*** continuing the serialization of Tollbooth***
click here to start at the beginning
Here in Bud Smith land, I’m gearing up for a few release parties for Tollbooth down in New Jersey where this book takes place. I’m also on my way tomorrow to the post office to mail copies of this book out to peeps who have requested signed ones. If you would like a signed one, hit me up,click here
I called Ted from a pay phone. He was my only remaining friend. “It’s been a while,” I said into the phone. “What’s new?”
Ted was at his desk at the DMV, where he worked, ate, and sometimes slept.
“Nothing,” he admitted. “Gym. Paperwork. Kelly wants to go to get passports. We’re talking about visiting Peru.”
“Peru! Holy snap! I should be doing that. I should be going to Peru.”
“Yeah, yeah—you should, really,” he said. “You’ve literally never been anywhere.”
“There’s a world beyond the prison walls of New Jersey? Do they have tollbooths out there?” I scoffed. “Sorry, I haven’t kept in too good of touch.”
“Well I haven’t either. It’s just been this career, you know. I take it so serious,” he joked. But it wasn’t a joke. I pictured him in his clean dressed pants and button up shirt. Slim, smelling good, faithful to his wife. Ted is the kind of black guy that really has a tight head of hair at all times. Manicured to the nines. I admire him for it, for most things really.
I’m a mess. Every inch of me, interior and exterior.
“Rightfully so, that you take your job so serious,” I said.
“I love being chained to this desk!” he said. “How’s that booth working out for you, dreamer?”
“You know what I realized?” I said, yanking on the metal chord of the pay phone.
“What?” he asked, in his deep voice.
“We’re both pathetic pussies.”
“Not me. Buddy, I’m on my lunch break. I don’t think I want to be belittled anymore than my desk job already belittles me.”
“No, I’m serious,” I said earnestly.
“OK, but I gotta go,” he insisted. “I only got six more minutes here for break.” I knew he was glancing at his heavy silver watch. “My Hot Pocket is getting cold.”
“Pepperoni,” he said.
“N-n-n-nice,” I laughed, “I need a favor before you hang up on me,” I pressed.
“I’m gonna give you a license plate number, Blue Ford Escort—I need you to figure out an address.”
“Oh, this again, goddamn it,” I heard him gather his paper and pen. He sighed, “alright, what’s the plate number?”
Dear Kid with Clown Head,
I came home tonight to my empty house, and all I kept thinking about was how great it was for you to come across the great divide like that. My dinner tasted sweeter than any dinner I’ve ever eaten, and it’s a fucking pepperoni Hot Pocket—so you go figure that one out! An old friend recommended it to me, and I thought, what the hey . . . so sick of tuna. But then I am so sick of a lot of things.
Don’t worry about anything. This isn’t a sinister letter or anything. You won’t even get a ticket in the mail.
Oh, I forgot to mention who I am . . . I’m the guy from the tollbooth! I don’t know how many tollbooths you fuck with, but if you think back, I was the really skinny guy with the green sweater on. I don’t know if that helps. I look like a lot of people, and I act like a lot of people, not how you conduct yourself—OUTSIDE THE BOXXX!
I noticed something tonight. The tollbooth and the downstairs bathroom in my house are the same dimensions: three and a half feet by three and a half feet. The broom closet in the house I grew up in was the same exact size, too. Coincidence? Or is this how the universe reveals itself in it’s puzzles?
When I was eleven years old I used to sneak into the broom closet to jerk off to dirty photos. Now that I have grown up, I go into my downstairs bathroom and jerk off. I have this sick fantasy about this young girl that I know I will never get, but anyway . . . my point is that I work in that same tight spot, that three and a half by three and a half square, and I feel like a stupid prisoner of my own hard-ons and do-nothingisms. Ha! Maybe I need to see a therapist instead of writing some crazy kid with a clown head a letter of confession.
You’re my hero! You’ve come out of the blue and attacked the very thing that has . . . I don’t know where this is going. I’d like to burn down the tollbooth. That’s probably my life’s ambition.
I’m not a very brave person. But look, one more thing: I RUN THE TOLL BOOTH WHENEVER I PASS IT. I get tickets in the mail, and I pay them even though I work for the fucking system. Talk about a dizzying circle. I can’t decide whether I want to be the wolf man or the milquetoast, but you got it all figured out. And this is even crazier, but I was fantasizing in my downstairs bathroom about that girl, that young chick I was telling you about, earlier. Usually I am the star of my own fantasies, and I think for most people it’s that way, right? Anyway, in this one, I was you! I was ME, don’t get me wrong, but I went right up to her, myself dressed all in clown face, and kissed her semi-violently. I remember the grease smearing, which is gross, and that shit usually doesn’t turn me on, but . . .
I found this picture of her the other day in a bathroom stall and pasted her head on this roller skate clad centerfold from a Hustler magazine. There I was, on the brink of cumming, when the phone started to ring. It just kept ringing, ringing, ringing . . .
