That was the wonderful thing about being alive, he thought. Well, one of the wonderful things, anyway: You could always learn new things. Douglas Bishop liked that.
He also liked coffee ice cream and hashish and reruns of “I Love Lucy,” but he mostly liked becoming a wiser soul with every new sunrise.
Doug smiled broadly, grateful that Little Pete Harvey couldn’t see the grin on his face, grateful that he wouldn’t have to explain to the snarling man on the other end of the phone line why Life was amusing sometimes. Grateful that he wouldn’t have to walk him through the Essential Truth, which was: There’s no sense fighting over all the things businessmen like Pete Harvey fought about, because, when you took a brief moment to think about, all that stuff was massively, utterly, cosmically irrelevant.
We’re all just energy, Doug liked to remind himself. All of us a minute part of an immense illusion that no one could ever possibly understand. He told himself this whenever he felt tension creeping into his life; then he felt better. Tension was creeping now into his shoulders and neck, feeding, it seemed to Doug, on the fluorescent light he imagined illuminating Pete Harvey, Jr.’s windowless office, a light whose energy Doug thought flowed through the telephone, along with the sounds and silences.
He reminded himself about the whole illusion scenario. Then he took a reassuring breath. “Mr. Harvey,” Doug said sweetly, converting his voice into an aural massage, “I’ve got a story I’d like to tell you.”
Pete Harvey, Jr. was tired of stories, of all the lies and deceptions and half-truths he had to deal with on a daily basis. Dad liked to say that a well-crafted fib was the foundation upon which all successful businesses were built. Coke was originally a health tonic. And so forth. Little Pete was just so damned sick of the charade. It was like he told his wife, Sheila: All the time we spend pretending, we could be doing something fun. Like going to the Coyotes game, or something. (The Harvey family had center ice seats, four rows up, high enough for puck perspective and low enough to hear the satisfying crunch of knuckle upon jaw when Slava Richter, Phoenix’s Latvian enforcer, threw down his gloves and meted out his brand of outlaw justice.) Sheila said, “Oh, Pete!” and Pete said, “No, really. I’m serious,” and she said “I know you are, honey,” and then they didn’t talk about it anymore.
But still, Little Pete Harvey thought about it sometimes, when he wasn’t running the shop or looking at Internet pornography. He wondered why things had to be so complicated. Couldn’t people just admit they wanted to get as much money as they could from other people, money to buy things that brought you comfort and excitement? Things like Coyote season tickets, and SUVs the size of a respectable fishing craft. A nice house. Big-screen TV. Snazzy boots, possibly rattlesnake skin, or ‘gator. Wouldn’t that be so much easier than all the talking? All the pretending?
Pete Harvey, Jr. sighed. “All right, Doug,” he said, his exasperation plainly evident. “Tell me your story.”
“Well, now, it’s a parable, Mr. Harvey, sort of like a fable. But very funny.”
“Oh, come on.” Pete, Jr. rubbed his eyes.
“So two Jewish guys, Abe and Irv, are out for their morning walk, and they come upon a Catholic church with a big banner across it, says, ‘Today only: Come inside and convert to Catholicism. We pay you one hundred dollars!’ Have you heard this story, Mr. Harvey?”
“I don’t – maybe. What’s the, the, you know. The point?”
“So Abe says, ‘My God, can you believe it? How crude!’” Doug did his best to approximate an old Yiddish accent. It came out sounding vaguely Prussian. “Irv says, ‘Vot could be so bad? I’m going to see.’ So Irv marches into the church and says to the priest, ‘Fadda, vots this deal you got here?’”
“Wait, I think I have heard this,” Pete said – but not forcefully enough to get Douglas Bishop to stop.
