We Have All Been Hurt by Television Actors
I was looking forward to my last day of working at Fried Beer for two reasons: 1). it was my last day of working at Fried Beer and 2). my coworker Laurie had promised to tell me her “sad Tom Arnold scat sex story” on my last day of work.
Six months ago, a man had come up to the cart while Laurie and I were parked on Ludlow and had ordered ten orders of fried beer from us and then puked all over himself while his friends pointed and laughed. He had puked so hard that he lost his glasses and we watched from up high in our perch as he felt around in the gutter full of vomit for his spectacles. He was so drunk that he kept picking up chunks of vomit-covered street trash and inspecting them before deciding that they weren’t his glasses.
“This reminds me of a story,” Laurie had said softly. “A sad story.”
“What kind of a story?” I asked.
“A sad Tom Arnold scat sex story. Oh, but I can’t tell you that story yet.”
I think right then was when I fell in love with her.
“What? Why not?”
“I can’t tell you that story while we are working at the same place,” she said. “I don’t want you to get the wrong opinion about me while we are coworkers and totally poison my reputation.”
“Your reputation is totally safe,” I said, putting one hand on a Fried Beer menu, swearing by it. “Just tell me.”
“No, you have to quit working here or I have to quit working here or one of us has to get fired.”
“Pish posh pshaw,” I said. “You can’t say that you have a sad Tom Arnold scat sex story and then hold it over my head like some kind of flaming hoop, encouraging me to jump through it just so you can steal my good weekend Fried Beer shifts.”
Fried Beer was pretty lucrative as far as street cart jobs. We usually parked somewhere in the Lower East Side, and because we dressed like bartenders and checked IDs, people usually tipped us well. We also served fried iced cream and fried nachos. Fried beer came in these little ravioli pockets made of pretzel dough. Five dollars got you three pockets of fried beer.
“You don’t even know who Tom Arnold is,” said Laurie.
“No, but I know what scat sex is. I am also familiar with sadness.”
“I promise I will tell you this story as soon as we are no longer working together,” said Laurie.
“OH SHIT!” said the drunk man in the street, holding up his puke-spattered spectacles. “I FOUND THEM!”
All of his friends clapped. Laurie and I clapped, too. The drunk man staggered down the street, grinning and dripping vomit down his chin like a ghoul dripping brains. His friends followed him away, leaning against each other and singing.
Six months later, I finally found a better paying job as a concierge for a health club. I called our manager, this guy from Texas named Alan, and I told him that I was done. He told me that he had been planning to fire me anyway since I was always late for work. We both laughed and he hung up.
Then I called Laurie, told her the good news, and reminded her of her promise. We made sure that we were scheduled to work together on my last night, and then afterwards we went to this stock broker bar called “Shiftless.” It seemed like a good place to celebrate moving up in the world.
“So is this a date?” asked Laurie as soon as we were both settled in one of the high, oak-paneled booths.
“Is it?” I asked. Laurie pursed her lips at me.
“Maybe this is the exact wrong time to tell this story,” said Laurie.
“But you promised!”
“You seriously don’t know who Tom Arnold is?” asked Laurie.
“You know I don’t know anything at all that a person of good intelligence might know. I know only methods of low crime and surprising facts. For instance, did you know that in medieval times, a concierge was an officer of the king who was tasked with executing justice?”
“Tom Arnold was a comedian in the 90s,” said Laurie, wrinkling her nose. “I mean, he was married to a comedian. Roseanne Barr. She had her own television show.”
“I thought she was married to that fat, depressed dude with the scrunchy eyes?”
“John Goodman. They were only married on the show. In real life, she was married to this other dude with piggy eyes and slick hair. Tom Arnold. He is one of those guys with thin, invisible lips that get all flecked with white foam when they get excited.”
“Like when they buy fried beer?”
“Don’t joke around about this. He’s a real person. You know, this story isn’t as sad if you don’t know him. You have to be able to picture him. Let me try and find a picture. You’ll recognize him.”
While Laurie tried to find a picture of him on her phone, I went and got us a couple of regular beers. She showed me his picture and I shrugged.
“He was famous?”
“Yeah, after he and Roseanne got married. He was in movies. He did TV. And then when he and Roseanne got divorced, he got half of everything she had. Which was like 20 million dollars.”
“He was funny?”
“No,” said Laurie, looking at her phone and then putting it away. “I mean, not intentionally. He was sexually abused as a child by his babysitter while his mom left him alone to go cheat on her husband. One day he found a gun and held it on his babysitter until the babysitter promised not to abuse him anymore. When he was on TV, he was compelling in an aggressive, unlikable way. You looked in his face and you saw this big, tortured child. You wanted him not to exist. I mean: you wanted the world that created him not to exist. But you felt sorry for him, and so you laughed at his stupid jokes.”
