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"This would cause me not to be able to concentrate on Ashlee Simpson at the very moment when I understood there was an actual admiration for her inside my heart..."

man is hopeless
fiction by julio peralta-paulino


"Do you see what I mean," she said with uncommon enthusiasm. I saw what she meant. The similarity. I just did not see what the big deal was about. I watched the video without much interest as the song petered out. "Lenny Kravitz looks just like O. J. Simpson," she continued, "I wonder if he was wearing a wig for that other video." "I suppose he did," I said while thinking of a way to change the conversation and turn off the television simultaneously. I just didn’t want to be rude. She was my girlfriend and, even if I could not see an inspirational or informative angle to her excitement, it was only fair to listen.

Somewhat ironically, an Ashlee Simpson video came on. She had half stormed off the second song of her set on live tv a few weeks earlier. I liked this song a lot more than the dirge that came before it and forgot about trying to turn off the hypnotic box which my girlfriend adored.

I was tapping my toes to the beat and making Simpson connections in my mind…Homer and Maggie and the gang, O. J., Ashlee…

"I wouldn’t make that comment to Terry, if I were you," the words just slipped from my mouth and as they did I realized I would have to explain. This would cause me not to be able to concentrate on Ashlee Simpson at the very moment when I understood there was an actual admiration for her inside my heart. The thoughts made me wonder if I was blushing or if I looked the same. As I wonder who she would say I looked like if I made a video, she asked, "Why not? Is it wrong to find a similarity?" "No. Of course not, it’s just that Terry is—I don’t even know how to put it in words—he might take it to imply that blacks look alike." Before I could finish my explanation of Terry’s sensitivity to certain issues, she said, "I don’t think that would be the case. I know there was time—" Those words triggered the memory and I interrupted, "Exactly, it was a scene. John said something about affirmative action and Terry talked about it for weeks as if he had to convince everyone we know about his position." She looked at me with unconvinced curiosity, "That does not mean that he will start a fuss over this." "No, it doesn’t but I would not risk it. Anyway, I have to concentrate on translating those speeches which are due at the end of the month and another uproar is precisely what I do not need."

I could tell she agreed because she walked over to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water.

It was her way of coming to a domestic consensus. I reached for a cigarette and watched the last seconds of the video. The television set was off before the refrigerator door was shut.

It was not water, it was a soft drink. The conversation would continue. I had hoped for a quickie while Ashlee’s face was still in my thoughts.

"Jake, don’t you think that keeping thoughts from friends is deceptive. I mean, if I had a thought shouldn’t I share it with you or with my friends or family." She paused and sipped at her Coke. I rubbed my eyes and felt the cigarette smoke slide in the nearness. I thought about several thoughts I would not share with anyone; the plan for world peace, the abduction of Ashlee Simpson, the conversion in order to have the harem in Utah…impossibilities…"You know," she continued, "interesting thoughts or thoughts that help to demonstrate who I am as a person." I hardly knew what to say. "Yes, Monica, but only if it’s an important or as you say a defining thought." Now there was a consensus. I could feel it even before she mentioned how Coke actually made her thirstier and was going to get some water.

We had a get together every two weeks or so. Terry and John would come as would several of Monica’s friends. I really liked John. He was clear about who he was politically. I liked the clarity. His conservative views combined with his Texan subtlety made him charming in the way that some paper cuts are not felt until seen. He could convince anyone. Anyone save Terry.

Terry was older than we were. He felt rather serious about the self-made fact that blacks in the States were constantly under attack. His view could easily extend to other blacks such as those that used the n word. He chalked up the success stories to luck or pandering to the white market. My feeling was that if Monica brought up the video and the similarity to the former football player all metaphorical hell would break terribly loose. I was not very political. Mostly, I voted on looks and personality. I was happy to live in a free society where one could get away with such a superficial attitude. Perhaps, I was bordering on existentialism but I was never good at distinguishing between different philosophies. Could it have been nihilism? I thought back to those classes on the south end of campus. The great wall of empty beer cans in the dorm and an irrational hatred of the Backstreet Boys came clearer to mind. Surrealism…

It was going to be a barbecue. After endless days of pasta, I could hardly wait. Meat just tends to do something to push along the translation work. The get together was two days away.

Forty eight hours. It was mostly sleep. I caught the Pieces of Me video, which had dropped several places down to sixteen, three times. Monica and I made love only once. And when we did it I could hear Ashlee sighing the word pieces again and again but her face was no longer in my thoughts. I could still see it, but it was continually displaced by my girlfriend’s body which seemed to me to shimmer in the half darkened room. I suppose when one does not watch a lot of television, certain images have a greater impact. Still, no match for live nudity. Of course, I didn’t care for Monica for her body. As well as a thinker, Monica was lovely and tender. I knew her heart held more purity than mine which was bruised by the lonely years in high school when I was neither a jock nor a nerd but just a shadow that wallflowered the walls.

I did the least I could do with the translation. I checked out a book by Sartre and another by Camus from the library. They were heavy and I kept changing them from arm to arm on the way home until placing them on top of the tv where they stayed untouched, gathering dust.

Two days can go by in a wink.

Monica’s friends always got there first. Alice, Jane, and Sheryl. I generally avoided them as much as I could. It seemed the way to go after noticing a hint of jealousy at one gathering where dancing became the focal point. I was pleasant. Just not overly so.

"Those are Jake’s," I heard Monica explain as Sheryl leafed through one of the dusty library books. She made some comment about a woman named Simone. I was busy transferring beers from the case to the ice filled cooler and freezer. I wondered if Nina Simone ever got to make a video before she passed away. I was tempted to ask but I would wait for Terry who would surely know as he was the one who had introduced me to her music.

John arrived next. He was in good spirits and I was happy to see him. Stress free conversation.

We drank beer and talked about taking a trip to the Grand Canyon after winter. He joked about bringing up Paris Hilton to Terry. "Just this once. I love the way his eyes nearly pop out of his head when I mention her," he laughed and I joined him with a giggle. "Well, if you have to," I declared, "but I’m not sitting in on another lecture because of you."

Terry got there as we were preparing for the second round of beers and the girls were serving themselves Margaritas. I greeted him by handing him a beer. After he had greeted everyone,

He asked, "Has anyone seen the Lenny Kravitz video?"


Julio Peralta-Paulino is a writer currently at work on two novels and one screenplay. Some of his recent work is featured in Jack Magazine, Poor Mojo's Almanac(k), Skive Magazine, and Write Between The Lines. He is a member of Zoetrope Virtual Studios as well as The Dorothy Parker Society.

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©2004 Julio Peralta-Paulino • Smokebox
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