, March 2021

The invitation for Colleen O’Halleran’s “Sweet 16” party—thick stock, gold wedding script, tissue paper, RSVP card, stamped return envelope, and map with directions to the Ancient Order of Hibernians banquet hall—had lain in his wastepaper basket for days, half-buried in tissues, balls of wastepaper, and Jolly Rancher wrappers, Carl having dropped it in there promptly after opening it.

He used to love her, the curly redheaded beauty who worked at the All-American Burger, but that was months ago. The first time he saw her, she’d taken his order for a quarter pounder with cheese, fries, and a vanilla milkshake, and he thought she looked cute in her uniform of red-and-white-striped polo shirt and blue pants. The next afternoon he went back and answered their faded HELP WANTED sign that was always in the window, and they hired him as a “fry station trainee”. She was a year younger than he and went to an all-girls Catholic school, so she didn’t know what a loser he was at Massapequa High School, and that his only friend, Eric, was an even bigger loser. He worked his way up from peeling and dicing the potatoes in the back to working the deep fryers up front, where he dropped baskets of raw cuts into the boiling oil for three minutes, then dumped them onto the brushed-stainless-steel surface beneath the amber heat lamps, where he would shake some salt on them and scoop them into the “large” size boxes and the “small” size bags. He worked with her on Saturday afternoons/evenings, and, when it was slow, she would come over to the fry station and talk to him, and they would eat cheeseburgers together during their breaks. She wasn’t just cute, she was funny, and nice, and he was really starting to like her, and he thought she was starting to like him. Feeling confident, he decided to ask her out the next time they would work together, on Saturday, during their cheeseburger break.

On the Thursday evening two days ahead of the big event, Carl was working the fry station when one of the other cashiers, Monica, came over—

“Guess who Colleen likes,” she said.

“Who?” Carl asked, playing it cool because he knew it was he, and was now about to hear confirmation—

“You!” she said.

Trying to contain his glee, he tried to think of a witty response, but was interrupted by Monica—

“Just kidding,” she said. “She likes Seth.”

“Wait, what—Seth? Now you’re really kidding—”

Seth was a former fry guy, now promoted to cashier. He was a total dork, tall, skinny, no sense of humor, barely said a word—

Ohhh,” Monica said. “You like her—”

“Yeah, well, maybe—”

“Don’t worry, I won’t say anything. It’ll be our little secret.”

“Uh, that’s okay, you can tell her—”

“Don’t worry, I won’t say a word, I promise!”

For the rest of the night, Monica put a finger to her lips every time she looked at him. At the end of the shift, he quit, and hadn’t been back since. But he couldn’t stop looking at the invitation in the wastepaper basket, and, finally, he picked it up and caught a whiff of her on the stationery, awakening something—

“Sure, I’ll attend,” he said, grinning. He checked the “WILL ATTEND” box and stuffed it into the return envelope, then jumped on his Centurion Accordo high-performance 12-speed road racing bike and dropped it in the mailbox up the block. He then continued on to Sunrise Mall, where he went to Jackman’s Leather Apparel for Men, a narrow shop with black walls, green neon lighting, mirrors everywhere, Pete Townshend’s “Rough Boys” on the store stereo, and, behind the counter, a man in a gladiator outfit—

“Hey, sailor,” the guy said.

“I’m looking for a leather jacket,” Carl said.

“I would love to put you in leather.”

Carl liked the ones worn by bikers and heavy metal guys, and not so much the red-and-black Michael Jackson/Eddie Murphy/crotch-rocket style.

“Is this for a special occasion?”

“Sweet sixteen party. Actually, I’m kind of crashing it.”

“Funny crashing or scary crashing?”

“Mostly to show her what she’s missing out on—”

“That would be scary crashing. Girls that age like guys who scare their parents. Assuming that other family will be there, including children and old people, and you with that sweet blond hair of yours, if you want to scare the piss out of them and walk out of there with a piece of ass, you’ll want to go with the Rob Halford.”

“The what?”

“Lead singer of Judas Priest. I met him once backstage at the Coliseum back in ’86. Hellbent for leather, and lots of other things. Lovely man…”

He spent nearly $200 on a studded leather jacket with zippers all over it, tight leather slacks with an extra-snug crotch, and a pair of extremely uncomfortable size-13 ankle-high boots with a raised heel that he was concerned looked a little too feminine, but the guy was insistent and said to trust him, so he did. Afterwards, he went to the Genovese drug store and purchased a pair of mirrored sunglasses, a birthday card for Colleen into which he would put a $10 bill, and a pack of Marlboros. On the way home, one of the Accordo’s skinny racing tires got a flat, which happened every other day on this piece-of-shit that Eric had talked him into spending $400 on, and he had to walk it the remaining two miles back to the house.

* * *

On the Saturday morning of the party, Carl patched the tube on the Accordo tire in preparation for the ride up to the banquet hall, which was up near the mall, and stashed his new purchases and several condoms in the shed, planning to change in there just before leaving so that none of his family would see him in the leather.

Later, dressed in his noisy new outfit, he put the condoms, birthday card, and cigarettes into their own zippered jacket pockets, and nearly fell when he took his first step in the heeled boots. Ready to head out, he discovered that the other tire on the Accordo was now flat, even though that one had been fine this morning and he hadn’t touched the bike the rest of the day—

He wasn’t about to try patching it in the dark, so he shoved the 12-speed back into the shed and pulled out the beat-up BMX dirt bike with plastic Queensboro Farms milk crate bungee-corded to the handlebars, which he had used for his old Newsday paper route. He pumped up the tires and set out under the yellow streetlights, but, halfway there, the right pedal broke off and went clunking onto the shoulder of Unqua Road. He managed to keep pedaling, though, using the inside of his boot to push the right crank forward, eventually making it across Sunrise Highway and the last few blocks to the banquet hall.