“I feel that way about most comedians. So tell me this sad story about Tom Arnold.”
“Anyway, as you know, I went to school in California. While I was living out there, my roommate Susan decided to make some extra money while working as a stripper at this place called Pirate Dave’s. It was a shitty strip club, but Susan was relatively certain that no one from school would ever go to Pirate Dave’s and so she wouldn’t have to give any lap dances to her professors or to her classmates. It was a really easy job and she made incredibly good money. It was great to be her roommate. We always had plenty of food in the fridge and she would always buy plane tickets for crazy-ass places. While she was working there, she also started making friends with Tom Arnold, who was a regular at Pirate Dave’s. He was real cool and casual, not creepy at all, and he was a phenomenal tipper. The only problem was that he was always trying to hang out with her outside of work, which was strictly against her personal rules. He always wanted to take her out to the movies or to take her out bowling. He practically begged her to come home with him, offering her all kinds of money and sweet-talk. She had to politely turn him down every day, basically, because he was as insistent and manipulative as a six-year-old trying to get a new toy.”
“So what happened?””
“One Monday morning, I came home from class and Susan was there on our big overstuffed couch that she bought with stripper money. I hadn’t seen her all weekend. She was covered in quilts and blankets and she had huge bags under her eyes. There was a present wrapped in polka dot wrapping paper on our coffee table. She told me to open it. Inside, there was a brand new tablet computer, the kind I had been coveting for months. She said that it was for me. She said that because I was an artist, I would be able to put it to good use. Then she started crying and I knew something horrible had happened.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Over the weekend, Susan had decided to go home with Tom Arnold. He had confessed to her in the men’s bathroom after hours at Pirate Dave’s that all he wanted in the world was for a beautiful college girl to take a shit on him. At the time, she found this hilarious and pitiful. She asked him how much money he would pay her to take a shit on him. He said that he would give her a thousand dollars. No sex, just shit. She said she would have to think about it. He gave her his phone number. The next morning, she called him back and told him that she would do it on two conditions: one, that a friend of hers was going to come with her, because on no account was she going to go to Tom Arnold’s house on her own. And two, that her friend wanted another thousand dollars just for watching. Tom Arnold immediately agreed, saying the more the merrier. They made plans to meet that evening, after she was done with her shift at Pirate Dave’s. A few minutes later, Tom Arnold called back and told her that she had to eat pepperoni pizza for lunch. That eating pepperoni pizza was crucial to the whole experience.”
Laurie took a deep breath and knocked back the rest of her regular beer.
“I want another one,” she said, sliding out of the booth. I stared at her, realizing that I hadn’t even touched my own regular beer.
While she went to the bar, it occurred to me that Laurie probably didn’t have a friend named Susan who was a stripper in college. It occurred to me that this story was probably about Laurie, who was a beautiful, vivacious girl with an exceptional figure and all the balls in the world. It also occurred to me that I should be very sensitive about this and not say anything at all mean or obnoxious about this fictional girl named Susan.
“Did she do it?” I asked when Laurie returned to our table.
“Did Susan eat pepperoni pizza for lunch?”
“No,” said Laurie. “Susan didn’t. Susan wasn’t going to be ordered around and humiliated like some kind of spineless wimp. Instead of eating pepperoni pizza, she ate a salad and some sushi.”
“So then what happened?”
“So then Susan and one of the security guys from Pirate Dave’s drove to Tom Arnold’s house. He had a big ranch house in Hollywood somewhere and it took awhile to find it. They had to keep calling him and asking for directions. He kept making lots of dirty jokes and asking her questions about the pizza that she ate for lunch. Asking if it was really greasy and if the cheese was all gooey like congealed semen. Asking if the pepperoni was the kind that was crispy like bacon, or if it was chewy, like chewing on somebody’s ear. She did her best to avoid his questions. She had gotten pretty good at ignoring questions from men who were trying to shock her. When they arrived at Tom Arnold house, he was waiting for them in a terrycloth bathrobe that was monogrammed with a big ‘TA.’ He was drinking a regular beer and he offered regular beers to both of them. The two thousand dollars was on the kitchen table in a banker’s envelope. Susan’s friend counted it. They all drank a regular beer together and chatted about bullshit, and then Tom Arnold took his robe off and lay down on his kitchen floor and started jacking off.”
“Let’s do this,” said Tom Arnold. “Let’s get this on!”
