The Iowa Review

Salad Days

- Jed Phillip Cohen

Iwas seventeen. I didn’t know how to act. There were too many situations. I thought I would be okay if I were unremarkab­le. Amiable. I don’t know. I think I was wrong about that. Here’s how it went: I never took sides. I went along with everything. I laughed at my friends’ jokes. I was sensitive to their problems. I smiled when I got called a pussy. I smiled when I got called a bitch. I pretended to like Olde English. I pretended to like reggae. I played Edward Fortyhands until I pissed myself. I smoked weed every day. In class, I was silent. I turned in my work on time. I studied. I had an honors average. My guidance counselor described me as “laconic.” I had to look it up. He said I should apply to Bard. I passed as cool enough. I passed as smart enough. I passed as handsome enough. Things were working out.

Most days after school, I drove west over the highway to Riverdale Park. There was a spot I knew about where no one went, a clearing with a raised manhole cover at the center. From the clearing, you could see the train tracks and the river. I sat on the manhole and smoked my one-hitter. I threw rocks at empty beer bottles. I went down to the train tracks and put rocks on the rails. I smoked cigarettes. Back in the car, I chewed some gum and put a Burning Spear CD on the stereo. I sped toward home on the humpbacked road parallel to the park, nailing every pothole. At home, I grabbed six sticks of string cheese from the fridge and watched TV until my father came home. Then I locked myself in the upstairs bathroom and cursed myself in the mirror. Once I felt bad enough, I sat on the toilet and jerked off to Didi Eisenbaum, the girl I was in love with. Then I did my homework.

One day, Didi and I were walking together between buildings. Our school was laid out like a college campus. Hallways connected all the buildings, but we were walking outside. It was spring. The lawn in the front of the school was roped off to protect the grass. “How far have you gone with a girl?” Didi asked me. She had straight black hair. Her ears pricked from it. She wore black shoes with an embroidere­d rose on the toe. I told her that I’d driven with my mother to visit Connecticu­t College over the weekend. It was a two-hundred-mile trip, give or take.

Didi laughed. Her boyfriend was two years older than us. He was in college now. “No, but really.” “Why do you want to know?” She made a face like she tasted something awful. “Don’t tell me then.”

My friends were Eesh, G, Fugu. On Tuesdays, we hotboxed Fugu’s minivan and went to Burger King. On Thursdays, we hotboxed Eesh’s Saab and listened to Steel Pulse. We talked about girls. G was after a girl in the eighth grade. She had an older brother. She was mature for her age. Eesh was seeing a girl named Irina from another school. He told us that when he fucked her from behind, she liked him to put his thumb in her ass. Fugu had taken a girl from our grade home with him during a double-free. We called her Trisomy 21. She wasn’t attractive. He’d parked in his driveway and convinced her to blow him. “And what’s your situation these days?” Fugu asked me. The two of us were smoking a blunt by a pond near school called Duck Pond. The sun was out. Some squirrels were foraging around the pond, but there weren’t any ducks. “Lara,” I said. He took a hit and inhaled in little hiccups. He really did look like a puffer fish. “You tap that yet?” “Not yet. Working on it.” Fugu took another hit and offered me the blunt. I didn’t take it. I was really stoned. “Don’t be a bitch,” Fugu said.

Lara was a freshman. She’d gotten my screen name from her friend’s brother, who was in my grade. Her friend’s brother had told her to be assertive. So she asked me out. We saw a movie together in the city. She held my hand the entire time, even when our hands started to sweat. I walked her home. We kissed outside of her building. The next weekend, I watched a movie at her apartment. She had black hair like Didi, but darker skin. She was wearing a white T-shirt and black leggings. She had a good body. I sat on the couch in her living room. She put on Shrek and sat next to me. She rested her head against my chest. Her hair didn’t smell washed. I was chewing gum, and some of her hair got in my mouth and into the gum. I brushed her hair away from my face. There was a white streak in there with the black. I managed to slide the gum along the hair and out without her noticing.