“Priest says, ‘Ah, it’s very simple, me lad.’ Then he says a few Hail Marys and Our Fathers, splashes Irv with some holy water, and places a crisp new hundred-dollar bill in the old man’s hand. ‘There,’ he says, ‘now you’re Catholic.’ Irv goes back outside to his friend. ‘So? What happened?’ Abe asks him. ‘It vas easy,’ Irv says. ‘I did a few prayers. Got some holy water. Just like that, now I’m Catholic. And the best part is,’ he says, holding up the money, ‘I’m a hundred bucks richer!’ Abe shakes his head, real disgusted. ‘I can’t believe it!’ he says to Irv. ‘You mean to tell me you gave up a lifetime of education, centuries of tradition, all for a measly hundred bucks?’ Irv sighs. Says to Abe, ‘Is that all you people think about? Money?’”
It always took at least a second for the joke to register with smart listeners. Others, a bit longer. Doug could tell what kind of man he was dealing with based on the length of pause between the punch line and the epiphany of recognition.
Pete Harvey, Jr. was about average: three seconds. “Hah,” he said joylessly.
“Yeah!” Doug laughed.
“That’s. That’s. Yup. Pretty good.” Pete clicked on a link to “Liquid Lesbians,” and observed the large-nippled blond (the one he liked) taking a milk bath.
“So, you see?” Doug implored
“Ummm. Well. So you call me up and tell me a Jew joke. I don’t know – is that supposed to? I don’t know.”
“Well, it’s not really a Jewish joke, per se,” Doug protested.
“Well, no, not really,” Doug explained patiently. “It’s a Gentile joke, too. And a religion in general joke. And also a Jewish joke.”
“It sounded like a Jew joke,” Pete Harvey, Jr. insisted.
Douglas Bishop considered how much Theory of Comedy – one of Doug’s favorite classes at Columbia, taught by an old Borscht Belt stand-up named Myron “Mike” Finkel – Little Pete could digest, and after determining the amount would be negligible, he said, “A Jew joke is this. What does the Jewish child molester say to his victims? ‘Little goil, you vanna buy a piece of candy?’”
He waited for Mr. Harvey to get it.
“Now,” Doug continued, “the Church offering money for new converts – that’s not exactly a pure Jewish joke. That’s more of a,” Doug was going to say “amalgam” but, instead, said, “mix. That’s more of a mixed joke.”
“Ah. I see,” Pete Harvey, Jr. replied, looking and clicking at the fleshy images on his computer monitor. He felt his balls tingle, and his interest in the Slippery Rock Caves, or whatever they were called, was waning rapidly.
“I tell this humorous story, sir, to make a small point. ‘Is that all you people think about? Money?’ Well, now, that’s an interesting question, isn’t it? It’s a question I’m sure we all ask ourselves every day. I know I do. Yes, we all want to feed our families and keep a roof over our heads. And be comfortable. Absolutely. Sure. But we’re not, we’re not…We’re not wild creatures. We have feelings and sensitivities, and we’re, you know, concerned about other things. The environment. The, um, you know. Politics. Animals. Maybe, for some people, their community, their church. Art. Some people that’s a big deal. And others it’s – I’m suggesting it’s different for everyone. But the common thing, the thing that brings us all together is that, hey, guess what? It’s not all about the money. Business, business, business. And let me say, I repeat, we all want to take care of our loved ones. But there comes a point. Right?”
How utterly delicious, Pete Harvey, Jr. thought. How scrumptious. The way this girl’s soft inner lips split open so daintily, like the petals of a flower in bloom. Talk about art! He had been linked to a site called “All Vaginas.” Little Pete thought to himself: Fine, they may all feel the same. But, wow, check it out! They certainly all don’t look the same. Fascinating.
In his 39 years, Pete Harvey, Jr. had slept with three other women beside his wife Sheila. And two of those, Erica and Alicia, sorority sisters he knew at ASU, where he majored in Business Management and mostly drank and played a lot of golf, were fumbling one-night deals, consummated in the dark. He never actually got a close-up look at their labia in the daylight. The other of his conquests, a Mexican prostitute he procured during a fishing trip to Cabo San Lucas, kept herself so thickly hirsute that he couldn’t make out much detail beneath her thick black curls. Four different pussies in his life – and he could only say with confidence what one of them actually looked like.
