John's brushed his teeth a hundred times, and they still feel like they're coated with pasty MREs and grit. He's not really trying to get laid. Or, rather, he's not sure if he's trying. He and Q-tip have the tiniest room he's ever seen called a room.
The beds are small, narrow twins. His feet hang off the edge, so he has to curl up. The springs of the mattress jab his back. It's oddly comforting, reminds him of his ranger grave, especially with Q-tip's enthusiastic snoring two feet away.
New York in the morning is pretty, if you can get over the fucking disgusting parts. John's seen men shit in Iraqi civilians' front yards, and he still can't get over the stink of garbage, human excrement, and body odor all cooking together.
The food, however, is loads better than Iraq. He and Q-tip spend more time eating than drinking. There's plenty of pussy around, if he'd like, but Q-tip's not feeling the 'marry me' vibe many of the girls have, and John's not feeling going it alone.
The hostel room has a lovely view of the projects. They run in the mornings. The project kids don't even bother to give them the stinkeye. John sort of misses the little kids tugging at his gear, asking for candy and occasionally stealing the pens out of his utility harness.
Q-tip challenges a few of the kids to basketball and lets them whup his ass. John doesn't play, but he does tell the kids playing against Q-tip to go for his do-rag.
"That's some dirty pool, motherfucker," Q-tip says. He's smiling.
They eat at some place that promises big portions. They both have to order a second entree. John eats an omelet the size of a dinner plate, runny with cheese. He picks out the olives, which Q-tip eats from the edge of his plate.
They head south to the American Museum of Natural History, which Q-tip calls the 'Whale Museum.' Whatever. John likes mastodons, and the bizarre and slightly racist figures in the Hall of Human Origins and, yeah, the whale is pretty sweet too.
John absolutely doesn't buy a plush whale in a fit of madness, nor does he sneak it into Q-tip's pack later that night.
It's the gayest thing he's ever done, and he routinely showers with 20 other dudes.
Or he should say, it's the gayest thing he's done to date, 'cause things get pretty fucking gay pretty fucking fast.
It's really Garza's fault.
Garza's staying in the same hostel, rooming with Chaffin. They spend a lot of time getting drunk, sure, but Garza being Garza, he also spends a lot of time wandering around Central Park, making friends with the few non-crazy street performers.
He must have one of those faces, because he comes back to the room with one of those big-head caricatures done for free, his glasses exaggerated huge and threatening to slip from his face. His smile cuts across the entire portrait.
Garza bets Q-tip 100 bucks that he can’t make 100 bucks doing street portraits.
It's worth an afternoon, and the weather is nice. At John's urging, Q-tip wears his cammies and a PT shirt. "Better for business," he says.
John wears his 'salty' cammies, which have been washed so many times they've faded to an almost even khaki.
Q-tip wears slightly nicer ones. "If I gotta wear 'em, I might as well come correct."
He does have the maroon do-rag on, and his PT shirt hugs his arms.
They find a bench in the Park and give the dead-eye killer stare to anyone trying to encroach on their territory. Civilians don't approach them for portraits. Rather, they approach them to thank them for their service. Or, in the case of a giggling group of girls, hit on them.
Or give them wide berth.
The girls are cute, John's age even, but seem impossibly young.
John's got a wicked farmer's tan, so his wrists and forearms are super-dark, but his upper arms are much paler.
One girl asks him how he got his tan, maybe expecting him to say vacation, like they'd just come back from prosecuting a war in Barbados or something.
Q-tip's got lines at the edges of his eyes, probably from squinting to watch his sector. John had been looking forward to actually drinking legally, but no one's bothered to card them yet.
The girls leave Q-tip their numbers and then leave.
No one seems to want to get a portrait, but it's a nice day, so John enjoys the sun on his face, though he's not quite comfortable enough to close his eyes all the way.
They see a couple of dudes break-dancing on some cardboard.
“We shoulda done that, yo," Q-tip says.
"Can you break-dance?" John says. "Cause I can square-dance. But not, you know, do that."
