Chapter 1: Picking Up Chicks
On the night of my first adventure, I, Blacky Dano—weirdo, writer, woman—go out to the city to pick up chicks.
Right now I’m in a modest, quiet bar somewhere in the nicer part of Quezon City. Dressed in my usual uniform of male formalwear, I station myself on a wobbly stool by the drinks counter where I can most easily see people coming and going. I’m looking for a lovely lady to fuck. Yes, legs crossed and facing away from the counter, I’m drinking alcohol and drinking sights. As the alcohol seeps into my brain, I lazily imagine that instead of being in this bar, I’m at the ocean. I’m teetering on a rickety jetty, drinking in the salt in the air instead of these alcoholic fumes. I swing my arms, preparing to take the plunge, into the ocean, into the city, into the life of another person. Of course, the only way to go about this is through an excellent adventure. Which is why I’m here.
In my head, a letter writes itself. It’s a letter to a friend whom I’ll never talk to anymore. It’s always like this—though she’s far away now, she’s the only one I’d ever want to tell all the details of my life as soon as they’ve happened. Right now, almost involuntarily, I etch the spiky words onto my brain, inside my skull, where it’s safe. I write:
- Dear ex-best friend,
- How long has it been since we’ve seen each other? Too long. In case you’re wondering, today I’m well and good, and I know you are too because you’re a good person, and good people have this way of living perfectly decent lives.
- As for me, a perfectly indecent person, I haven’t accomplished a single blessed thing since we parted after graduation. I live alone now in a small, cheap apartment in E. Abada Street near Katipunan Ave, just a stone’s throw away from our good old alma mater, to work on my debut novel. My ever-supportive parents pay the rent and all my living expenses, and I feel terrible about it, but as a consolation I imagine what their faces would look like if I became the biggest, baddest writer ever and we’d be filthy rich. I guess I’m damn lucky to be their daughter because even though they periodically find me overwhelming and bewildering—and understandably so!—they still believe in my childhood dream of being a novelist. I’m still twenty years old though and still have a long way to go, and I just beg my parents never to set foot in my apartment until I finally manage to publish my novel, because I don’t want them to see how fucking messed up I’ll get in the process.
- As for now, since I know jackshit and therefore the novel I’m working on right now is most likely guaranteed to be jackshit, I’m trying to be all productive here by working on an adventure project at the same time. What adventure project, you ask? Well, remember Father Sheep (bleat, bleat) my Philosophy professor? Permanently angry and upset with our indifference and inaction as university students from rich families, he bleated about immersing ourselves into the world, because people who have grown up on the streets know so much more about everything than we who are born with silver spoons in our mouths.
- Not that I’m rich, you know, but my family’s never been dirt-poor, and what’s more my parents were scared I’d get raped and stabbed and killed every time I stepped out the door without a chaperone or a letter of permission. Not that I’m the hottest woman anyone’s ever seen. But I’m white and clueless about all the shit that goes down in this world, so I suppose I glow in a bad way in a sea of golden brown people that know everything. And as long as I remain white and clueless, any and all books I write will only sell to the white and clueless segment of readers, which as you know is the minority in this country. I want to be a “poor-man’s writer” too. (I hope all this adventuring won’t get me all tanned to a crisp though. I really wouldn’t want that to happen no matter what.)
- So I’m doing this for my novel. But I’m also doing this for me. And lastly, I’m doing this for you too. You loved me and I broke your heart because I couldn’t deal with you, a real person, as real as anyone else. Sometimes, you see, I lose my grip on reality. This is something I need to remedy, and soon, if I want to be a writer who knows everything and can therefore write about everything.
- Tonight my mission is to pick up chicks. It would be great to go home with a harem of lovely ladies, but of course I wouldn’t say no to even just one lovely lady either. Ultimately I hope that after tonight I can bring up my number of sexual conquests to the grand total of two: tonight’s lovely lady and you. My sexual repertoire is probably not that impressive compared to that of most people, but then again, you and I fucked countless times in the course of our relationship, so that should probably count for more than just one conquest.