Not that he didn’t like Sheila’s pudenda. It was fine. But still. Pete Harvey, Jr. felt unfulfilled, as though he hadn’t yet received the proper ration of vulva a life on Earth owed him.
God bless the Internet, he thought. God bless vicarious thrills.
Peter Harvey, Jr. leaned in closer to his monitor, wondering how the cyber-girl might smell down there. He was aware of Douglas Bishop’s voice in his ear, rambling on about – about something. Money and art. Or something.
Doug could feel he was losing Mr. Harvey, scion of the largest tour bus company in the state. In the next room (the other bedroom of their townhouse), Lenny was working on Desert Adventures, the second largest tour company. No doubt, Doug supposed, Lenny had everything in hand. Done deal. A good day’s work accomplished in one five-minute phone call. Lenny would want to go to the Painted Cave site, where expansion work was proceeding frantically. Or play pinball. Or see a movie. Find a strip bar. Have sushi. And Lenny could feel happy and amused doing any or all of these fun activities because he had earned it. He’d set a goal and done it, checked it off his day’s to-do list. Doug couldn’t be happy and amused. He was failing here with Pete Harvey, Jr. and Harvey’s Southwest. His man was floating away, like a fishing bobber cut loose from the line. Lenny would tell him to forget about it, to come out with him for pinball-sushi-tits. But Doug wouldn’t enjoy it. He hadn’t earned recreation.
His Dad, Jerome Bishop, whom everyone except Doug’s mom called Jerry, had taught him The Work Ethic, the Bishop Way of Doing Things. “Nobody gives you nothing in this life,” Jerry had reminded Doug throughout his childhood. “Ya gotta earn it.” Jerry took pride in the motor oil staining his denim workshirt, the scrapes on his knuckles, the musky perspiration that collected at the base of his neck and beneath his heavy chest muscles and on his well-fed belly. Thanks to extensive reading and the ministrations of a counselor at Columbia, Doug Bishop eventually figured out that his dad Jerry’s mantra was delivered out of fear.
Jerry, Doug came to realize, was afraid that his sons (Doug had a brother, Terry, three years younger) would assume that since they were in line to take over the Bishop Family Fun Center they didn’t have to try, didn’t have to “work at nothing”; they could just wait around ‘til the old man retired and stumble along in the meantime all fat and happy. So the Bishop Way of Doing Things was, in fact, Jerry’s way of begging his boys to be something other than lazy slobs dependent on the toils of their ancestors.
This was also why the Bishop boys had time cards they had to punch when they arrived and departed the Fun Center after school, even though they weren’t recognized as “employees” by the IRS or Social Security Administration.
“Mr. Harvey,” Doug said, perhaps a bit too loudly. “Look. You seem like a reasonable sort of man. A gentleman. So I’m not going to yell, or insult your intelligence. That wouldn’t be appropriate. Not – I would be ashamed – not right. Your accomplishments in this industry speak for themselves. The reputation you – you and your family, the Harvey name. It’s – I’m in awe at what you’ve managed to build here, what you’ve, you know, done for Arizona and this part of the United States of America in general. Very impressive. And so, what I’d like to say is, Mr. Harvey, we – my partner and I, Mr. Wizenberg, who I’d really like you to meet in person. Great guy. Anyway, we would just like you to know, Mr. Harvey, that we – the Painted Cave of Slippery Rock – would be honored, really truly honored, to have a relationship with Harvey’s Southwest. That’s – I can’t be any more, you know. That’s the straight. . .” Doug’s voice trailed off. He pursed his lips and stifled a sigh.
Pete Harvey, Jr. could almost taste the moisture between those pretty pink lips. Salty and sour. Real. Not like Sheila’s lemon-fresh douche taste. He felt his heart quicken. “Tell you what, because you seem like a nice kid,” Pete told Douglas Bishop, “we’ll start out at four bucks per delivered customer. We’ll see how it goes.”
Doug tried to laugh, tried to sound thoroughly amused and entertained. “Well! I’m – that wasn’t really…”
“Four bucks per head,” Pete Harvey repeated.
For a few seconds Doug Bishop did some math in his head. “Deal.”