BY KAREN CRAIGO
This is out of our range
This is out of our range
This is out of our range and it’s crude.
—Nirvana, “Negative Creep”
I was a bad dancer and Dariusz was a weird one, and on Fridays we’d run into each other and have conniptions together to whatever was playing live. It was just that kind of decade, and we were in Montana, close enough to the emerging grunge scene to smell plaid on the wind. To compound the multiculturalism, I should note that we met on bluegrass night at some cowboy bar, but he was still all Studio 54 and I was just ungainly. I think our bodies were trying to warn us off each other.
I should say that Dariusz claimed to be a writer. I never saw him writing, or reading, or holding a pen. He didn’t talk about it, beyond assuring me that his stories were beautiful and would make me cry if I could even understand them at all. His apartment was well appointed, but completely naked of books.
I was a writer, too, but I talked about it all the time. When I wasn’t talking about verse, I was talking in it, like a dork, but in those days it’s the only thing I thought about. Dariusz acted like he was above all that—above poetry, like that’s a thing you can be.
We figured we’d date. It wasn’t love; I’m not sure we could honestly call it affection. But there was curiosity, which is third best, and the guy rewarded observation, with his Polish-tinged sarcasm and his dumb clothes, cut skinny and poorly suited for Western winters. My appeal was probably the boobs. Guess Dariusz with the whole Gotham vibe wasn’t that far ahead of everyone else after all, because guys already liked boobs back in Ohio. (They’re still not dancing like that, herky-jerky with the hand stuff going, but I’m sure it’ll get there soon.)
Oh, I should mention that Dariusz didn’t drive, because you don’t need a car in New York. The guy was insistent that the rest of the world needed to catch up with New York, an attitude that went over just swell in Montana. I don’t know whatever happened to the guy, but I sort of picture his pointy python shoes sticking straight up out of a snowdrift, out stiff, like twin flags on the moon.
“You expect me to ride around in this garbage truck?” That’s what he said when I picked him up. It was a Volkswagen Rabbit, actually. Yeah, there were some wrappers.
We actually had a pretty good time driving around and looking things over, both of us new to the area. The best way to get to know a place is to try to get lost there, so we headed out of town and took turns choosing direction. My interior compass is pretty strong. I can’t get lost, which probably kept me alive, driving straight out into the empty Montana night all those times, any time of year.
We spent the whole day out before turning back toward Missoula. We were heading straight west into the setting sun, and it was astonishing, early purple night ripped with slashes like fire.
“Beautiful,” I said, to myself, pretty much, although Dariusz was in the car, so I guess I was treating him to my observation, too.
“This is the worst thing about Americans,” he said, “always stating the obvious. I’m looking right at the fucking thing.”
That was the end of conversation. I drove into the city and dropped Dariusz at his door without another word. But driving away, I said it into the mirror with a thick Polish accent, “I’m looking right at the fucking thing,” and cracked myself up every time.
Our next date was dinner. I scheduled a haircut just before—the New York/Euro thing didn’t bug me much, but I sort of wanted to up my game a bit, look a little sharp. I liked the look—razor-clipped up the back of the scalp, a long flop of hair in front. You can see the same thing in a Saved by the Bell or Full House marathon, although probably not on a full-grown woman.
We went for sushi, Dariusz’s choice, and he sat across the table and scowled at me through cocktails and soup. Then a boy walked by—nine or so, fresh-faced, in a soccer shirt, probably coming back from the john.
“THAT,” Dariusz said, pointing at the kid. The kid and I both stopped everything and blinked at him. “THAT is your haircut. You look like a little boy.”
I laughed. The boy turned red and ran headfirst directly into the nearest clippers or scissors or paper cutter or lawnmower he could find.
Clear through the mochi ice cream, we were mostly quiet. I cackled every so often. “You look like a little boy,” my brain repeated. Hilarious, every goddamn time.
So he was funny, sure, but hell’s bells, you can’t stay with a guy like that, all bluster and bullshit and barb—not and retain your dignity. I could dance like a fool with lots of people, or even just myself. In that town I knew a place with an upstairs dance floor built on springs, just like in the Richard Hugo poem. Dariusz was skinny as a fence post, but way too heavy for springs.
He called me at work after. I was a medical records clerk—no desk, and I wasn’t really supposed to talk on the phone during working hours. So I took a break and called him back from the coffee room.
“Are you alone?” Dariusz asked, all clipped and angry, so: the usual way.
Was this a drug deal? “Yeah, I’m pretty much alone,” I said. There were people near the coffee room, a bathroom outside in the hall.
“Check. Right now,” he said.
“OK, wait a sec,” I said, and then I stood there for what seemed like long enough. I could see I was alone.
I told him I was back, asked him what was up.
“You have given me crabs,” he said, all disgust.
That didn’t even register. I was picturing seafood, sushi. Said, “What?”
“They’re all over me, the filthy fuckers. They bite. I have red spots. You have given. Me. Crabs.”
I didn’t have crabs. I still wasn’t sure I knew what they were. Isn’t that what people called gonorrhea?
“Let me call you back,” I said, and got his number, and hung up without saying goodbye.
I called a pharmacy in town and found out what it is people do when they have crabs. Apparently there’d been a local outbreak—bug bites all over town. My few times in range of crabs with Dariusz were probably too awkward for them to want to make the jump from him to me, or maybe I had natural immunity, made, as I was, of tougher, better-humored stuff. At any rate, I found out the name of the treatment, and exactly where to find it, what row, what shelf. I even wrote down the address of the store, then called Dariusz back and relayed the information. He didn’t say thanks. Embarrassed, I reckon, and a dick—a red-spotted, itchy, flea-bitten dick.
“You have given me crabs,” I accused the air of the coffee room in a thick Polish accent, jabbing it with my finger, then laughed my unchewed ass off. The room was legitimately empty, but it wouldn’t have mattered.
Karen Craigo's poetry collection No More Milk is forthcoming this summer from Sundress Publications. She teaches writing in Springfield, Missouri, and maintains a daily blog on writing called Better View of the Moon.