- No, I’m not getting nostalgic. Maybe a little. The remembrances of things are always pleasanter than the things themselves. You’re great, though. I’m not undermining that. And I’ll never forget that. You were the greatest best friend and girlfriend I could have ever hoped to have. We spent our college years together alternately fighting and fucking, and it was glorious and I wouldn’t change a thing, wouldn’t take back a single tear shed between us, and there were, as you know, a lot. So I honestly wish with my whole heart that you’re well. Remember to do your best in med school, and I’ll do my best too as a writer, and who knows, maybe one day—or soon!—you’ll pass by a bookstore and see a whole tableful of copies advertising my debut novel. Maybe by then you’ll be a big-shot doctor and can afford to buy as many copies of my book as you can carry in your arms. Buy at least 25 copies, please. Thank you in advance.
- Now I must go. I can’t be a good writer from writing things inside my head. I must immerse myself into the city and rid myself of my childish naiveté. I must know everything. Tonight is an adventure, and it’s time to take the plunge.
- Your ex-best friend,
The moment I fold up the letter into my head for future perusal, the moment I look up, ready to take the plunge into the ocean—guess what—I see, across from me, the ocean.
But not what you’d expect. As I’ve said, I’m not sitting on a rickety jetty or dangling my bare legs above the brine. I’m not lounging on the sand or drinking in the flavorful air. Not even close to that. I’m still here, in this quiet bar and café somewhere in the nicer part of Quezon City. Still sipping my martini. Even so, in this safe place where you generally wouldn’t expect to see the ocean, I see the ocean, blue and rough, crashing up and down the arms of a girl with a swirl of shiny black hair and glittery black eyes.
Tattoos of oceans on a butchy-beautiful girl’s arms. A pale imitation of the real ocean, you might say, except not pale at all. The oceans on her arms are blue, blue, blue. Not what I expected—better. I’ll take it.
I leap down at once and leap toward her. This isn’t a gay bar or anything, but there are some things you just know. Like, if you are pale and thin and lean and flat-chested and have short hair and tattoos of the ocean on your lovely, wiry arms and wear a plain white tank top and ripped jeans and military boots, and are a girl, you’re also gay. You know. Obvious.
“Hello, Girl with Oceans for Arms,” I sidle up and say. “I think you’re very pretty. Also, don’t you think oceans are sad because they’re salty like tears are salty? Do you think maybe the ocean is a symbol for all the tears people want to cry but can’t?”
She’s taller by only a few inches, but her dark eyes seem to bear down on me with condescension, which, I learn later on, is her default expression. “So, Girl with the Ill-fitting Suit, what are you trying to say?” she replies, her voice unexpectedly melodic.
“I’m trying to pick you up,” I explain to the girl. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be saying.”
“Listen, some advice? If you’re trying to pick someone up, don’t tell them blatantly that you’re picking them up. You just dive into it.”
“Right, right, I’m diving in. I wonder, if I’m enveloped in your arms, will it feel like I’m diving into the ocean?”
She raises her eyebrows. “Why are you even doing this? Okay, maybe you’ve delivered a couple of mildly interesting pick-up lines, and maybe it’ll be mildly interesting to go to bed with you, but I can tell you don’t really give a shit if this happens or not. What are you after, kid?”
“One, I’m twenty which is probably around the same age as you. Two, I’m on an adventure. I’m a writer, you know. Right now I’m trying to write the best damn novel the world’s ever seen, but the problem is I haven’t seen the world yet. I need to discover more about it, interact with it, know it like the back of my hand. That’s why I’m on an adventure right now. I have, like, this list of things to accomplish in the course of my adventures. First item on my list: Picking Up Chicks. I swear. If you come to my apartment, I’ll even show you the list.”
The girl shrugs. “There’s nothing adventurous about picking people up and fucking them. Everyone does that.”
“Which is exactly why I chose you. See, I’m not just picking you up, I’m picking you. Sex is just sex, but it’s got to be a wholly different experience when oceans are grabbing you and drowning you the whole time you’re doing it, right? That, to me, sounds like an outstanding adventure indeed.”
“Oh quit it with the ocean metaphors,” she says. But she smiles for the first time.
* * *
“So listen,” I tell the girl, “I don’t really know if this is what people do in these sorts of situations. Like, when you pick someone up for the night, do you tell each other all the nitty-gritty, sordid details of your lives, or do you just stay anonymous? I don’t even know, but fuck that. My name’s Blacky Dano. What’s your name?”
She doesn’t answer, just looks around critically at my tiny apartment littered with books, papers, and crushed cigarettes. “I thought you said you were a writer?”
“I am. I mean, I haven’t actually been published just yet but I will be. Soon.”
