I should’ve uploaded back into Ernie’s hospital room, or back to my bedroom, but instead I’m at this dinky taco stand out in the middle of absolute nowhere. Like, it’s literally nothing but dirt, tumbleweeds, and cactus stretching all the way to a tentatively brightening horizon. At first I think there’s been some kind of mistake—then I spot Beta, Ernie, Jan, and Mini seated at the cramped counter, and I realize that they must have come here while I was at Eva’s.
On noticing my arrival, everyone claps politely.
Beta starts strumming Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” on an acoustic guitar.
“What, er…what?” I ask, not sure if I’m referring to the taco stand, the guitar performance, or the fact that everyone’s regarding me as if I’ve just gotten some kind of promotion.
“‘Night Moves,’” Beta replies. “Dean played it for Sammy that morning he found him and Piper in the backseat of the Impala, and now I’m playing it for you.”
“You presented Eva with the gift of a boner,” Mini explains. “She kissed you back, all was made right in the world.”
“I didn’t present it to her—I mean, yeah, we kissed, but it was just—wait, how do you know about me and Eva?”
Ernie, whose giant, Cartman-like butt has poked its way out of the back of his flimsy hospital gown, holds up my cell phone. “We watched while I was being discharged.”
I scowl, grab my phone from him—but before I can scold him (and the others) for the blatant voyeurism, the group absorbs me via a flurry of high-fives and pats on the back. And ridiculous chatter:
“So, when’s the first date?”
“Will she be moving into your place or you into hers?”
“Don’t worry about the stains. That’s not your real cell phone, it’s just a virtual copy for the purpose of curing Ernie.”
“What’s the baby’s name going to be?”
“Bathroom? Just go behind a tumbleweed—no, that one, with the roll of toilet paper next to it. Watch out for dickfoxes.”
“Was she on top, or were you? Because I’ve read that when the guy…” That last comment is from Ernie, who trails off when he realizes we’ve all stopped talking and are now staring at him. “What? I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking.”
“I wasn’t thinking that,” Beta says.
“Neither was I,” Jan also says.
Mini hesitates. “I was—but only a little bit.”
Jan parts from the group to relieve himself amongst the tumbleweeds and dickfoxes.
I wriggle my way back to the edge of the group, pretend to be interested in the ancient, grease-spattered laptop sitting at the far end of the counter. Its webcam is aimed at a tacky, equally grease-stained handwritten sign: SUPERMEGANET USERS WELCOME!
Momentarily, a middle-aged, thickly-mustached Mexican dude wipes his way down the counter. Between copious squirts of Windex, he nods at us, says to Ernie, “Buenos días, mi gordito.”
“Buenos Aires, Tacoman,” Ernie replies. “The usual, please. And something special for my friends.”
Tacoman (almost certainly not his real name) nods, scratches his back with his spatula. “Si. I make heart attack for you, and map to hospital con carne asada for tus amigos.” He turns, wipes his way back up the counter.
“Buenos nachos,” Ernie says.
I shake my head.
“I can’t believe you have a taco dealer.”
“He does good work.”
“He also calls you his little fatty.”
Ernie blinks. “No, he doesn’t.”
“Mi gordito means ‘my little fat one’ in Spanish.”
Ernie blinks again, considering. Then, “That’s reverse racism!”
“All racism is racism,” Beta points out.
“No!” Ernie screams. “Racism is knocking another race just because they’re another race. Reverse racism is knocking another race because you assume they’re knocking your race.”
“That would be preemptive racism.”
“Revenge racism,” Mini adds.
Ernie frowns. “Whatever you call it, he’s being it!”
“Maybe,” I say, “he’s being reverse racist because you keep calling him Tacoman instead of taking the time to learn his real name.”
“Fuck him. Fuck you.” Blinking warily at Jan, who’s back from his bathroom break, Ernie asks, “What did I miss while I was under?”
“Jan got pixelated,” I reply.
“So, that’s what that is.”
“And his apartment was towed.”
“It’s about time.” Ernie looks unsurprised. “What else?”
Beta nods at Mini. “Little dude’s got a doll.”
“Oh, and Theo beat up your grandma,” Jan adds.
Ernie nods appreciatively at me. “Thanks, hamster eyes. I owe you one.”
“Uh…you’re welcome, I guess,” I say, wondering if I’m the only one who thinks any of the aforementioned shenanigans are the least bit weird.
“Seriously,” Ernie continues. “I owe you. You downloaded porn for me.”
“That means we’re friends forever.” He holds out his hand.
I sigh and slap it. “Don’t mention it.”
“All right,” I say to Theo. “Enough touchy-feelies. It’s time.”
“Time for what?” he asks, playing dumb. “It’s almost dawn. There’s, like, an hour left before I have to get ready for school.”
“There’s still the matter of your spunk.”
He frowns. “What about it?”
“Um, hello? The agreement we made at Ernie’s grandma’s?”
“I was hanging from the top of an eighty-two-foot girder palace!”
“A promise is a promise.”
“Yeah, but under the circumstances, I think a postponement is in order.”
“This is only the beginning. You keep suppressing your spunk and there’ll be worse things down the pipeline. Things involving stolen vehicles, flaming convenience stores, excessive use of smarty-pants words like ‘postponement.’”
“What does playing with myself have to do with any of that?”
I glance over at Beta, who’s explaining the intricacies of SuperMegaNet technology to Ernie and Jan while Ernie pokes at Jan’s pixelated form with a plastic spork. Assured that we’ve got a moment of relative privacy, I toddle up Theo’s arm and whisper into his ear, “Remember a few months ago when you were taking your morning shower and you spotted those first few short and curlies down below?”
