Stinky Versus Shakey



33 Union sq W, New York, NY 10003

Neighborhood: East Village

Lisandra and I both graduated from the same college with writing degrees and hopes of being comedy writers, but after graduation, neither one of us had a job. When I met Lisandra, she was a grad student with a cushy part-time assistant job. She spent her days trolling for MP3s, making copies, and listening to her boss complain, which was actually pretty difficult as her boss, Bethany, wore braces and had a lazy eye. I was finishing my career as a carefree undergrad, and one day, after our sitcom writing class, we bonded over our mutual hatred of Yuri, who was both her roommate and the department receptionist. He wasn’t Russian, just a flaming homosexual, and everything you said to him was either “fabulous!” or the cue for an Amish joke. As we were both befuddled and annoyed by Yuri’s sense of humor, my friendship with Lisandra was born.

That May, Lisandra’s boss got fired, rendering her assistant job obsolete. And so, with our twin useless degrees — my BFA, or “Big Fucking Asshole,” and her MFA, or “Mother Fucking Asshole” — we spent a lot of time hanging around Union Square, doing nothing. Lisandra collected unemployment; I coasted on the pity of my parents in the post-grad months. We would sit on a bench near Luna Park, or eat bagels on University, or stalk an ex-boyfriend of hers who worked at a comic book store called Forbidden Planet, all while being hilarious to each other.

Maybe it was the carefree window of time we were living in, but whenever Lisandra and I hung out, we spun endless yarns of perceived comic genius, scarf upon sweater upon afghan of golden almost-hahas. We’d sit on the steps of Union Square facing 14th Street, a place we’d started to call “the beach,” and make up short jingles about who ever passed by.

“This one’s called, ‘fat guy,'” I’d say, and then, quietly serenading the obese man walking by wearing shorts and black socks, I’d sing, “Fat guy! You’re fat! Lose weight!”

“I call this one denim guy,” Lisandra said, apropos of the woman wearing a denim skirt and denim vest, carrying a denim handbag. “Denim guy…wearing lots of denim!”

Such days filled at least the entire month of June.

One night, as we were walking up town approaching 14th and University, a homeless man asked me for change.

“Sorry, guy,” I said.

“Fuck you and your fat ass,” he muttered.

When we were a few steps away, I said to Lisandra, “holy shit, did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“That homeless guy told me I had a fat ass.”

“Bullshit,” Lisandra said, lighting a cigarette. “Why would he bother objectifying you? He doesn’t even have a home.”

“If he lives in a box or a studio, he’s entitled to think my ass is fat.”

“Your ass isn’t fat,” she said.

“So says you,” I said. “Stinky back there thinks different.”

“Are you saying that you’re taking Stinky’s opinion over mine?”

Lisandra and I bickered, or rather bantered about the comment for several blocks. As we approached the bagel place on 2nd Ave and 23rd St, we passed another homeless man silently shaking a cup with no change in it. I couldn’t tell if he was begging or just had the DTs.

“Jesus,” Lisandra said, “you and your fat fucking ass.”

“No!” someone said. “That’s not right at all!” It was Shakey. He stopped shaking his cup and looked at Lisandra. “You don’t talk to your friend that way. She has a lovely figure.”

We debated the points of Stinky and Shakey all night. Even if our degrees were useless in terms of getting us writing work, we really should have written the whole conversation down, because it truly was like something out of our sitcom writing class, something so young and New York it screamed 18-24 demographic, something that could have come out of the sharpest spec script by the highest member of the Harvard Lampoon totem pole.

By the time fall rolled around, Lisandra started to panic about her unemployment checks and got a job as an assistant again, this time at a company that worked as a friendship service for singles. They weren’t a dating service, really, because they didn’t seek to match up romantic partnerships — they just coordinated broad events, like happy hours or giant games of Charades, where single people could mingle amongst their own. I got a crappy job writing for an Internet company that allowed me to work out of my apartment, plus I did other small freelance gigs to pay the bills. Three years later, our jobs haven’t changed.

I went to visit Lisandra at work this winter; she’d recently been promoted and was now heading up the gay division of the company. That week she was coordinating a night for gay male patrons of the company’s services to play the board game Clue.

I hadn’t seen her in a while, and when I opened the frosted glass door of her office, she looked tired. The heater in her office wasn’t working, and she was wearing a scarf. I instantly thought of the jingle: “Scarf lady…your neck is oh so warm!” But I didn’t sing it out loud.

Even if we knew our degrees were useless when we graduated, I still thought we’d be real comedy writers by now. Maybe that’s why Lisandra and I don’t talk so often anymore, like we’re waiting for real life to happen before we bother getting in touch again. And yet, real life is always happening, even if it’s filled with bills and day-jobs instead of bosses with lazy eyes and bad Amish jokes from gay not-Russian Yuri.

“So,” I said. “Gay men like Clue.”

“Yes,” Lisandra said. “Clue. And anonymous sex.”

“Lesbians like oral sex,” I said. “And Boggle.”

And we spent our lunch hour like that, making our lives and educations worth it, if only for an afternoon. Then I left her to go back to work, and as I walked back through the streets of the city to my apartment, nobody said anything to me, hilarious or otherwise.

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