Later, we started kissing. We were lying side by side on the couch. She had dry lips and used a lot of her tongue. I wanted to take her shirt off, but one of my arms was trapped between us and the other was trapped against the couch. I didn’t know how to free myself. So we just kissed.

My parents were both lawyers. My father was a public defender. My mother was an entertainm­ent lawyer. She got to meet Richard Pryor, Sting, and Calista Flockhart. Not all at once. My father had defended the nanny who drowned the two children she took care of. Every day, my parents rode Metro North together into the city. My father left work before my mother. He drove the car home from the train station and did the laundry. Most nights, we ate dinner together in front of the television. We watched either the news or the Yankees. Eventually, my mother would call, and my father would go pick her up at the station. By then, I was in my room or the computer room. When she came in, she yelled Hello from downstairs, and I yelled Hello back. After she finished her dinner, she came into my room or the computer room and talked to me. She didn’t have anything important to say, usually.

Every year at my school, a junior organized a spring party called Springfest. Fugu was organizing it this year. He rented out a club in the city. He charged thirty dollars for seniors, forty dollars for everyone else. You had to buy your ticket in advance. When I asked him if I had to pay, he told me he was barely breaking even as it was. Eesh and G’s band was playing the party. They had a reggae band. I helped them carry their equipment into the club before the party started. Once they had sound-checked, we went into a back room and drank vodka mixed with Sprite. The back room had one wall that was all mirrors. We talked about which girls we wanted to hook up with. Everyone hooked up with everyone at Springfest. Eesh said it was too bad that Didi was still dating her boyfriend. He didn’t know how I felt about her. I hadn’t told anyone. Later, the club was full. Most of the school had come. The band was playing. I stood with Fugu by the door while he checked people off the guest list. Then I went onto the dance floor to watch the band. Lara came up to me. She was drunk. She was wearing a tube top with sequins. She put her arms around my neck, and we kissed for a bit. She said I tasted sweet. Then she said she had to go find her friends. I watched the band. Eesh was the singer. They sounded good. I noticed Didi in the front near the stage. She turned around and waved. I waved back.

After the band finished, the DJ Fugu had hired started playing. I went into the back room to have some more vodka and Sprite. Fugu was in there with a sophomore girl named Tamar. She was sitting on his lap. We all had some vodka and Sprite, and then I left. I found Lara. She led me around by the hand. We said hello to her friends. They were grinding with each other. We passed by G, who was kissing a sophomore girl I didn’t know. Lara and I stopped by a pillar on the dance floor to kiss. After a while, she took her mouth away from mine and said she was feeling sick. She started walking toward the front door of the club with her hand over her mouth. I followed her. As soon as we were outside, she threw up into the street. She was holding her own hair back. I smoked a cigarette and waited. Once she was done, we sat down on some metal stairs next to the club. I gave her a piece of gum. Then she held her head in her hands. I could feel the pulse of the music from inside the party. I asked if she wanted me to buy her some water. “Do you even like me?” she said. I stammered. “Of course I like you. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t like you.” “I don’t believe you.” “Why not?” “I don’t know. Because you never do anything.” We sat there for a little longer, and then she got up to hail a cab. When one pulled over, I asked if she would be all right, but she didn’t answer. She got into the cab and drove off. Back inside, I ran into my friend Dutch. I could tell he’d smoked some weed. Around us, people were dancing and kissing. He filled me in. He’d made out with four girls already. Fugu was getting head from Tamar in the back room. G was somewhere with the sophomore. While I listened, I noticed Didi and Eesh sitting on the edge of the stage together. “I have to give it to Fugu. Best Springfest ever,” Dutch said. “Yeah,” I said. “I wish the tickets weren’t so much.” “He charged you?” Dutch said.

