Monroe couldn’t remember what he was supposed to ask Lia about, but he knew it was something important, important enough for him to remember that he had forgotten something.
“Damn,” he announced to her back, as she stood at his kitchen counter, slicing a lemon into perfect quarters, “this weed is strong.”
“For sure,” Lia called back.
“Definitely.” Monroe traced her silhouette with his eyes, endowing them with a special white-outliner function. Something about the slope of her shoulder, the ratio between her neck and her clavicle, spurred his inebriated memory. “Ah. Yes! Yes! Oh, yes. Got it. I got it.” He rose from his wicker rocking chair and danced over to Lia’s side.
“What?” she asked, smiling.
“Why I called you. This morning.”
She giggled. “To tell me what a whore I am!”
“Well, of course that. Hah!” They both laughed. “But no, also, in addition – man, this shit is strong. Wonderful. Really wonderful. Or is it wondrous? I’ve got to look that up…” He panicked. Monroe had lost his train of thought.
Lia had not. “Why you called me?”
He exhaled in relief. “Yes. Yes. In addition to your delightful Asian sluttiness. And by the way, just so I’m clear, so there’s no doubt – and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now more clearly, for the record. Ready? I am not in any way pissed or resentful, or jealous, or anything.”
“Monroe,” Lia said, trying to be both comforting and firm. “I know.”
“Well, a little jealous because I couldn’t be there. I mean I think it’s cool that you slept with Leader Lenny. I do! Incredibly cool. Lenny the Leader. And, I’ve got no problem with that.”
He expected her to say, That’s why I respect you, Monroe.
Instead, she said, “Did you fuck someone? Is that where this is going?”
She kept at her lemons, not looking at him. “This isn’t a contest, Monroe. Did you think you had a freebie coming to you? Did you?”
“No. No I did not. That’s not where this is going. Babe. Babe. Hey. Look at me.”
Lia looked at him, with brows upturned.
“My comments were made with a genuine intention of communicating to you how totally fine I am with what happened, and what’s happening, and what’s going to happen. And, and,” he said, “how what you did, what you and Leader Lenny did, together, was not only totally fine, it also so totally completely proves something I’ve been thinking about.”
“Which is this,” Monroe said, leaning back against the counter, facing Lia and her lemons.
“The deal is supposed to go like this: In a capitalist society, we all agree to allow the Marketplace to, you know, determine how much each individual is worth to everybody else. The more people who like you or need you, or your work, the work you do, what you produce, the better off you’ll be.”
Monroe was talking with his hands, conducting his words, dancing to the verbal rhythm. Lia was accustomed to Monroe’s rambling monologues, which were far more entertaining and sensible to him than to her or anyone else. Lia was thinking about Lenny Wizenberg. Where was he? What was he doing? Playing at The Toy Store?
He had told her about that. It turned her on – what he said went on there, and the powerful and famous men doing it. Whether it was entirely true or not didn’t matter to her. The idea of such a thing was strong enough.
“If you invent Google,” Monroe continued, “and you give every person on the planet better access to information, you’re supposed to be rewarded with far more money than, you know, like, whatever, someone who washes cars.”
“Yes?” Lia said, pretending to listen.
“Right. So if you work harder, have more charisma, a bigger tolerance for existential pain, whatever, you’re supposed to get more in return than others. That’s the deal: excel and achieve and you’ll be amply rewarded beyond what lesser achievers get.”
“Sounds fair enough,” said Lia.
“It does sound fair, doesn’t it?” Monroe said, amused.
Lia wondered what Lenny was doing right then. Was he with another woman? Probably. The thought aroused her. She felt a familiar heat between her thighs.
“So, I guess my point is…” Monroe looked intently at the kitchen light recessed in the ceiling. It was the sun of its own universe, he thought.
Lia put down the knife. “Can we listen to that – the one from the other night? That great CD?”
“The – which one? The Andes? Peruvian?”
“No, the one with the woman who sounds like a man.” Monroe’s collection of World Music was really that, a compendium of sounds from unlikely and wonderful places: Korea, Cape Verde, Indonesia. Lia seldom remembered the tunes or the names of the artists, but the sounds stuck with her. They were so clearly different than American music. She couldn’t explain why in technical terms. These recordings sounded somehow authentic to her, unprocessed.
