Johnny America




Jody Buck­ing­ham called the St. Fran­cis staff lounge around eleven that morn­ing. Frank Yance and I sat on the lounge so­fa eat­ing sala­mi sand­wich­es. I don’t know how Frank could have sat there, small and dark and rav­en­ous, down­ing that sala­mi sand­wich like noth­ing af­ter clean­ing two of Pernell’s accidents.


“Yeah, Jody. What’s up?”

“I’m on my way down now.”

“Your ride’s not till noon.”

“I know. Got any smokes?”


“Can I bum one?”


“I’m com­ing down now to smoke it on the patio.”

“Okay, Jody.”

Frank looked at me. He had shaved his head a few days be­fore. He had a thin neck, nar­row body, and a head shaped like a gi­ant light bulb. His white T‑shirt had a yel­low­ish fe­ces splotch on the right shoul­der, but I didn’t say any­thing. I knew Per­nell could be a mess some­times, but I won­dered how Frank had man­aged to get fe­ces on his shoul­der. He bit in­to his sand­wich and tore off a piece too big for his mouth. No mat­ter. He tipped his chin up and some­how worked it down.

Jody came down in dark blue sweats and a black T‑shirt that bare­ly cov­ered his dis­tend­ed belly.

“Hey, fat­so,” Frank said.

Jody grinned and gave him the fin­ger. I joined Jody for a smoke on the pa­tio. I tugged his T‑shirt and ad­just­ed the brakes on his wheel­chair. The spina bi­fi­da had on­ly af­fect­ed Jody’s low­er body. He could use his arms fine, but his legs were shriv­eled, his gen­i­tals. He’d lived through fifty surg­eries in his life­time. His back was an ac­cor­dion of scar tis­sue. Still, com­pared to the oth­er guys, he had it pret­ty good. Jody was healthy, rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing, his ill­ness not de­gen­er­a­tive. I brushed some lint from his shoulder.

“Sean might be mov­ing out,” he said.

“Over that Char­lene thing?”

“Yup. She screwed him up big time.”

Jody’s eyes point­ed in op­po­site di­rec­tions. He nod­ded gen­tly while speak­ing or lis­ten­ing. He had long, stringy brown hair and a frail goa­tee happening.

“Charlene’s noth­ing but trouble.”

“Thought she was your friend, Jody?”

“That skank? She’s no friend of mine.”

Per­nell joined us, wear­ing black sweats and a black Harley sweat­shirt. He had Duschene’s mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy, but un­like many vic­tims of that ill­ness whose bod­ies with­er up, his was thick and stiff; he weighed over two hun­dred pounds. He wagged his mouth­stick. He used it to tap on doors. He had bleached his red hair blonde and looked odd what with his red eye­brows and lash­es. He sport­ed a new tat­too on his left fore­arm, a wob­bly Yosemite Sam.

“Hey guys,” he croaked.

“Per­nell,” Jody said, “I hear your snake got loose.”

“Yup. Two days it was out. Ig­or fi­nal­ly found it. In a speaker.”

Jody grinned and nodded.

“You go­ing for a work­out?” Per­nell asked. How he talked and kept that mouth­stick in place mys­ti­fied me.


“If you see Leo tell him I want my gloves back.”

“Tell him yourself.”

Frank, with shit on his shoul­der, poked his head out the door. “Tele­phone, Bobby.”

“Yeah.” I went in. Kirsten, my part­ner. She’d been call­ing me at work a lot lately.

“What’s up?”

“I’m up­set.”

“About what?”

“Can’t talk about it now.”

“Kirsten, what — ”

“I’m very up­set, Bobby.”

“Where are you?”

“At the office.”

“Is it okay if I call you back in a lit­tle while, I got­ta run?”

“Yeah, I guess so, eh? You got­ta run.”

“What the hell is that sup­posed to mean?”

She hung up the phone with­out an­swer­ing. My stom­ach churned. What could be wrong now? It had been a month of up­sets. I loved that girl, but I couldn’t make her hap­py. I had the feel­ing she would leave me soon. There wasn’t much I could do about it. Per­nell need­ed his leg bag emp­tied. I went in­side and grabbed a bot­tle from the wash­room. God, his urine smelled aw­ful. It was thick, al­most green.