The weekend after Springfest, Dutch had a party at his apartment. His parents were in the country. Most of the junior class was there. G had invited the sophomore from Springfest, whose name was Faneuil, and she brought some of her friends. Dutch’s apartment had two floors. There was a landing on the second floor that looked down onto the foyer. People were running around. They called to each other between floors. I sat in the living room and smoked a blunt with Eesh and Dutch and Fugu and a couple of the soph-

omore girls. G had already gone into Dutch’s room with Faneuil. Didi was sitting near us with some of her friends. She didn’t smoke or drink. After the blunt was finished, Eesh and I went into the kitchen to play quarters. We sat on stools at the kitchen island. The island’s surface was marble, which wasn’t the best for quarters, so we ended up just drinking our forties and talking. Eesh’s band was recording an album. We talked about what songs would be on it. I knew most of the band’s songs from seeing them live. While we were talking, Didi came in and sat with us. She was wearing overalls with a white T-shirt underneath. I could see her hip through the opening for her arms. It looked soft. Didi and Eesh started talking about their art teacher, Mr. Runyon. Didi and Eesh were artists. Eesh had told me once that Didi wasn’t very good. I’d seen some of her drawings. They were of thin people or birds in marshes. I thought they were interestin­g. Eesh and I decided to go up to the roof to smoke a cigarette. Dutch only let people smoke weed in his house, because the smell went away quicker. We invited Didi, but she said she’d just stay inside. Eesh and I went out into the stairwell and started up the stairs. The roof was only three flights up. Halfway there, Eesh realized he’d forgotten his cigarettes. I said he could have one of mine, but he didn’t like Camels. He told me he’d be up in a second. A bunch of people were already on the roof. They were looking out toward New Jersey. A few people had climbed up the roof’s water tower and were dangling their legs from the catwalk and shouting. I climbed up to join them. In the dark, I couldn’t tell who they were at first, then I realized they were people from my grade. They’d brought a bottle of vodka with them. I drank some and smoked a cigarette. I bummed some cigarettes out, and we sat there and watched New Jersey and talked about our dean. As a dean, he was cool, but as a teacher, he had a short fuse. We passed the bottle of vodka around. When I took a sip, I shivered even though it was warm out. I remembered about Eesh. I figured he was smoking another blunt. I finished my cigarette and climbed down the ladder and went back downstairs. The party was still going. Dutch and Fugu hadn’t moved from the living room couch. Now they were doing whippits. I sat on a footrest next to them and watched Fugu do a double. He rocked back and forth on the couch. His lips were blue. I took the cracker from him and loaded it and did one. I felt like I was in a long hallway, and there was a scratched CD playing. When the noise went away, I got up to walk around. I went upstairs. A couple of guys I knew were daring each other

to drop from the second floor down to the foyer. It was probably a tenfoot drop. They dared me to do it, but I said I had to go to the bathroom. I walked away from the landing down the hallway toward Dutch’s room. There was a bathroom next to his room, at the end of the hall. I was about to try the bathroom door when I heard someone hiss. The door to Dutch’s room was open. G was sitting on Dutch’s bed. I could see Faneuil behind him. She was looking at her phone. “Yo, don’t go in there,” he said. “Why?” He winked. “Ellis and Didi,” he whispered. “Oh,” I said. I looked at the door. “How’s the party?” I looked back at G. “They’re doing whippits. I really need to piss.” I started walking back toward the landing. “Word. We’ll be down in a second,” G said. When I got to the landing, a guy was dangling from the ledge. His friends were screaming at him to let go. I went down the stairs to watch from the foyer. The guy let go. He landed on his feet but spilled over onto his side. Above us his friends were laughing. He lay there for a few seconds before he sat up. He looked at me. His eyes were glassy. “I think I broke my arm,” he said. I went to the bathroom. I pissed, and then I looked in the mirror. I bit the inside of my cheek until I couldn’t anymore.

A few weeks later Eesh, G, Fugu and I were smoking a spliff at Duck Pond. We had a double-free and then lunch. The plan was to smoke and go to the Sandwich Shack. It was overcast. It hadn’t rained yet, but it looked like it would. We were talking about the SATS. “I’m thinking about getting untimed testing,” Fugu said. “Bullshit,” G said. Fugu got higher grades than I did, which meant he got much higher grades than Eesh and G. “Seriously,” Fugu said, “I’m a bad test-taker. I have a note from a psychiatri­st.” “And my parents are doctors,” G said. “Whatever, man. I need it.” He turned to Eesh. “You’re doing a class, right?” “Yeah.” “How is it?” “It’s okay. The teacher’s pretty good.” He took a hit from the spliff and blew it out. He snapped his fingers. “That reminds me. So the class is on eighty-second, right near Didi’s house—”