One of the guys is doing a full head-spin.
"It painful to be as white as you are?" Q-tip says.
"You tell me," John says.
Q-tip might be muttering something close to 'race-hating motherfucker' under his breath, but the next minute he's grabbing John by the arm and dragging him toward the subway.
"C'mon," he says. "All we gotta do is make $100 bucks. Garza'll never know."
"What're we doing?" John says.
"Trust me," Q-tip says.
"The last time you said that I ended up eating wild dog!"
This draws a few looks from passersby and John lets Q-tip tow him toward the subway.
"I don't have enough small bills to go anywhere," John says.
"We ain't going nowhere," Q-tip says. "We gonna earn all the money we need right here."
He tosses his soft cover on the ground, and begins to rap.
It turns out Q-tip knows most of the lyrics to 'The Black Album,' but so do most self-respecting New Yorkers.
A few stop and snap photos of Q-tip, while John holds out a hat and does what his sister calls his 'puppy' face.
They earn 20 bucks this way, in an hour.
It's tiring, and hot, and smells of trash, all things they're used to.
"Man, I'd give cash money for my CamelBak right now," Q-tip says. John buys him a bottle of water and some snacks with their earnings, but that's 5 bucks gone.
The water helps. So do the afternoon commuters.
They make 40 more dollars singing "Hot in Herre," and acting out bits of the Big Lebowski.
One of the commuters asks to take their picture, which is fine. Another offers 5 bucks for a picture, which is sort of weird.
John poses with the man, who grabs a hold of John's PT shirt.
"Um, little less grip there, buddy," he says.
The man doesn't relax his hand.
John doesn't think putting a civilian on the floor, even a old lech like this guy, in the subway would be good for business.
Q-tip smiles a big cheesy grin at the camera. There's a flash that John doesn't flinch at, and then the man is gone, but not before giving Q-tip the money and trying to grab his ass.
"Dawg, that guy gave me an idea," Q-tip says.
"I already told Lilley I wasn't doing any gay porn!" John says.
"You been paying way too much attention to Person," Q-tip says. "Besides, gay porn'd take too much time. You bring that ridiculous hick shirt?"
"The plaid one?"
"Yeah, the one that makes you look like the guy on the paper towels."
Q-tip just smiles knowingly.
That night, they go out and check out a strip club.
The girls fawn over them when they see their cammies; they even get comp'd a round of drinks.
Q-tip seems to actually hit it off with one of them. She's tall, brunette, stacked of course, with dark eyes and full, plush mouth. She spends the entire time on Q-tip's lap. She takes off his do-rag, runs a hand through his hair.
In between throwing dollar bills at women doing frankly impossible things - and John has been through BRC and jump school - on poles, John hears her laugh and say, "Oh, Evan," in that same tone his sister's friends get around Q-tip.
“I’m out, dude,” John says. “Think I’m gonna head back and crash.” The cheap beer sloshes around in his stomach, and the food that he’d ordered - he’s drunk, OK, and it seemed like a good idea - makes MREs seem palatable.
"Yeah, I'm with ya," Q-tip says. The girl writes down a number, maybe even a real one, and hands it to Q-tip.
Q-tip pockets the number, stumbles out the door with John. The last thing John hears in the club is Chaffin's raucous cry for one of the girls to take something off.
The warm night air is still cooler than the club, and instantly sobering.
"You hungry?" Q-tip asks. He lights one of his obnoxious cigarillos, puffs smoke at John.
"You could have stayed," John says. "She was hot."
"I could call her, yeah," Q-tip says. "But we gone in a few days. And she's got a kid."
"Don't want an insta-kid?" John asks.
"Naw, man, kid don't need me coming and going. I ain't ready for that shit."
"Oh," John says.
They get pizza, the big foldable slices that drip orange grease down their arms.
"So what's the plan for tomorrow?"
"You'll see, dawg. You'll see."
The plan, as it turns out, is Q-tip printing out a bunch of 'Brokeback Mountain' scenes from the hostel 'business center,' which is really just an ancient grinding desktop computer and a slow-as-shit printer.
