Coach Corn had said it would be good. He said drinking never killed anybody. Drinking, he said, was good.
Also: It would give me a chance to “get out of that camp store awhile, have fun, meet some of these gorillas you’re coaching with. Hear me?” And that couldn’t be bad. It had to be good. “Reprieve, Turner.” It was all good according to the gospel according to Coach Corn. Hail Mary, and so forth. We were off to the Tank.
We arrived and there was nothing particularly good about it. It was just me and Coach Regan, and neither of us was saying anything, just looking around. We were waiting on the others to show. We didn’t know a thing about each other. We had nothing to say.
Finally Regan said, “Hey, you like numbers, man?”
“Yeah,” I said, and I did. I did sort of like numbers. I liked fractions and I liked the hell out of converting. Percentages I was very fond of.
“What do you think about fifteen?”
I thought hard about it and nodded. I floated the numeral in my head. “Fifteen,” I said. “Yeah, fifteen’s good.”
“Fifteen?” he said. “Shit. Fifteen’s great. Fuck. You gotta be dead not to like fifteen.”
We’d gotten very close to hear each other. It’s what you had to do at the Tank. You had to get close. The music was too loud, in my opinion, but maybe that was the desired thing, to bring us all a little closer. Hell, we’d been close all week, head-butting each other, swiping legs for high-crotches, strangling bellies with figure-fours, snapping, stuffing, flicking. The Tank was a different story. We were out of dress code, wearing jeans and polos. Our belt buckles shined in the low light, as did our gums and our beers.
When he leaned in to talk, Coach Regan’s breath smelled like cologne. I’d encountered this phenomenon before but never knew how to replicate it. These cologne-breaths, did they drink cologne?
“Sixteen, too,” Regan said, and I was getting to like him. I liked his courage. Plus, he made me look like I had a friend. The best thing about talking this way was that you didn’t have to look at the guy you were talking to. You could just look around the room, see who was there, which girls, if they had any guys with them. The Tank was mostly sausage that night, maybe a wife or two. DJ Binzo wore an earring, so he was sort of female, but you know what? Coach Tiper also wore an earring, and a ribbon. It didn’t make any sense. It did not make sense.
DJ Binzo, by the way, holy shit. Last time I’d seen his ass he was spinning the same junk at Sig Ep,
playing “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and that techno Madonna. He had graduated. To the Tank. Congratulations, Binzo. You pussy.
Binzo had one taker, though. She was dancing all alone in ill-brown hair. She was too skinny, and her jeans were bad. Her makeup hid blotches of acne. Her looks, all said, were not good. I couldn’t stop staring at her, though, while Coach Regan talked to me, cologne-breath, etc.
So she was ugly, this ugly girl, so was I—so were we all. Ugly was status quo in our sport. Compulsory, being ugly. We’d been working at it all week. Tonight was our debutante ball.
Regan, though, he was pretty. We got to talking that night and he showed me his ring finger and a picture of a kid. I think he was the only one out of all of us. The remainder—we were the rule. We scored, occasionally, some of us, I don’t know. We acted like we did. But Regan had proof. He had a kid. He had a picture of a kid.
Regan and I kept talking, and I kept watching that ugly girl dance as we talked. Every few drinks or so we’d go back to the numbers thing. Did I mention we were drinking? We had a tab on the camp credit card, and as we ran the tab, things got funnier. I forgot all about my bad teeth. I was cracking up.
“Fifteen, sixteen, twenty-nine,” Regan said. He was using his fingers to count them out. “Thirty-seven.” These were the greats. These were the best ones.
The ugly girl must’ve gotten sick of dancing alone because she came out to the perimeter and started trying guys. She’d go up to them and start dancing, see who’d take. Everyone refused out of embarrassment, and after a while she took a drink break by Binzo and a new song came on. I figured she wouldn’t come around again.
Then the next time I went to say something to Coach Regan she was backing up into him. She had her hands on her knees.
“Oh,” I said.
Then Regan pushed me in front of her.
And there we were—the three of us—me and Regan on either side, the ugly girl in the middle, bobbing up and down with the music, her hips buried in Regan’s crotch, her hands on my shoulders. I spread my arms out like an eagle. I didn’t know what to do, so I watched Coach Regan. I did what he did. And he was doing eagle-arms. We went on like this for a while, the three of us, and I kept watching Coach Regan for changes.
Then she let go of me and swiveled to kiss Coach Regan on the mouth. I was stupefied and alone. So I took my hands and put them on her head, her kissing head, and bobbed up and down. I smiled and turned profile. I kept bobbing. Which is exactly when Coach Corn whisked me away, saying, “Come here, Turner. There is someone you have got to meet.”
Jeff Bender lives and teaches in Philadelphia. He is a Research Arts student at Columbia and is working on a novel called Wrestling Camp.