She blows out a sigh then plops down on the bed. “Here I was, expecting a vintage typewriter and vinyl records, but it looks like you’re a regular person just like anyone else. Besides, this room stinks. God.”
“You smell nice,” I say, sitting next to her and nuzzling her. “Not like the ocean, surprisingly. Not fishy or salty. You smell like perfume.”
She snorts. “Of course I don’t smell like the ocean. No one does unless they live beside it. What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me is I don’t know anything. Which is why I need your help, Girl with Oceans for Arms.” And with that, I pin her down the bed.
“Why, is this the first time you’ll have an actual person touching you?” she asks sarcastically. “You bored of your own fingers?”
“I wonder how different it’ll be to hump a living, breathing person rather than my pillow. I wonder how it feels to thrust into the ocean.”
“You’re disgusting,” she whispers, but grabs my face down anyway and sticks her tongue up my dry throat.
* * *
We fuck five times. It’s supposed to be four, but I have an obsession with “exact” numbers, so I throw her down the bed and fuck her again. She has a very gratifyingly loud moan that helps me read her and pace my movements accordingly, but the “moan” of her mind is a little harder to hear so I can’t pace my conversation with her properly. Between touches and strokes, I tell her the long and drawn-out story of my life, a largely monotonous affair with peaks and dips few and far between, but the girl offers me no stories in return. She just listens. Once, in a crazy fit of tenderness, I try to lean into her and hold her with a plain and simple sweetness, but her hair is an Elly Jackson-ish spike, and it pokes my eye when I try to kiss her soft.
So though I want to cuddle, I chain-smoke instead when we’re done fucking. I smoke a lot when I’m nervous and I’m nervous all the time, which should just about give you a more or less accurate picture of the insides of my lungs. Tar.
“That wasn’t your first time,” the girl accuses me. She’s slumped down, breathing like she’s just gone on a triathlon.
“That’s your fault for judging. Which law says that someone who’s slaving away on a novel on her parent’s expenses and wears garage sale suits patched up just to fit her small frame and says pick-up lines about oceans is a virgin?”
“Well excuse me for downplaying your apparent whore status on my polite mind.”
“If technique is directly proportional to whoredom then you must be one vigorous whore as well. How many partners have you had anyway?”
“Don’t know, don’t count. Show me your novel.”
I look away and take a particularly deep drag off my cigarette. “It’s a very rough draft. You wouldn’t want to see it.”
“What happened to your enormous, inflated ego? Come on, show me.”
So I do. She flips through the few pages I’ve banged out on my secondhand laptop and tuts after every other page. “What?” I say defensively.
“What is this, aimed at Dora the Explorer fans? You’re twenty years old, for God’s sake. Can’t you write about something more people—and, most importantly, you—can relate to?”
“Children’s books are a huge market, you know. Besides, I like reading them.”
“What’s the title of this anyway?”
“The Great Sausage Adventure.”
“Is this supposed to be some saucy double entendre that will lure itsy-bitsy children to pick up your book? Because I don’t think that’s going to work out.”
“Listen to yourself. They’re supposed to be kids. All they know about sausages is that they can eat them.”
The girl throws back her head and laughs for a long time. “Oh my God. I can’t believe I’m listening to this right now.”
I can’t help but laugh along. “Seriously though, it’s a totally innocent story. It’s about two stepbrothers who try to heat up a pack of sausages in a microwave, but it explodes, and the end result is magical sausages that, when eaten, can help the kids find the magical and adventurous side of ordinary household objects and settings. Then there’s this little girl who wears a red summer dress and clunky boots who comes in as they’re coughing up the smoke of the microwave explosion, and she has a gas mask on and is wielding this huge fire extinguisher—huge, bigger than the girl really—and she puts out the fire and goes with them on the adventures, except she’s not—”
“Real. Yeah, I got that.”
“Was it that obvious? It was supposed to be the big twist of the story.”
She sighs loudly and drops my manuscript on the bed. “And you’re hoping that this shit will be, and I quote ‘the best damn novel the world’s ever seen’? Honestly? You’re delusional.”
I shake my head. “No, just ambitious. I may not be a great writer right now, but at least I dare to have great dreams.”
“You know my advice, Blacky Dano the substandard writer?” the girl says lazily.
“What?” I ask.
“Shut the fuck up about your fucking kid’s book and fuck me again.”
So we fuck six times. It’s not an exact number, but I can’t say I mind.