“No," John says. "No fucking way."
"C'mon, man, that old perv yesterday was right. Think about how much money people paid to see those two queers make out."
"We'll be NJP'd."
"Dawg, it ain't that serious. No one's gonna know."
"We have our names written across our shirts."
Which is how they end up stealing Garza and Chaffin's PT shirts. Chaffin's smells like ass and seems to have been impregnated with stripper glitter.
"It'll add to the effect," Q-tip says.
"Then you wear it," John says.
"K," Q-tip says. "Sides, I figure I'd make a lousy Mexican."
They figure the morning rush isn't the best time, since most people aren't awake enough to notice two Marines reciting their undying gay cowboy love.
John's nervous all day, inhales his food rather than looking at Q-tip.
"Dawg, we rolled up Saddam's highways with impunity. You gonna be all butterflies over some subway performance?”
"Yeah, I guess not," John says, laughing slightly.
The performance doesn't last long. They have to cut out most of the parts with more than two people, though Q-tip does a strangely good Randy Quaid.
There's a crowd of people around them, a few at first, and then it snowballs once people start taking pictures.
'Great,' John thinks. 'I'm gonna be the 'gay subway Marine' for the rest of my life. I am never getting laid again.'
They don't do the tent scene, for obvious reasons. Q-tip belts out spirituals in faux-drunkenedness.
They pretend to strip down. They wrassle with each other on the dirty subway floor. It's actually less disgusting than most parts of Iraq as there isn't a river of raw shit running through it. Money's dropping into their soft covers and the bucket John had bought that morning.
They are nearing the reunion scene.
John actually managed to scrawl something on a postcard and drop it next to Q-tip.
Q-tip reads it, and makes his sourest 'Ennis Del Mar' face, goes to fight with his wife who they recruit from a crowd of willing volunteers. She's pretty good, actually. Maybe she'll get an acting gig out of this.
They haven't kissed yet, and it's a weight in John's stomach. Q-tip is pretty good with the wife he's just met, and can do gruff and inscrutable well, even if it's mostly just an impression of Pappy.
If he goes off-script to tell John that their love is like petting a burning dog, John's gonna lose it.
The subway picks up a good wind at the right moment, and it seems to be blowing against Q-tip as he makes his way down the imaginary stairs toward John.
The script says they're supposed to kiss like tumblers turning in a lock, except John has no idea what that means. Q-tip is looking at John's face through the mask he's been wearing for the past hour, expression squinting and closed. John's seen that expression before, right before Q-tip pulls a trigger.
Just like that, Q-tip exhales, and before John can close his eyes, Q-tip is on him. It's not a great kiss, really, but the crowd loses it, cheering and hollering, and John can see more money being tossed at them out of his peripheral vision.
Q-tip's hand is on John's lower back, gripping pretty hard, and his other arm is around John's shoulders, squeezing the breath out of him, and John realizes Q-tip's not that great an actor to kiss him like Ennis Del Mar might kiss him, so this must be the way Q-tip actually kisses.
They pause, not because they need to breathe, but just because there's a flash of pictures being taken and the blank staring eyes of phone cameras.
"We did it, dawg," Q-tip says, against John's mouth, low and ragged and only for him.
"That's a lot of money," John says, and he's right.
Someone yells, "Again!" and the crowd picks up the cheer quickly.
"It's not in the script!" John says, and Q-tip shrugs, and gives him a wet kiss right on the cheek, loud and comical.
The onlookers roar with laughter.
"We wish we knew how to quit you," Q-tip yells, and goes to scoop up their money.
His sister calls the next morning to yell at him over the phone about how he's Internet famous.
Q-tip opens one groggy eye.
John mostly nods and tries not to blush through the whole conversation.
He clicks the phone shut, ear ringing from her high-pitched shrieking.
"You coming back to bed?" Q-tip says.
"Yeah," John says. "Budge the fuck over."
He climbs in, and they don't sleep for a good while.