Jody’s ride ar­rived. He board­ed the wheel-trans with­out say­ing good­bye to Per­nell. I sat near Jody and slid on my shades. The clouds had dis­persed; the sun flexed its glo­ri­ous muscles.

“Pernell’s stu­pid.”

“That’s not nice, Jody.”

“He’s stu­pid. He both­ers me.”

“Everyone’s dif­fer­ent.”

“He smells bad.”

When we got to Va­ri­ety Vil­lage the first thing Jody want­ed to do was smoke. I had one too. We said noth­ing while we smoked. Jody gazed ab­stract­ed­ly at his cig­a­rette. I lost my­self in thoughts about what could be trou­bling Kirsten. I had cooked her a beau­ti­ful Mo­roc­can chick­en dish the evening be­fore — her favourite — and she had bare­ly touched it. Af­ter Jody smoked his cig­a­rette down to the fil­ter he asked if he could smoke the re­main­der of mine. I hand­ed him my half-fin­ished cigarette.

“Can you buy me a drink, Bobby?”

“Jody, I can’t buy you a drink every time we come here. I’m here to make mon­ey, not spend it.”


Jody looked de­flat­ed. I knew the guy was broke, but it wasn’t my fault he blew all his mon­ey on rings —he had over ten of them, some of them gold — and heavy Harley David­son belt buckles.

“You ready?” I asked.

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“I’ve got to make a call first.”


I rang Kirsten’s work num­ber but the ma­chine came on. I called home but she wasn’t there either.

I de­cid­ed to buy Jody a drink af­ter all. I put some change in the pop ma­chine by the phones and se­lect­ed gin­ger ale, Jody’s favourite. He was wag­ging his porky fin­ger at a thin dark guy with a red base­ball cap on his head, big white run­ners. Leo. He had a touch of cere­bral pal­sy but was am­bu­la­to­ry. He de­nied the charges Jody brought against him.

“You’re ly­ing, Leo.”

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

“I’m not.”

I hand­ed Jody his gin­ger ale. He on­ly wore one ring that day, I no­ticed, a tar­nished sil­ver eagle’s head. Jody drank the gin­ger ale and belched. Leo grinned. Jody tossed the emp­ty can in­to a blue box near the pop ma­chine. Leo just stood there with his hands at his sides and his mouth still open.

“Jody,” I said. “Are you ready now?”

“Yup. And Per­nell will deal with you lat­er,” he said stern­ly to Leo who looked like he might burst out cry­ing, or laugh­ing at any mo­ment. He did nei­ther, turned around, and shuf­fled out the front doors.

We first went to the change rooms, though Jody al­ready had on his work out clothes. He want­ed to wash his hands. A palsied white-haired man stood near the drink­ing foun­tain, nude. He wasn’t do­ing any­thing, just stand­ing there. Jody eased his chair up to a basin and washed his hands with soap and wa­ter. I hand­ed him some pa­per tow­els and he dried off his hands. I pulled his T‑shirt down again. He shot a glance over to the old man and grinned.

We went up to the field house. Peo­ple jogged around the track. Oth­ers shot hoops over on the courts. Some sat around talk­ing. Lisa, one of the fit­ness in­struc­tors, in black tights and a white warm-up jack­et, ap­proached us.

“Hel­lo there,” she said, all smi­ley and jumpy. Her light brown hair was in a pony tail. She seemed al­most too full of life.

“Hey, Lisa,” said Jody.

I nod­ded to the girl and tried not to look at her per­fect legs. Jody had once con­fessed to me that he loved her. I didn’t know what to say to him about this. Good, Jody?

We shot some hoops over on one of the emp­ty courts. His shot sucked; he kept throw­ing up air-balls. I had a nice lit­tle fad­er drop­ping. Lisa jogged around the track ef­fort­less­ly, per­fect form, seemed she could do it for­ev­er. She jogged more eas­i­ly than I breathed. Jody fi­nal­ly sank a bas­ket. He pulled up his sweats. He was winded.