Theo blushes. “Yeah.”
“That was the beginning—my beginning. That’s why I’m here. Like it or not, you’ve just dived headfirst into puberty. Like it or not, my power grows with each passing day, and if you keep suppressing me you’re going to explode like Emil Antonowsky in Robocop.”
Concern crosses Theo’s face. “Wait, really?”
“Well, maybe you won’t explode,” I say, ignoring the temptation to lie outright, “but you’ll certainly run the risk of becoming one of the pubescent undead, an animated body without a single spark of life inside. You’ll spend your teenage years lurching around the Boca Linda cafeteria, trying to hit on girls, but instead just drooling on their tits and leaving behind fetid chunks of boy-flesh in their Jell-O fruit cups.”
Theo looks totally grossed out.
Good—that means I’m getting to him. “Come on. It’s really no big deal.”
“If that’s true, then let it drop.”
“Hello—I’m your pubescence. The only way I let it drop is if your dick gets mangled in some kind of freak dressing room zipper accident.”
Theo hangs his head, mutters something under his breath.
“I don’t know how.”
“You don’t know how to what?”
“I don’t know how to…you know…do it.”
“You mean…you’ve never choked the chicken?”
“Flogged the dolphin?”
“Tossed the salad?”
“Buffed the bologna?”
“Tamed the shrew?”
“Spanked the monkey?”
“Not even once?”
Theo shakes his head.
“Why the hell not?”
“I…have this thing.”
“This isn’t about you somehow jizzing out all your chi, is it?”
“Well, a little bit, yeah. But the main reason is, I’ve, er, always been afraid that I might lose control and…spontaneously combust.”
OMFG. “Are you kidding me?”
“Where did you get a ridiculous idea like that?”
“Coast to Coast AM.”
I might have known! “No—fuck no. There’s no way I’m letting George Noory and his super-beta prostate disinform you into keeping your joystick in its original packaging for the rest of your life.” I grab Theo by the hand and pull him toward Tacoman’s shitty laptop.
“Where are we going?” Theo asks.
“Yeah,” Beta says, noticing our exit. “Where are you guys going?”
“Home!” I reply.
“Aw, stick around. We’re going to see The Force Awakens after we eat.”
Theo starts to say something, but I respond on his behalf, cutting him off: “And I’m going to see that Theo’s Force awakens this instant!”
I click the “send home” button, and we’re back in Theo’s bedroom. Wordlessly, I walk him out into the hall. He faces the bathroom door at the other end. “You can do this,” I reassure him after whispering a few last-minute instructions into his ear.
“I can do this,” he whispers back.
“The sleeper must awaken.”
“The sleeper must…are you quoting Dune?”
“Not important.” I give him a firm shove toward the bathroom.
He takes a tentative step, then another, followed by another—all the way down the hall and to the bathroom door, where he stops, glances one last time over his shoulder.
I mouth the words, “You can do this.”
He goes in, closes the door behind him.
I make my way down the hall and sit on the floor beside the bathroom door. It’s quiet on the other side. At first I’m thinking that’s because of good walls, but after several minutes I start wondering if Theo hasn’t just fallen asleep on the toilet bowl.
Then I feel it.
The silvery link between us, trembling like a plucked guitar string.
An animated GIF of the original Pong fills my head, with a pixelated ball being whacked back and forth, back and forth. The image shifts, becomes security camera footage showing an impeccably-dressed business executive crossing his legs during an interview with a gorgeous young intern whose breasts are on the verge of popping out of her blouse. Then I’m watching Goten from Dragon Ball sweating bullets as the mother of all erections tents the crotch of his gi during meditation—and suddenly that magical switch is tripped. It’s all momentum from here on out. Theo’s socked feet knock together; “Movement 4” from Vangelis’ Mythodea, has just been cued to about 12:30, and is now blasting out of invisible amplifiers; the floor starts to tremble, the windows rattle, a framed picture crashes to the floor—
—then something totally and completely unexpected happens: Theo’s Mom, naked as a jaybird, comes rushing out of her bedroom, confirming that one, she sleeps nude, and two, she’s clearly misinterpreted Theo’s urgent grunts as some kind of cry for help in the midst of a raucous California quake. Yes, he could be lying draped over the side of the tub with a fractured spine, a cracked skull, or worse, and yes, it’s her parental instinct to put the well-being of her son ahead of her own modesty—but it’s also her parental duty to acknowledge the puberty clause, which is as follows: earthquake, fire, flood, or otherwise, if you hear your pubescent son gasping and moaning in the bathroom, better to let him expire than to risk walking in on him during an orgasm.
Which is exactly what happens here as bathroom doors are flung carelessly open, as bare-bottomed crossfit mothers are frozen in place and sweaty, flushed, feral Goten-cosplaying versions of darling little sons are presented sitting splayed on innocent toilets, pants around ankles, hands gripping comically oversized hentai wangs in violent death grips, about to go Super Saiyan—
—Theo’s mom yanks the door closed, lurches backward and slams against the opposite wall as if she’s been drop-kicked in the abdomen.
Vangelis fades; the earthquake subsides.
“Oh, my,” she murmurs, invoking the universal phrase used the world over to encompass every tumultuous thought that no doubt goes through a mother’s head when she sees her son’s wang in horrifyingly crystal-clear, high-definition detail for the first time since he was in diapers, years ago, inches ago, back when an erection was just an accidental oopsie and not this circus freak show attraction unwinding in her bathroom.
Straightening, she clears her throat and, with as much dignity as one can muster while naked and bleeding from the eyes, retreats into the safety of her bedroom, locking the door behind her.