“What’s happening with Nathaniel?” G asked. “I dunno. They’re having problems. The distance, I guess. Anyway, I went over there after my class this week. Her parents were at some function or something. So we’re in her bed, and I knew she had a vibrator, so I tell her to get it, and I start using it on her—” “And she was loving it,” G said. “—Yeah.. . it was crazy. She couldn’t take it. She made me stop.” “Because she needed the dick,” Fugu said. Eesh was shaking his head. “Yeah. I dunno... she was like, grabbing for it.” Eesh hit the spliff again and passed it to me. He laughed and smoke puffed out of his nose. “It’s ridiculous. I don’t deserve it.” Eesh stared into the pond after he said this.

I saw Lara in the halls sometimes. We’d stopped speaking after Springfest. I wasn’t sure what to do when I saw her. I usually smiled and waved. She would smile back, but uglily.

“You smell like smoke,” Didi said. It was after school. Didi and I were sitting on a couch in the studentfac­ulty lounge. No one else was there. We had to give a presentati­on on Beloved in our English class tomorrow. I smelled like smoke because I’d just gone down to the river and smoked my one-hitter. Didi was wearing her glasses. She had her shoes off and her legs were tucked up under her. She had striped socks on. “Don’t tell me you’re high right now,” she said. “I’m a little high.” She shook her head. “Great. Well, so what are we going to do?” “I was thinking we could talk about rememory and how...” I lost my train of thought. I saw Didi lying on her bed with her legs spread. Then I saw her reach up and drag Eesh down on top of her. “And how what?” “And what it means, exactly.” “What does it mean?” I thought for a second. “Maybe it means a kind of memory that’s always present. Like, a combinatio­n of rememberin­g and memory. It’s more active, in a way.” Didi was looking at me. “That makes a surprising amount of sense.” Her phone buzzed on the table next to her. She picked it up and started typing into it. “How’s Ellis?” I asked. “You’re not funny,” she said.

The presentati­on went well. Didi did most of the talking. I said my thing about rememory. Ms. Overton actually clapped at the end. After class, Didi and I high-fived. Then we had to go to different classes. She said if she didn’t see me later, we would talk online. I went down to the river after school. The sun was out over New Jersey. It was pale yellow. The air was warm, but there was a breeze. I rubbed my arms and sat down on the manhole cover and took out my one-hitter. I was about to light it when I noticed someone coming down the path toward me. I put the one-hitter back in my pocket and lit a cigarette instead. A guy came into the clearing. He was wearing shorts, even though it wasn’t really shorts weather, and hiking shoes and a long-sleeve shirt. He had a gray beard and glasses. He didn’t seem surprised to find me sitting there. “Hi,” he said as he came close. He was smiling. I nodded. He walked by. He started humming to himself. He looked back at me once or twice before he disappeare­d down the trail. When he was gone, I took out my one-hitter again.

At home I went into the computer room and signed online. Didi wasn’t online yet. She was probably still on the train. I ate the stack of cookies I’d taken from the kitchen and messaged Fugu. Fugu and I lived near school, so we were usually the first ones online. He said he’d just smoked an L. He said we should split an ounce. I told him I was down. I put my feet up on the desk and looked out the window. There was a willow tree in the backyard. It made me think of my cousins’ sheepdog. Then I stood up and looked at my father’s car collection. He collected model cars. They were lined up on shelves behind glass doors all around the room. He only bought models of old British and Italian cars. My favorite one was an old Grand Prix racer. It had a skinny body and narrow tires that stuck out from the body. It was the only model of my father’s with figurines. A driver in a racing helmet sat behind the wheel, and a mechanic with a handkerchi­ef around his neck crouched by one of the back tires. I stared for a while at the model, imagining the driver speeding off and leaving the mechanic covered in exhaust. Then I heard the sound of a new instant message. It was Didi. Diizen56: how much does ms overton love us? Duppyc420: SO much. We got applause! Diizen56: i know! we’re her favorites Diizen56: hey, would you want to meet to talk about our final papers? i feel like we come up with good ideas together Duppyc420: Sure.