“Susan wanted to get this over with as fast as possible, so she pulled down her pants and squatted over Tom Arnold’s chest. She waited to feel something stir inside her while watching Tom Arnold play with himself like a nervous man jangling his car keys while walking home through a bad neighborhood. She tried and tried to shit on him, but she couldn’t do it. No matter how much she squeezed and pushed, nothing would come out. She tried to draw in air to create some gas pressure. Nothing. She thought watching Tom Arnold play with himself was distracting her, so she turned around and faced the other way. She stared at Tom Arnold’s goofy jowls and concentrated on taking a shit, trying to fill his chest with long ropy feces that would coil up like a garden hose and then slide into his armpits. She wanted to bury him in a landslide of poisonous poop. But no matter how long she stared into his smirking, scared eyes, she couldn’t force herself to do it.”
Laurie grabbed my hands under the table and drew me closer to her.
“She put her pants back on and opened Tom Arnold’s refrigerator. He kept playing with himself, watching her and drooling. He had regressed into some infantile state and his jaw hung open like a hungry baby. She drank some of Tom Arnold’s milk and ate some of Tom Arnold’s cole slaw from Kentucky Fried Chicken. She went into his bathroom and splashed water onto her face. In the bathroom, she could hear Tom Arnold telling dirty jokes to the security guy and she could hear the security guy politely laughing. She tried to read one of Tom Arnold’s magazines, but Tom Arnold only had glossy tabloids back from the days when people used to write about him. Tom Arnold’s smirking face was the last thing she wanted to see. She did some yoga and then she sat on the toilet for awhile, trying to put herself in the mood. Finally, she felt something move inside her bowels and she ran back into the kitchen.”
Laurie’s face was inches from mine. I could smell the regular beer on her breath. I could smell her anxiety and anticipation.
“Tom Arnold was sitting at the kitchen table again, so she grabbed him by his shoulders and threw him to the floor. She pulled down her pants and squatted over him. His fishworm dick instantly went hard again.”
“Let’s do this,” said Tom Arnold. “Let’s get this on!”
“She stared at his forehead, trying not to imagine the scared little boy inside the fucked-up middle-aged man. She tried not to think about all of the sad reasons that someone might want to be shit on. All of the insecurities and madness. She tried not to think about this man being molested by a cruel teenager and how that must have destroyed his ability to trust people and to make real, human connections. She tried not to wonder what kind of woman would love him or what kind of woman he would love. She tried not to think about being paid millions of dollars for pretending to be an obnoxious buffoon and what that must do to your soul. She tried not to think of having to look in the mirror every day and to see a man that the whole world dismissed as an opportunist and idiot. She tried not to think about his family members begging for money and what that must feel like. She tried not to think about all the women laughing at him openly and in secret. She tried not to think about his fans, fans that he must only have contempt for. She tried not to think about the millions of dollars in therapy bills and the millions of dollars in drugs and liquor. She tried not to think about how when she told this story later it would be as a joke and not as a true story about real pain, real sickness, and real humiliation. Instead, she tried to look in Tom Arnold’s face and to see a toilet. She tried to see a dirty, reeking toilet that deserved to get shit on. She tried to strip away all the humanity from Tom Arnold and look at him the same way that a serial killer would look at him. Or a surgeon. She tried to see him as an object and not as a naked man that had been hurt over and over again in his hard, callow life.”
Laurie was smiling, but her eyes were moist. I tried to match her smile.
“And then, Susan crapped out a tiny turd pellet. Though it was crusty and dense, it stuck to Tom Arnold’s chest anyway, resting there like a giant mole or a new tumor. She stopped straddling him, and then Tom Arnold reached out and snatched the turd from his chest. He ate it. He popped it in his mouth and chewed it and licked his fingers. He grinned at Susan and the security guy, and his teeth were stuck together and streaked with grey-green mush.”
I winced and my mouth filled with acid. I looked away from Laurie.
“Not pepperoni pizza,” said Tom Arnold through a mouthful of shit. “But I forgive you.”
“The end,” said Laurie.
Laurie and I were both silent for a little while. She let me go and I leaned back in the booth, trying to process all of this.
Laurie looked small and sad and fierce. She was holding her breath. I washed the acid out of my mouth with regular beer and tried to look at Laurie. To really look at her. We stared at each other for awhile, and I tried to figure out why she had told me that story. What it meant.
“Before I kiss you, tell me one thing,” I said. “Did you ever forgive Tom Arnold?”
“It gets easier every time I tell it,” said Laurie, breathing out a deep sigh.