Crawdad.”
Crawford nodded. He remembered. Frampton was the Deeze’s favorite. “Still no Deezer, huh?”
Sonny glanced at the door. “No, dude. I’m worried. The Deeze could be in trouble.”
Crawford laughed. “We’re all in trouble.”
The four of them had known each other since middle school – health class where they viewed illustrations of the male and female reproductive organs, groaned through lectures on sexually transmitted diseases, and watched films designed to horrify seventh graders about what gonorrhea and syphilis could do to a woman’s mouth and a man’s penis. And later after school, Jack showed them pictures of naked women from a Hustler magazine, which made them forget about gonorrhea and syphilis and STDs.
“Deezer will show up.” Crawford smiled at Sonny, who on cue checked the door.
Sonny frowned. Frampton’s guitar and voice filled the room. “Wouldn’t he have called?”
Crawford shrugged. “Maybe he called when we were out getting the beer.”
Reminded about the Deeze, Sonny felt guilty for abandoning his post on the porch. He hustled out and studied the street. The Deeze had never been this late before. He’d wandered away at times – once down Chittenden into a neighbor’s backyard looking for firewood and another time he staggered alone over to High Street to get a sub.
He finished the Rolling Rock and tossed the empty can over the porch. He looked both ways for the Deeze but doing that forced him to place bothhands on the railing as if he was on the deck of a lurching ship.
Beer and milk were in the refrigerator. Breakfast tomorrow would be corn flakes and milk—like they were children the morning after a sleepover. Plus, the world was safe—Gerald Ford was President. Mark Spitz had won seven Gold Medals in the Olympics. OSU’s football team was undefeated.
Lexie rocked her head, her eyes dancing again. “Want to go upstairs?” She flicked her cigarette away.
The voice waved its arms in warning. “Aren’t you Jack’s girl?”
“Jack?” she scoffed. “Who’s Jack?”
He took her to his bedroom. A horn sounded inside the fortress, blocking the calm voice he’d heard before. They’d graduate in eight months. Probably leave Columbus. Start careers. Sonny wanted to work on Wall Street. Sonny figured he’d have to change his name to be a stockbroker. Who invests with someone with a kid’s name?
In his room, they undressed. To Sonny, this did not feel like real life because real life couldn’t feel this good. Real life was hard. In real life, you took notes, you studied, you got a diploma, you interviewed for a job, you bought a sedan, you had to measure up. His high-school English teacher, Mr. Sawyer, had warned Sonny and his classmates they wouldn’t amount to much if they didn’t study and write good sentences.
But Sonny's sloppy explosion at the end convinced him he had not been dreaming. This was real life, too.
Glancing out his bedroom window, Sonny tried to see the moon but the clouds were too thick. The pavement on Chittenden Avenue looked warm and smooth, and across the street, graveyard shadows edged over the rooftops of the houses. Aerosmith played now on the stereo downstairs – “Dream On” – the music cutting into the dusky night, making Sonny remember that the Deeze was still missing. Where is the guy?
Tank top left the room first, leaving the door open, and Sonny had to sit on his bed for a moment, a wave of dizziness washing over him. Or is it guilt? A police siren blared in the distance. A toilet flushed down the hall.
Then downstairs Sonny pulled another Rolling Rock from the fridge. Half of the Deeze’s beers were missing now, and he felt guilty about that, too. Sonny’s stomach protested but he drank anyway, feeling the liquid make its journey to his gut, and he imagined it flowing into his bloodstream and easing its way up and over the fortress walls. The voice shook its head in disappointment at him as it drowned. He checked the living room for the Deeze but only saw bodies shoulder to shoulder and heard voices sliding from one conversation to the next.
Sonny guzzled his beer and shouldered his way through the crowd back to the porch. Outside, he felt like he was floating and checked his feet to see if he still wore shoes. His face was numb. The beer had no taste, his tongue swishing at it before it hit his throat. The high-school girls were gone, and Sonny felt strangely shameful about that. A couple of minutes later he threw his empty can toward the street. “Bye, beer can.” Then: “Deezer!”
“Dude, why are you yelling?” Suddenly Jack was there, making Sonny stiffen and look away.
“I dunno.” Sonny thought for a moment. He remembered. “The Deeze.”
“Obviously no Deezer, huh?” Jack asked.
Sonny shook his head, embarrassed, wondering if Jack had talked to tank top, if he was upset. “We need a dog to track down the Deeze,” Sonny declared.
“A dog?” Jack laughed. “That’s fucked up.” Jack’s eyes searched Sonny’s hands. “You need a beer?”
“A beer? Yeah, I need a beer,” Sonny said, confused now that he felt both old and young at the same time. Old because he was a senior, because of the girl, because the Deeze was late and he was worried. Young because he had that stupid first name, because of the girl, because he couldn’t help the Deeze. He peered again down Chittenden Avenue, all the way to the Catholic church at the end of the street, all Gothic and dark, like Jesus wanted to scare him.
A minute later, Jack returned with two beers. “I took these from Deezer’s case. I had to. He’ll understand.”
Sonny popped the can open. The two seniors sat on the cold, concrete front steps, hoping to see the Deeze come loping down the street and up the broken pavement of the walkway, full of smiles and apologies for being late. Sonny turned the can vertical over his mouth and let the cold beverage roll down his throat. Then he set the near empty can on the step and concluded he needed to concentrate, to get off autopilot, to rebuild the fortress walls.
Jack reached into his shirt pocket. “Another joint? It’s Milky Way grass.”
Sonny nodded. “Yeah, light it up.”
Frampton was playing again. Someone booed. Sonny checked the street. What time did the Deeze say he would show up? What time is it now?
Sonny remembered the time in that High Street bar when the Deeze had spilled his beer on a hulking kid in an OSU letter jacket, the danger unclear to the Deeze who started laughing. It was Sonny who stepped between them, who made letter jacket back off. “The Deeze knew to come today, didn’t he?”
Jack lit the joint, then paused. “Sonny, you know the Deeze . . .” He inhaled. “He’s a flake.”
Sonny looked at the scars on his knuckles as he reached for the Milky Way. “Yeah, he is.”