I had this former friend who used to say, “Once an orgy guy, always an orgy guy.” He had a lot of orgies when we were in college. Not that they were technically orgies. He’d set you square on the terms. ‘It was a just a threesome, dawg,” would be the kind of correction you’d get from him when you were walking to the dining hall. His name was Clifton, and if you called him Cliff, he tended to lose his shit. “Not cool, bro,” he’d add, then call you a name that wasn’t a bastardization or truncation of your own name, but rather a new name. Say, ass lick, or taint bubble. He sort of christened you.
People would ask me, “How are you friends with that guy? He’s a fuck wad.” They said it enough that over the time the unfortunate adjective was ditched, and the stand-alone term of wad took its place, everyone versed in the precise manner of wad we were talking.
Some of these were guys whose girlfriends had been with Clifton. They typically found out because he’d say something. The girls were remarkably covert. Or grown-up. Perhaps they thought they’d made a mistake, learned from it, were on the road to adulthood now. You always think of adulthood as a road. Maybe that’s why blues singers sang about them so much. We’d come back from a football game, having left early, because our team sucked and buzzes instigated at mid-morning tailgates had all worn off, and we’d wolf down chicken parm subs and fat French fries wide as Weebles, and Clifton might say, “yo, Todd, man, does Reesie still squirt?” which also made me wonder why a person having functioned thusly at an earlier date would have ceased to at a later point, though these were less-than-scientific inquiries.
But he’d just fucking throw it out there, with brass ones—meaning balls—as my dad used to say, then keep chewing, toss back another fry. They flew through the air a bit before they went into his mouth, like he’d suddenly melt if his fingers happened to graze his lips. They were for the ladies. Exclusive.
Later I’d try and apologize to the other guys, whomever had most recently been appalled and insulted. A portion of my regular to-do list, like find a thesis adviser, get the laundry done, retrieve the care package from home.
“He was drunk,” I said. “Dude has been through a lot.” We were roommates every year. I listened to a lot of crap when I got to school. Soft rock. Air Supply, Lionel Ritchie, Christopher Cross. Embarrassing, really. Clifton cranked bootleg concert tapes of the Rolling Stones on tour in 1969, and weird Berlioz pieces, insane shit like Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz. “It’s like a fucking river bitch,” he’d say regarding that last one. “Hear the fucking river.”
When he clattered in late at night with a girl, I’d lay in my bed facing the wall, away from his bed, with headphones on, turning up that Free Jazz, or the Stones, or Berlioz, or anyone else I began listening to because of Clifton. Zeppelin, Little Willie John, Etta James. But no matter the volume, he always managed to make his voice go just loud enough so I couldn’t help but hear him grunt, “I’m gonna bust.” The girls were positioned on top for the big moment. He told me that. “It’s their privilege,” he said. “The privilege of the ride.” Which made him laugh. And of course when they were done, he’d ask in my direction, my back still to the room, covers over my head: “You want next, bro?” I felt bad for the girls. But they’d come back, the same ones.
I think some regarded it as a kindness. But with an alluring, illicit element for them. I don’t know. I was never that kind of person. Someone who draws you to them. One girl I really liked named Tori was smart enough that on the first day of a class we had together on Chaucer, she understood all of the Middle English in The Canterbury Tales, and read a few pages back perfectly, better than the professor, while the rest of us figured we might as well be staring at Egyptian tomb engravings.
She was my friend that I had that I dreamed of always being with, marrying, living in a house by a coast with plentiful patches of sunflowers, but I never asked her out because I didn’t know how we could be better anything than we were friends and I was scared she’d say no. We could have been friends after she said no. It was something I kept in front of myself, though. A kind of lamp, I guess. Lamps are like hope. What matters is their existence, that they’re bright enough, not that you’re trying all the settings.