Then, the front door opened.
“Honey, are you going to get that?”
Sarah, my wife.
“In a minute!”
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, I shot it. I shot it and it hurt. Some splattered the mirror. Wow. “Hey Jim! JIM, WHERE ARE YOU?” Sarah picked up the phone. I frantically cleaned up the cum. Then, I folded the picture, stuck it under the sink.
“JIMMMM, IT’S FOR YOU!”
And let me tell you, Mr. Clown Head, my head was spinning in so many ways. Sarah was pounding on the door, “IT’S UNCLE FRED!!”
“TELL HIM I’M NOT HOME!!”
“He can hear you saying that!”
Kid with Clownhead, let me just make one little suggestion to you: don’t get married. While you are it, don’t get your wife pregnant. Because that’s what I did, and why I have no chance of ever, ever escaping the booth.
Sarah stood in the kitchen with her untrusting eyes, taking groceries out of that paper sack while I tried to pretend away the problem and hold back my lust for Gena and my lust to go to Officetown and retrieve my order.
Then, as if to twist the knife even deeper, my Sarah rubbed her belly, feeling the bulge. She had to sit down. From the chair, she said, “Gee, Jim. It won’t be too long now.”
Ain’t that the shit.
I wasn’t always bald. It’s shameful, yes, and I am embarrassed of it now—but when I was twenty-seven, I had a king size combover. Mammoth. I was almost completely bald on the top of my head, but I grew the remaining hair on the left side of my head, and brushed it up and over the top like a tidal wave.
I’d go to see Kimmy Simmons at her salon, she’d trim my eye brows and sideburns. I wouldn’t let her mess with the top.
I’d read somewhere that the direction that people part their hair indicates how cool they are. I laughed at that idea, but still, I parted my hair the Superman way, not the Clark Kent way. Check for yourself: Clark Kent is to the right, Superman is to the left.
I had this spray glue. First, I’d spray my head, then gently, I’d place the wave of hair on the glue. When I checked the mirror, I knew I looked like shit. “At least I look better than if I was bald,” I’d say, believing it.
I was engaged to Sarah at the time. We’d been together since the eleventh grade, and never once did she mention the fact that I was losing my hair.
I loved her for that. She loved me unconditionally. For most of our time together, I did the same.
Back then, I had a baseball cap that I wore everywhere. One month I never took it off, even to bed for sex with Sarah. I never took it off. She didn’t say a word about the baseball cap, which I had personally embroidered at the mall:
There was a real sexy chick who worked at the embroidery stand. Sarah was just as hot, but that attention that she gave me just didn’t seem to mean as much as the attention I received from girls who were new, who didn’t love me with all of their hearts, who weren’t prepared to stay with me until death dragged us away.
One day at the mall, I was hanging around Embroidery Stand Jill as she made me a new baseball cap. Flirting. She touched my arm, laughed at everything I said. She pushed a button, the automatic sewing machine pummeled thread into the baseball cap. She said, “what do you do anyway?”
“I work in a toll booth on the Garden State Parkway.”
“Oh my gawd! That’s so funny!”
She wasn’t very bright, but she was staring right at me with this look in her eye. It was a look that a girl gives a guy when she is thinking about how her arms would feel wrapped around his neck, his dick sinking in, her legs squeezing his back, as he kissed her neck.
“You would look pretty good without a hat on,” she said. “You always wear a hat?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
I didn’t want to get too far into that line of conversation, so I changed the subject. There was a T-shirt with a picture of two men smiling, one old, one young. The shirt read, “Thanks for Life Dad!”
“I just lost my father to cancer,” I said. “I wish I had a shirt like that with his picture on it.”
She was quiet for a moment, trying to figure out what to say. It was then that I realized that the proposal I’d given Sarah was all concerning the legs I did not have to stand on in the world. I had lost my father as a small boy, I had just lost my mother, and needed someone to cling to.
Wouldn’t it have been impossible for her to refuse me? I supposed this was her great dilemma too, something that she was thinking about while out looking for a wedding dress with the stranger she called a sister in the barren grid of lower Manhattan.
“Hey, do you get a lunch break?” I asked Jill.
She gave me an awkward look because she knew I was gonna ask her to come to lunch with me.
“No, no lunch break, plus I’m married,” she said sourly.
The hat was done. She handed me the hat.
“You aren’t married,” I said. “Sorry for bothering you with the lunch offer. I didn’t realize you were so high above me.”
I took the hat from my head, revealing my expert comb over, “by the way, I’m not bald. I know that was what you were assuming.”
“That’s a comb over,” she said.
“No comb over,” I demanded, brushing the hair quickly with my hand, while the special hair glue held it steady. I tossed her a twenty dollar bill, didn’t wait for the change. After all, she was a pathetic liar and needed the cash more than I did, because I was bathed in my virtue of truth and all.