Duppyc420: When’s that due again? Diizen56: not until after the sat. your taking it at school obviously, right? Duppyc420: Yeah. Where are you taking it? Diizen56: school too. i’ll have to wake up earlier, but i feel like its better to be somewhere familiar Duppyc420: Definitely. Diizen56: so what are you doing this weekend? Duppyc420: No plans. Is anything going on? Diizen56: well i was thinking i might have a few people over. my parents are going to be in the county Duppyc420: Party at Didi’s!! Diizen56: nooo! just like a small gathering Diizen56: people can probably smoke in here if we open the windows Duppyc420: Well, in that case, count me in. Diizen56: i knew youd say that! maybe i should try it this weekend . . . Duppyc420: You should! I mean, if you want. Why haven’t you, if you don’t mind me asking . . . Diizen56: i don’t know... i guess i’m afraid of losing control or something Duppyc420: That’s understand­able. Though you never really lose control with weed; you’re always pretty conscious of what’s going on. Diizen56: yeah. i dont know. i sort of want to try it. this might be awkward, but i hear sex is better when your high Duppyc420: I mean, it makes sense. It dilates your blood vessels, so you’re more sensitive to touch, etc. Diizen56: have you ever done anything when you smoked? Duppyc420: I’ve made out with people before. It was fine.. . Diizen56: Does Lara smoke? Duppyc420: Nah. Diizen56: you don’t have to answer this if you dont want to, but do you ever masturbate high? Duppyc420: Um, I have... Diizen56: does it feel better? Duppyc420: I would say it feels about the same, I guess. Diizen56: this might be wierd to say, but the thought of boys masturbati­ng like really turns me on Duppyc420: Ha, does it? Diizen56: yeah. . . is that weird? Duppyc420: I don’t think so. Duppyc420: The thought of girls masturbati­ng turns most guys on, I think.

Diizen56: what do you think about when you do it? Diizen56: I’m curious Duppyc420: I dunno. Different stuff. It depends.. . Diizen56: do you think about lara? Duppyc420: Definitely not. Diizen56: do you think about me? Diizen56: sorry Diizen56: you don’t have to answer that Duppyc420: you really want to know? Diizen56: kind of Duppyc420: To be honest, I do, sometimes. Diizen56: do you ever think about ellis? Duppyc420: What? Diizen56: bwahahahah­ah Diizen56: its eesh you big fag Diizen56: didi says shes flattered

That night, my mother came into my room to talk to me. I was lying on my bed watching the Yankees. She sat down in my desk chair. She was wearing a suit with a brooch pinned to the jacket. “Guess who I met today?” she said. “Who?” “Patti Smith. How cool is that?” “Who’s Patti Smith?” “You’re kidding. You don’t know who Patti Smith is? The musician?” “I don’t know her.” “Man! How could you not know Patti Smith? Come in the computer room, I’ll play her for you.” “I’m watching this.” She looked at the screen. “What are you watching?” “The Yankees.” “Who’s winning?” “The Yankees.” She paused for a second. “Anything go on in school today?” “No.” She looked at my desk. “Did you do a practice test tonight?” “No. This weekend.” She watched the TV for a while. Then she got up. “Well, it’s been a real slice of heaven.” “I’m tired,” I said.

I talked with Eesh and Didi first thing in the morning. They were standing by Didi’s locker. Didi called me her “admirer.” Eesh said he bet everyone fantasized about Didi at one time or another. This made Didi smile. She asked Eesh if that meant he did. He said no. Didi took a step toward him. She put her face near his neck and brushed her hand across the front of his jeans. She said, “Are you sure?”