“Come on, Jody, you’re just get­ting warmed up.”

He grinned but there was pain in it. He clutched his di­aphragm and coughed.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s take a blow, I’ve got to make a call.”

“Can I go down for an­oth­er smoke?”

“Maybe lat­er. I’ve got to make a call, Jody. Why don’t you do some stretching?”

Jody stared at me, or the track, I wasn’t sure. I went to a pay­phone in the hall and called Kirsten’s of­fice. Still not an­swer­ing. I called Frank back at the staff lounge and asked him if any­one had called.

“Yeah, Kirsten.”

“Did she leave a message?”

“Nah. She said she’d try lat­er. Per­nell had an­oth­er accident.”

“Je­sus, Frank.”

“Fuck­er. I can’t take it any more.”

“Courage, Frank.”

He chuck­led. “Talk to you lat­er, man.”


When I re­turned Jody was stretch­ing his arms, Lisa still spring­ing around the track like a young gazelle.

“She’s so beau­ti­ful,” Jody said.

“Yes, she is.”

“Man, if she were mine …”

What if she were his? I won­dered. What? What? I asked him if he want­ed to go for a spin. He shrugged. “Come on, it’s good for you.”

“I’m tired.”

“Come on.”

We cir­cled the track a few times. Every time Lisa passed us she made a high-pitch­ing hoot­ing sound that cracked Jody up. I found my­self star­ing at her im­mac­u­late ass and get­ting some­what aroused. The high-pitched hoot­ing trans­lat­ed in­to some­thing else in my imag­i­na­tion. Truth was, Kirsten and I hadn’t see each oth­er naked in six months. Kirsten was beau­ti­ful but in a con­stant state of of­fense, al­ways beef­ing at me about one thing or an­oth­er. I felt guilty about not de­sir­ing her any­more but I couldn’t fake it. My erec­tion died with these thoughts.

We left the field house. Jody need­ed his leg bag emp­tied. The palsied old man in the change room had moved from the foun­tain to his lock­er and stood be­fore it star­ing blankly, his hands held out be­fore him.

We en­tered the crowd­ed weight room. Bar­ring­ton Pope stood by the mir­rors do­ing some neck ex­er­cis­es. I used to care for him but he wrote me up once for re­fus­ing to help him mas­tur­bate. He eyed me war­i­ly. Bar­ring­ton had no arms. Pros­thet­ics. Imag­ine try­ing to jerk off with those. I felt for the guy, but the way I saw it, a hook­er made at least a hun­dred and fifty an hour. I earned less than ten per cent of that. Jody didn’t have Barrington’s prob­lem. He had no sex­u­al dri­ve what­so­ev­er. This per­haps ex­plained his in­tense ro­man­ti­cism. He sat around all day dream­ing of love, of be­ing in love, of what he would do if he was — but he rarely dis­cussed sex. He lis­tened to coun­try and west­ern mu­sic and got weepy over songs of lost love and heart­break. That’s where he was at.

Con­nie the weight-room in­struc­tor was on du­ty. She had se­vere short blonde hair and stur­dy trapez­ius mus­cles sup­port­ing a thick neck. She looked pow­er­ful, and was.

“Hey, Jody,” she said. She nod­ded at me.

I helped rig Jody up for some ca­ble flies.

“Add five pounds,” he said.

“Feel­ing strong?”


He cranked out ten sol­id rep­e­ti­tions. A month be­fore he could bare­ly do five reps at a lighter weight. He cranked out two more sets and then com­menced on some shoul­der press­es. Sweat poured off his brow. Bar­ring­ton kept glanc­ing our di­rec­tion. Con­nie per­formed deep squats with three plates. God, she was strong, a for­mer Olympic row­er. Wrecked her knee. She re­spect­ed me for al­so hav­ing blown out a knee. We even com­pared scars once. I want­ed to try Kirsten again. Jody need­ed a break anyway.

