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I returned, but at this point I pretty much tuned out. I kept thinking about Bert's imaginary mother, feeling terrible that she had missed out on Shamu and even Triple Espresso. Bert and Pam had actually gone to see the wacky romp and loved it. He also told me "their song" was "Part Time Lover," a pukingly sentimental dance tune whose sentiment was as deep as lubricant-soaked Kleenex.

"What's your mom's name? You never mentioned it." I had to ask for some reason; I wanted to give her more substance than Bert's lack of description and whirlwind recounting of their fun.

"You mean my real mother?"

"Well, yeah."

"It's Sylvia. Queen Sylvia of Binghamton."

"Is that what you tell your girlfriend in New York, or did you make up a name?"

"You know, I did say it was Sylvia a couple of times." At that point Bert resumed telling me about his sexual adventures with what'shername here in San Diego (she was at Nordstrom at the moment) and I had to interrupt him. "Bert, I gotta go."

"Yeah, what are you up to?"

"I don't know. I don't feel so great."

"Wow, sorry, Buddy. Here, take my card, maybe we'll catch up, dig up some action." I didn't take the card but kind of clutched my side like I was having some internal bleeding problems.

"Hey, good luck," I said, but guys like that never seem to need it. I said, "Take it easy." And I meant that.

"Yeah, nice meeting you." He turned back to the remaining blank cards and splayed them out before him, entranced as if in some weird conjunction of solitaire and Tarot card reading. He set quickly to writing another one with Torrey Pines Golf Course pictured, and I made a momentary bet with myself that he was having a better time right now, confabulating apparently impossible fun with his mother, than he had last night, Friday night, rogering the lights out of what'shername from P.B.

Wading through sheaths of smoke on the way out, I imagined Bert and Pam sharing some kind of French cigarette, Gauloise maybe, after doing the dance of the studly airman and the trembling, lovesick shop girl. Sometimes I can't turn that sort of thing off.

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