Gateways: ” One Bad Pickup Line” by Ashley Retzlaff read by Coco Kasperowicz

TRANSCRIPT: Ashley Retzlaff is an English and Theatre teacher who writes a lot of poetry. A scrambling enthusiast who owns more half-filled notebooks than any hoarder could, she creates worlds where reality and hope clash. The miniature worlds she creates lie dormant in the notebooks until brought to life by a reader’s voracious eyes and mind. But you have the power to set the stories free! Set them free!

“How about this pickup line?” She scootches closer to me on the couch decreasing the space between us. She crudely points to her crotch and makes a motion with her open hand and suggests in the slimiest tone she can muster, “Hey girl, everything is in this box.” Then she whispers ironically and adds “Everything…”

I push her back to her proper space on the couch and begin to laugh uncontrollably. I tell her how vulgar she is. And that I’d rather focus on our favorite episode of Parks and Rec currently playing on my old box TV: Season 3, Episode 13.

As we let the TV take up the mood she’s created in the room, I begin to wonder why she’d say something like that to me. My mind begins to wander. It seems like I’m wrapped into watching the Parks and Rec crew get wasted on Tom’s almost deadly concoction: snake juice. A mixture of dangerous liquors that somehow tastes like Kahlua. But, my real focus melts away and I find myself thinking of the best friend of nine years sitting next to me.

With the side of my eye, I can see her knees are pulled in close to her chest. The place where she lets out the occasional, guttural laugh. Her laugh is unapologetically genuine; she makes strong guffaws whenever she hears a worthy joke or a cringey one. When she laughs I see her perfectly, imperfect smile. A unique and strange smile made up only of baby teeth because her adult teeth never came in. Someone else may have been embarrassed by this defect and hid her simultaneously small yet encompassing smile. But not Lena.

Her smile allures anyone in her aura, allowing her natural freckles and green eyes to be noticed. She’s a contemporary Merida from Brave without the Scottish accent. One thought wanders to another as I compare how Lena’s outer appearance parallels her personality.

Lena defines herself as a lipstick lesbian: the kind of woman who men are attracted to at the onset – someone who is conventionally pretty enough to pass as straight. Her appearance can fool them easily but Lena is an honest soul who wouldn’t let a guy hit on her to no avail. Just last week when we were out at the bars with work friends Lena was approached by the most basic man anyone of us had seen. He looked like a Calvin Klein model who walked right out of an advertisement and into our local dive bar: Hemmy’s.

He approached the four of us huddling and standing around a circular table because every other chair in the bar was taken. Squeezing himself in between myself and Lena he looked right at her and suggested, “You know, the drink I’m about to buy you would taste much better if you could drink it sitting down.” Then he gestured over to an unoccupied chair at the bar that was protected by other attractive and well groomed men who could only be his cronies.

Lena didn’t want to lead the poor guy on, probably because she could sense he was pretty enough that people rarely weren’t smitten by his perfectly coiffed hair. “Come on” she began “It’s leg day! I’d much rather stretch my legs after a long run while enjoying a drink with my coworkers.” She gestured to all of us with a reassuring look so we’d understand she wasn’t going to leave our conversation. “But,” she interjected, “my friend Cassie would love a seat. Why don’t you offer her a seat and a drink?”

As soon as my name was uttered I immediately turned cherry Twizzlers’ red and looked down at my hands and my half consumed gin and tonic. Lena lit a spark of hope in my chest with the possibility of a guy being interested in me. Instead, he exited our space with a sarcastic “Thanks, but no thanks” as he went back to his general douchery.

I was simultaneously flattered by and upset at Lena. I thought, couldn’t she understand guys were interested in her because she was the typical beautiful redhead but that attraction didn’t extend to her overly-lanky, dishwater blonde haired friend? I felt compelled to announce “Seriously Lean” it was the nickname she allowed only me to use, “don’t you know I’m vying for the plainest single and 30 award?” She frowned when I added this self-deprecating comment. Lena didn’t tolerate other people being hard on themselves. Especially me.

“Hey spacey!” she calls me back to my reality on the couch. “Are you actually watching this or just existing?” she inquires. “I’m here, I’m here,” I retort. I add the following to make her laugh “Do you honestly think I’m going to miss Ron Swanson dancing with a little top hat on his head?” As I ask the rhetorical question my left hand gestures quickly out to the TV and then draws in just as quickly back on the couch. But instead of landing safely by my side it brushes her knee and a wave of panic and excitement surges through me. I look over to see if it’s a feeling Lena feels too because her body starts to give off a different energy than it did before. Instead of crunching herself up she seems more open and inviting.

“Listen” she adds. “If you’re not going to turn up the heat in this place, you cheapskate, at least you can share your blanket with me.” She scoots over closer to me again and I finally realize I’ve been snuggled up under my chocolate colored fleece blanket this whole time. I comply while responding “Oh sure, steal the skinny girl’s warmth. She clearly has enough fat to keep her warm.” I lift the left side of the blanket up so she can scoot in even closer to me.

We’ve been friends for nine years but Lena is not one for much physical affection. I’ve only given her one hug the entire time I’ve known her and that was at her rat’s funeral: a much sadder occasion than reality might suggest. But now she’s close enough that I can smell her coconut scented body spray. She shows me affection by putting her head on my shoulder and inviting “you hold a lot of warmth for a skinny kid, Cass,” using the nickname only I allow her to call me.

My mind searches for a time when Lena and I talked about our differing sexualities: she was unabashedly attracted to females while I expressed if I found out I was anything other than straight, my parents would have my head on a platter.

I’m watching Leslie Knope and Anne Perkins fight drunkenly on my small box TV screen while my best friend of nine years is snuggled under a blanket next to me. I’m fighting my natural urge to kiss her. To kiss Lena. Because it could ruin who I am and everything my parents have taught me to be.

But before I can overthink the situation too much Lena moves her lips up to my cheek and gives me a quick peck. “You’re my Anne Perkins,” she expresses while putting her head back on my shoulder.

Maybe it was the Parks and Rec episode, maybe it was turning 30 soon, or maybe it was self-discovery, but the next thing I know I argue “No, I’m you’re Ben Wyatt.”

For nine years Lena and I have been friends at work, hang out on the weekends, and communicate in our secret language of Parks and Rec. quotes and inside jokes. So Lena knows what I mean when I stake this claim.

I turn to look at her and her green eyes come closer to mine and then close as I have the best kiss of my life. My chest explodes and a happiness I haven’t felt in 30 years opens inside me. A feeling my parents don’t want for me. Realizing my conflicting emotions Lena makes a joke to ease my tension. “I told you, I’ve got everything in this box. Everything.” And this time she doesn’t need to make a vulgar gesture. I can tell she’s just trying to make this easier on me. And somehow, her bad pick-up line….well.
It worked.

Coco Kasperowicz is a multidisciplinary nerd performer; the brains behind #chaotichighfemme , her social media and YouTube persona, she is also known as THE BODY POSITIVE NERD PRINCESS of Chicago; Lottie a la West. she graduated with a degree in musical theatre from Columbia College Chicago, and has performed in professional theatres across the Chicagoland area