She didn’t know where Monroe found the stuff, or how he knew about some wood flute virtuoso from Estonia or some oud master from Turkey, but she felt Monroe’s musical curiosity was one of his best qualities, one of the things she found most attractive about him. That and his weed.
“Oh, yeah,” Monroe said, nodding repeatedly. “Her. Ummm…” He held his finger up, as though her name might alight upon him like a butterfly pausing at a leaf. “Yeah. I’ll put it on. For sure.”
Monroe giggled lasciviously. “No problem.” He began to go. “By the way…” He paused and raised his finger again. “No. I’ll tell you later.”
He set out for the CD player in his stocking feet, sliding, not stepping, a stoned speed-skater navigating the shiny hallway leading to the Music Area, the home “studio” where Monroe and his friends Jobba and Flint made really bad rap recordings.
There was talk of producing a proper “demo,” but the idea was usually postponed or forgotten by the end of their session, lost in a cloud of fragrant smoke. Lia was glad, on one hand, because she found their musical creations slightly embarrassing in their amateurishness. On the other hand, she was sad that Monroe never fully realized his various ambitions, never really made it.
Before Lia met Monroe, she surrounded herself with people she considered Winners, people who achieved goals and didn’t conduct their lives as a series of barely manageable crises.
At Harvard Business, which she felt was an expensive waste of time better spent meeting powerful people, networking, connecting, doing things, making things happen, making money, Lia hadn’t considered failure a realistic outcome. People, she believed, got what they wanted, and if you really wanted something badly enough you did whatever it took to get it, whether that meant studying more, practicing more, going to the right college, whatever. Her classmates, she sensed, she knew, felt likewise. Everyone there in Cambridge composed slightly varied themes on their primary subject of reflective inquiry: How to Make It in Life. But each of them knew deep down that everything would all work out just fine. They had gotten into Harvard Biz.
Monroe was not like them. He wasn’t a valedictorian. He never won anything. His dad was pipefitter in an Alberta oil field and his mom was a Tim Horton’s manager in Edmonton. Great things were not expected of him. Staying out of jail, keeping a house of his own, not getting some girl pregnant, earning enough money to be self-sufficient and maybe have a nice thing or two, a new snowmobile perhaps or a 60” plasma, that would be accomplishment enough.
Lia wavered between resentment and envy of Monroe’s implicit license to be average. The irony (and he’d even said this himself) was that his family viewed him as some sort of minor rock star, because he lived in L.A., and he owned a convertible BMW 3-series and went to parties. They didn’t know that he grew weed, and that he was 0-4 on selling his awesome movie scripts, even with the “help” of his movie-business friends, including Ms. Planetary. They just knew he didn’t live where they did, feeling stuck.
She had lost touch with a lot of her friends from college. She read about them, as they surely read about her, and she was always aware of whose stock had risen or fallen, but Lia had come to understand, after many weddings, baby showers, and one-year-old birthday parties, that she wasn’t as interested in her fellow achievers as she was in the imperfect people in this world, the weird (wonderfully weird) characters that Monroe knew, the nu-jazz musicians and muralists and indoor farmers that were always in and out of his place, hugging and laughing and agreeing.
“Babe,” Lia called out after him.
“I love you,” she said. This was something she was working on: feel it, say it. It took some practice.
“What?” Monroe called back.
“I love you!”
“Oh,” he said. “Cool!”
Lia waited. After a few seconds, she knew Monroe wasn’t going to say anything else.
I love you. Maybe, she thought, her experience with Leonard Wizenberg had essentially been about a kind of love, about that elusive something more that she was always seeking. Maybe they weren’t merely mutual conquests. Maybe – and, really, the sex wasn’t that great, although she came, but she always did – maybe it wasn’t a sexual thing at all.
Maybe it was an emotional connection thing, or, more precisely, an emotional completion thing, the filling of the lacuna left by Monroe’s boyishness, his absence of gravity.
Maybe she had been acting out – acting out of an unceasing desire to be loved, and was that so wrong, really?
Maybe it was all becoming clear. Or maybe, and this was a distinct possibility, the bowl of Afghani Kush she had shared with Monroe was wicked strong and partially responsible (completely responsible?) for her wishful thinking.
Whatever. She was cool with it either way. Just so long as Monroe didn’t get all hurt. And, of course, so long as Monroe totally-swear-on-his-life kept his promise to never tell anyone about Lenny Wizenberg’s social club in the basement of The Toy Store.
Because that would not be cool. That would be very uncool.