A light snow was falling. The parking lot was full and the party had already started—which was part of the plan, to make a grand entrance when it was underway. There was a van from the caterers, and another from DJ Mikey Mike and His Fresh Posse. He heard the muffled beat of Young MC’s “Bust a Move” playing inside. Colleen liked that song. He hid the bike behind some bushes around the side of the building, then pulled out the Marlboros, lighting one and having a coughing fit that prompted him to toss it onto the snowy grass. After recovering, he put on the mirrored shades and went inside, just as the music silenced and DJ Mikey Mike was saying, “Yo yo yo, everyone clear the dance floor so the birthday girl can share a dance with her special man, Seth…” The song was “At This Moment” by Billy Vera, the melancholy love ballad from the NBC television sitcom Family Ties, an extremely slow number in which the dance partners hardly move at all and feel an overwhelming urge to cry, as do the spectators—

He navigated a short corridor with dark green carpeting on the walls, floors, and ceiling, then entered the main hall, which was dark except for the dancers alone in the spotlight. Colleen was wearing a blue gown, her hair done up in a fancy way that Carl, having fallen in love with the girl in the All-American Burger uniform, did not care for. Seth was wearing a dark blue suit a couple of sizes too small.

No one noticed him until he emerged from the shadows onto the dance floor.

A woman screamed.

A man called out, “Hey!”

Through the giant speakers, DJ Mikey Mike exclaimed, “Yo yo yo!”

Carl approached Seth from behind and tapped him on the shoulder—

“Excuse me, sir, may I cut in?”

“What?” Seth said, confused.

“Carl, you’re here!” Colleen exclaimed. “Why are you dressed like Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay?”

Colleen’s father grabbed his arm from behind and said, “Hey, laddie, this is a private party!”

“Don’t touch the leather!” Carl exclaimed, shaking free—

“Dad, he’s invited! He’s my friend from All-American!”

“Well, girlie, I’m personally uninvitin’ him! Take a walk, ya horse’s arse!”

The children and elderly were terrified. His former All-American Burger co-workers were aghast, except Monica, who had a finger to her lips. Seth was crying.

Arms raised, Carl said, “I’m goin’, I’m goin’.” As he was walking away, he pulled the birthday card out of his jacket and flung it towards the gift table, landing it perfectly on top of the other cards—

He heard Colleen call after him, but he kept going, out of the main hall, down the carpeted corridor, to the parking lot—

It was snowing harder now. He lit a cigarette and this time didn’t cough. He hoped Colleen would come out and see him smoking and looking cool, but the music started up again inside and no one came out. After he’d flicked the butt away and was about to leave, the banquet hall door opened and out stepped a gorgeous woman with fiery red hair, wearing red high-heels and wrapped in a mink coat—

“You’re still here,” she said.

“Jessica Hahn—”

“Well, tonight I’m Colleen’s godmother,” said the Playboy centerfold and Massapequa High School Alumni, Class of ’77. “Colleen really wanted me to be here, so I flew in from L.A. at the last minute. Anyway, that was some show you put on in there—I like your style, kid, and those boots are adorable!”

“Uh, thanks—”

“God it’s cold out here. Do you need a lift somewhere? I’m just going back to my hotel. I don’t have anywhere I need to be.”


He followed her to a red Mercedes. She unlocked the passenger-side door for him. The inside smelled like perfume. The rental contract was on the dashboard.

She climbed in and turned the ignition, then looked at him—

“Do you want to know a secret?” she asked, running her red-painted fingernail the length of his leathered thigh—

“Yes,” Carl said, parched, barely able to get the word out, his budding erection fighting the extra-snug crotch—

“I can’t resist a man in leather,” she said, pouting her lips. She then backed out of the spot, pulled onto the street, and gunned it, the Benz fishtailing in the wintry mix. Moments later, they were racing east on Sunrise Highway, then made the slight right at the bend onto Old Sunrise, and, finally, turned into the small lot of the Carman Mill Motel, parking next to a white Trans Am. Though it was the closest lodging to the banquet hall, Carl was surprised she was staying at this dump, popular with mall hookers for their hourly rates—

“Shoot,” she said.

“What’s wrong?”

“Don’t worry about it. Come inside.”

He followed her to a room down at the end of the building. She slipped in the key and opened the door. He heard a man inside say, “There you are…”

“Sam!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

Carl followed her in and found himself staring into the crazed, bloodshot eyes of comedian/actor Sam Kinison, who was sitting on the bed with a large wall mirror laid out in front of him like a table, on top of which was a mountain of cocaine and several tightly rolled hundred-dollar bills—

“Well, what do we have here,” he said, looking at Carl, sliding off the bed. “Jessica, why did you bring this gay kid here?”

“Sam, I didn’t know you would be here—”

Kinison erupted—

“Why did you bring the sissy here?” he screamed. “Answer me! Say it! Say it! Oh! Oh! Ohhhhhh!!!!!! “

Jessica turned to Carl—

“I’m sorry, darling—what was your name again?”

“Eric,” Carl said, backing towards the door—

“Eric, I’m afraid I can’t leave him alone when he’s like this. We’ll have to do it another time. Hey, maybe we’ll see each other at Colleen and Seth’s wedding!”

He didn’t bother to retrieve the bike from the banquet hall bushes, instead walking the three miles home in the falling snow, the boot prints disappearing in his wake nearly as quickly as he’d made them— ▪