Noth­ing, no an­swer. I’d nev­er got­ten it right with Kirsten, not from the get go. And I didn’t blame her re­al­ly, but nor could I blame my­self. Her dis­sat­is­fac­tion was jus­ti­fied; she ex­pect­ed cer­tain ma­te­r­i­al things out of life that she had every right to pur­sue. But I wasn’t pre­pared to join that cru­sade, at least not yet; though more and more it seemed I had tak­en the stu­pid way through life.

Af­ter the work­out we went to the change rooms and Jody washed his hands again. The old guy wasn’t around any­more. Jody’s con­dom leaked, stain­ing his crotch. The glue had dis­solved. He hap­pened to have an ex­tra con­dom and a small bot­tle of glue in his back bag. I dried him off the best I could with pa­per tow­els. Get­ting the con­dom on­to his tiny, un­cir­cum­sized pe­nis wasn’t easy. He kept leak­ing urine.

“Sor­ry, Bobby.”

“It’s not your fault,” I said.

We then went out to the front of the build­ing. I bought Jody an­oth­er gin­ger ale and he smoked two cig­a­rettes in rapid suc­ces­sion. The wheel-trans came even­tu­al­ly and took us back to St. Francis.

A curs­ing Ig­or Ba­jc had re­lieved Frank, his glass­es all fogged up. “I can’t do it any­more,” he said. “Clean­ing that bastard’s shit every hour. Why doesn’t he see a fuck­ing doc­tor or something?”

“Good ques­tion. Start re­fus­ing service.”

“If you don’t clean up you feel cru­el. If you do you feel used. Mah. It’s too much. By the way, Kirsten called. She sound­ed pissed off.”




Ig­or blinked be­hind his glasses.

Jody rang down. He need­ed an as­sist with his catheter. When I got to his apart­ment his room­mate Scan was bat­tling with Char­lene in the liv­ing room.

“You’re a rat!”



Sean and Char­lene fought con­stant­ly; re­la­tions be­tween Sean and Jody were strained to the break­ing point. Jody re­fused to talk to Char­lene any­more. Now he looked at me in his cock-eyed fash­ion, and moved his mouth distastefully.

“I know, I know,” I said.

It was all very try­ing. All the bick­er­ing, the may­hem, the con­fu­sion. Sean whirling around in his elec­tric wheel­chair. Char­lene work­ing her man­u­al fever­ish­ly, elud­ing his fu­ri­ous thrusts, yelp­ing, squawk­ing. Fi­nal­ly Sean rammed his wheel­chair in­to hers and sent her sprawl­ing to the floor.

The tap­ping on the door in­di­cat­ed that Per­nell had ar­rived to join the par­ty. Per­nell with his mouth­stick, Per­nell with his smell. No mat­ter. There he was, he had his part in the program.

While Jody peed, I clipped his fin­ger­nails. What a body Jody had. In this in­stance na­ture and man had com­bined to butch­er the hu­man form, make a mock­ery of it. And to what end? I had to ask. Of course, his line stopped at him, a built-in cor­rec­tive. Na­ture was wise, most of the time.

And yet the big­ger pic­ture was vague, in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. I saw no de­sign here; or rather I saw the con­se­quences of an over­wrought de­sign. Ei­ther way, clar­i­ty was need­ed, simplification.

What I saw was Sean ram­ming the walls now, goug­ing them, his skull lolling, his face ex­pres­sion­less; Char­lene still sprawled on the floor, claw­ing and wrig­gling to right her top­pled wheel­chair; Per­nell tilt­ing back and forth with his fatu­ous tat­too and his wag­ging mouth­stick, an ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen. And Jody in the cor­ner with the heart and the fucked up eyes and fifty surg­eries tran­scend­ing na­ture and its mis­takes, me and mine.

Filed under Fiction on February 17th, 2007

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Reader Comments

Eliza wrote:

I got a kick out of this one. Bravo.

D. Kaks wrote:

Wow, an­oth­er fine piece of work by this writer, whom I nev­er heard of be­fore John­ny Amer­i­ca, chart­ing some dark mar­gins with un­can­ny em­pa­thy & con­vic­tion. More, please.

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