After school, I went down to the river. The weather was nice. I sat on the manhole cover and looked up at the trees awhile. The branches were bobbing. A yellow bud or two fell to the ground. I lit my one-hitter, took a big pull, and exhaled. The sun flashed in the smoke as it drifted. A train whistle blew in the distance. I stood on the manhole to watch the train go by. I lit a cigarette. It was a Metro North train heading south. I thought I’d see some people in the windows, but there weren’t any. Or none that I could see anyway. “Hi,” said a voice. It was the same guy from the other day. Today he was wearing khakis and a collared shirt. He was waving a twig with leaves on it in front of his face. I said hello. “Don’t mind me. Keep doing your thing. I don’t get high myself, but I don’t have a problem with it.” “It’s just a cigarette.” “Oh, well, don’t mind me then. Haven’t I seen you here before? Is this where you hang out?” “Sometimes. If it’s nice out.” “It’s a pleasant spot. I like to hike around here. Good exercise. And you never know what you might stumble onto.” “I guess that’s true.” He noticed a felled tree a few feet away. “Mind if I sit?” I shook my head. He tested the tree before sitting down. “Ah, that’s better. So, do you go to school around here?” “Yeah.” “Let me guess: you’re a . . . sophomore.” “Junior.” “Of course, of course. And... you play soccer.” “Nah. No sports for me.” “Of course not. Who has the time with all the girls after you?” “Ha, yeah, right.” “You don’t have to be humble. With your looks, I bet you get laid all the time. How often would you say you get laid? Twice a week? Three times?”

I started to feel like I wanted to leave. “Not that often. I do all right.” “I bet you get laid a ton. You look like a model. Have you ever modeled?” “Ha, not yet. Anyway, I gotta get out of here . . . ” I started to walk up the trail toward the parking lot. “Wait, before you go, I thought—” I turned around. He was looking at me. He was smiling. “Well, I had a propositio­n for you,” he said. I started to feel queasy. “What’s that?” He sighed, but he didn’t stop smiling. “You’ll think I’m a dirty old man.” “What is it?” I asked. I had to hear it. “I’d like to suck your dick.” “No thanks, man,” I said. I continued to walk up the trail. “I could make it worth your while,” he called. “How about fifty dollars?” “No thanks, man.” Back in the car I locked the doors and put on a Bob Marley CD. Then I had to open my door to throw up. After I was done I drank some water and stuffed three pieces of gum in my mouth. I spit the gum onto the parking lot and ate another three pieces. I still couldn’t get the taste out.

The next day was Thursday. On Thursdays, my school had assembly instead of advisory. The whole school congregate­d in the auditorium. Either there would be a speaker or a performanc­e. Each grade had an assigned section of the auditorium, and each advisory had an assigned row. Today, I sat on the aisle. Fugu sat next to me. He had a first period free. I could tell he’d waked and baked. Eesh, Didi, and G sat together two rows ahead of us. A few people were lined up by the edge of the stage to make announceme­nts. A member of the ultimate frisbee club said the club would be having a scrimmage after school. The community service woman said seniors with outstandin­g hours should come talk to her immediatel­y. Then a theater guy in a ponytail moved the microphone onto the stage, and the lights dimmed. There was a pause. Usually, a teacher would introduce a guest speaker or performanc­e, but no one went up to the microphone. People were starting to rustle and laugh. Fugu and I looked at each other. Then a man strode onto the stage. He had an enormous bird on his arm. It looked like a vulture. The man had a leather glove on to protect him from the bird’s talons. He walked up to the microphone and intro-

duced himself. He was a bird trainer. The bird was a turkey vulture. Its name was Floyd. After he talked a little about bird training, the man walked into the center of the stage and held his arm out. He said “up!” and the bird flew from his arm and landed in the center aisle a few feet from me. I froze in my seat. Some people screamed. I heard Fugu say “hells no” and felt him try to squeeze into the next seat over, which already had someone in it. I was afraid to move. The bird was looking directly at me. It was as tall as my shoulder, and its head was wrinkled and pink. Up close, it looked dangerous. I was gripping my armrests. I hoped the bird would turn around. Instead, it started coming toward me. I stared straight ahead. When it was close enough to touch, I closed my eyes tight. I imagined it ripping skin. I imagined it tearing my throat. But all it did was nuzzle me.

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