THE PUNCHLINE.

Basement Dude had moved out of the basement. So had Basement Guy. They’d had had a falling out. Basement Guy’s girlfriend had broken up with him and started dating Basement Dude. Basement Dude moved out of the basement and moved in with Basement Guy’s ex-girlfriend. Basement Guy moved out too. I don’t know where he went.

 Tim, Mikey, Daniel Bond, Allan Lee and I were now huddled in the bathroom of Basement Dude’s vacant basement apartment. We were bathed in the red glow of the heat lamp in the ceiling. A blunt was making its rounds.  The air was thick with marijuana smoke. A towel was wedged in the crack beneath the door so none of the smoke would escape. It was like a sauna with the heat from the red lightbulb and the smoke from the blunt. We had all gone in on an ounce of marijuana for Bumbershoot weekend. 

 We left the bathroom, smoke curling out behind us. Up the stairs and out my back door into the alley. We were all wearing white t-shirts and khaki shorts and sneakers, and flat-billed fitted baseball hats. Our eyes were red and we were weighed down by our black North Face backpacks. 

“Shit’s about to be so cracking.” said Tim.

 “Oh, fasho.” I said.

 “I’m hella stoked for Jurassic 5.”  said Allan.

 “Me too.” I responded.

 We walked to the bus stop on 65th and waited for the number 71 downtown bus. Car trains snarled the street and the air was heavy with the exhaust from so many automobiles. The morning gray was burning off and the blue had begun to dominate the sky. Mikey lit a cigarette then then pulled a hackey-sack out of the back pocket of his khaki shorts. He took a drag on the cigarette and asked us,

 “Who’s up for the quick hack sesh?” His eyes squinting through the cigarette smoke.

 “Hack sesh?” said Tim in a funny voice.

 “I’m down for a hackity-hack sesh.” said Allan.

 “Yeah. Hack sesh.” said Daniel.

 I didn’t say anything. I sucked at hacky-sacking. We all started kicking around the dirty leather pouch. I was barely able to keep the sack in play, whereas my friends were able to bounce it multiple times before passing it when it came their way. I thought it was funny we hacky-sacked. It was a hobby I associated with grungy hippie kids. We were wigger wannabe tough guys, more likely to steal your laptop than get down on your drum circle.

 The 71 lurched to a stop in front of us and we boarded. The gruff black bus driver stopped Tim with a halting hand motion.

 “Uh-uh, no way. You’re not getting on this bus. I’ve had enough of your shenanigans, buddy.”

 “What dude?! Come on. I’ve got a full fare this time and everything!” Tim pleaded.

 “You should’ve thought of that all the other times you dicked around on MY bus!”

 “Hey man, we’re just trying to get to Seattle Center for Bumbershoot. We promise our friend won’t cause any problems.” said Allan.

 The bus driver pondered Allan’s words for a minute with his lips sucked in, staring intently at Tim.

 “Alright, I guess. But if I get ANY shit from any of you’s, none of you will be riding my bus again.”

 “Thanks man.” said Tim dropping three quarters into the slot. 

 We all slunk to the back of the bus as it pulled away from the curb, the engine grumbling. 

 Two stops later we were met with familiar faces. Billy, Daniel Spinelli, and Franco joined us in the back of the bus. Billy produced a grey and blue Nalgene bottle full of rum he’d pilfered from his parents liquor cabinet, and took a swig. He made a face and let out an, 

 “OOOOHHHH-WEEEEE, that’s the stuff that’ll put hairs on your chest!”

 The Nalgene bottle was passed among us. When it reached me, I took a swig. It tasted like rubbing alcohol, and I almost gagged on it. It burned, and the taste of alcohol was so strong I wanted to spit it back up, but I didn’t. I did not want to lose face in front of my friends. I wiped my lips with my forearm and gasped for breath,

 “Shit’s hella strong.”

Billy chuckled as I handed him back his Nalgene. He took another swig before puttting the cap back on and stashed it in his backpack.

 

***

 Joel Azizollahof was sitting on the concrete handrail on the fourth floor of a parking garage stairwell by the Seattle Center. He was wearing a polo shirt and had his hair cut into a Mohawk. Other than the Mohawk he really didn’t look like a punk rock sort of kid. The Mohawk looked more like a joke than a haircut, one that he did not intend to keep. A Japanese boy stood awkwardly next to him. Their was a large group of us drinking and smoking weed in the stairwell. “pre-funking” before we tried to hop the fence into the music festival. Joel gestured at the bespectacled Japanese youth,

 “This is Mei, he’s from Japan, he’s staying with my family for a semester. He just got here yesterday.”

 “What’s up, Mei?” I said.

 Mei grunted and nodded his head at me.

 “Show him what you got in your backpack Mei.” said Joel.

 Mei looked at Joel, perplexed.

 “YOUR BACKPACK, DUDE!” Joel said louder.

 Mei kept staring at Joel.

 “You know, YOUR BACKPACK.”

 Joel mimicked opening a backpack with his hands.

 Mei grasped the concept.

 “Oh, yes…back…pack.” Mei said nodding his head

 Mei took his backpack off halfway, swung it to his front and zipped it open. It was full of hardcore porno magazines.

 “Mei’s stocking up for when he goes back to Japan, I guess they blur out all the dicks and pussies in Japanese pornos.”

 “Oh, word? Weird. Nice, man.” I said frowning and nodding my head at the same time.

 There was an awkward silence. The sun was shining brightly and you could see the crowds of people converging on Seattle Center for Bumbershoot on the street below the parking garage. Billy broke the silence,

 “Hey guys, I got a joke. Three gay guys in a hot-tub, right? A condom floats to the surface. What does one gay guy say to the other gay guys?”

 “Shit man, I don’t know.” said Daniel Bond.

 “WHO FARTED?!” Billy said laughing.

 We all kind of laughed at the joke.

 “I got another one guys.  What do you get when you combine fifty lesbians with fifty government workers?”

 We all stared at Billy waiting for the punchline. He took a sip of the rum in his Nalgene.

 “One hundred people who don’t do DICK!” He said.

 That one was funnier and we laughed.

 “One more, what’s the difference between a slut and a bitch?” Billy said passing the Nalgene bottle to me.

 I took a swig of the rum that had burned my throat. I had already been drinking, my face felt warm, and it went down easier then it did on the bus. We waited for the punchline and I passed the Nalgene to Joel.

 “A slut’ll fuck anybody. A bitch will fuck anybody but you.”

 We all laughed. Joel laughed and choked on the rum he was sipping. He started to cough and moved his hand violently to cover his mouth. He lost his balance and fell backward over the railing he was sitting on. Joel screamed. Right as Joel began to fall, Billy started moving to catch him. Right as he went over the edge, Billy caught him by the arm. Joel was dangling four stories above the sidewalk, Billy’s strong grasp the only thing between Joel and oblivion. The Nalgene bottle had fallen forward onto the floor of the stairwell, the rum was spilled all over the ground.

 “I got you buddy, just hold on tight.” Billy said.

 Billy pulled Joel back up over the edge. I thought to myself “Holy shit, Billy just saved Joel’s life.”  Billy helped Joel onto his feet and brushed off his shoulders. Joel was shaking. Billy turned to the rest of us like nothing had happened,

 “What would be the best thing about electing a woman for president?”

We all stared at him. Billy flashed a toothy smile.

 “We wouldn’t have to pay her as much!”

 

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