I carry my best friend in my arms and lay him down on the hotel’s king-sized bed. He’s thirty-four years old, weighs sixty-two pounds, he's naked, and he has an erection already. I used to pretend like I didn’t notice, but we’re past that now.
“Jerry, can’t you at least wait a minute. Give me a chance to get out of the room first?”
“Do I make you horny?”
Jerry can’t do the British accent at all, it’s hard enough for him to speak intelligibly for strangers. Maybe it’s because we saw Austin Powers together six months ago, that I get his joke anyway or maybe it’s because we’ve been friends for twenty-five years.
“I’m sorry, Jerry, I’m a married man. I only shag the wife.”
The wife hates it that I do this for him. She’s afraid that I’ll get too tempted.
I put the envelope with the money on the table beside the bed. You’d think one of the ladies would have tried to rob him by now. After all, the guy literally can’t move a muscle. The muscular dystrophy should have killed him twenty years ago when we were in junior high. He’s never walked, he can’t write with a pencil, and he can’t even masturbate. It only gets worse. It never gets better.
His heart and brain have always been fine, because they’re organs not muscles. Jerry has always used them well. He didn’t get to use his penis much until three years ago. It’s the wonders of the Internet, I guess.
“You know how much I’m looking forward to this one. She’s gorgeous.”
“You mean her pictures on her website are really pretty. Remember that one from Dallas who was like fifty pounds and ten years north of her picture?”
I swear, it took me a while to get it. You’d think if anyone would be forgiving about a couple extra pounds or a not so perfect face, it would be Jerry. He’s never had a date in real life. He can’t even eat solid food. I swear he might even turn away Julia Roberts.
“It’s my fantasy and my money,” he insists.
About the third or fourth time we did this drill, I finally got it. For thirty or forty minutes and five hundred dollars, he gets to be someone other than the guy in the wheelchair. He sees a beautiful woman (they’re never completely magazine beautiful, no one really is) in bed with him and he gets to pretend that he’s physically perfect or at least normal. Then again, his stepsister Lisa is genuinely beautiful. She loved him so much, she used to give him hand jobs when they were teenagers. She started feeling guilty about it after she met her first husband. I wonder if some of his insistence that they all be lookers is a carryover from Lisa.
“Well, have fun. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“I’m gonna do all things you won’t do and afterwards I’m going to tell you all about it.”
“Some friend you are.”
“You got that right.”
When I leave the room, the door stays three inches open. I then go down the corridor and wait. Our deal is that I’m supposed to come back after exactly an hour. I’ve never told Jerry this, but I never leave the hallway. I watch for the lady as she comes down the hall just to make sure she’s alone and looks safe. Jerry always tells them in advance, but most of them look really nervous on the way in.
I don’t blame them. I’d be wondering about what the guy might be like too (even if they know, that’s not the same thing as seeing him up close). As I sit by the window at the end of the hall, a tall dark-haired woman comes out of the elevator. She’s made up somewhere between coed and call girl. Her fake boobs stick out of an otherwise conservative dress. She’s probably one of those ladies who couldn’t quite make it as a model-actress, but this one didn’t miss by much. Being completely honest, she’s a lot prettier than my wife.
She knocks softly then closes the door behind her, but not before she looks in my direction. One of the things that really surprised me is that so many of these ladies absolutely love Jerry. Part of me thinks, “Who wouldn’t?”
He’s funny, decent, kind, smartest guy I ever met. You’d figure all that out in five minutes if you ever bothered to talk to the guy. He knows people better than the rest of us. People assume he’s retarded, they say and do things in front of him that they’d never consider if they knew that he watches and listens to everything. With the ladies though, it’s more than that. He makes them feel good about what they’re doing. Well, it also probably helps that they don’t have to work that hard.
When we were eleven, Jerry’s favorite thing was roller coasters. We’d go to Six Flags and it was always the same thing. It scared the hell out of the operator to let him on the thing. First time, we had to get the supervisor to intervene and it still didn’t happen until Jerry threatened to have his lawyer call the tv stations about his constitutional rights.
“We’re just afraid that your friend could get hurt,” the supervisor kept trying to talk to me instead of Jerry.
“So what’s the worst that can happen- I fall out and I wind up paralyzed and have to spend my life in a wheelchair?” Jerry said it, but I had to translate for him.
There was a big crowd watching us and the laughter was like dominoes as they whispered the joke down the line until it made it back to the concession stand.
“You’re going to be next to him the whole time?”
“I’ll take complete responsibility,” I said solemnly, but I had no idea why they’re taking a twelve year old this seriously.
They stopped the ride and helped me load Jerry on. The crowd started to applaud. I did pretty well until that bit where we went completely upside down, then I was so friggin scared that I forgot that I was supposed to be holding on to Jerry. After the drop, I looked over at him to make sure he’s still there and saw that he was loving it. He was screaming, laughing. It was the happiest I’d ever seen him.
We got out and everyone in line applauded. They applauded the ride operator, the supervisor, Jerry, me. I was covered in sweat. We went back every Sunday that summer and they always sent us straight to the front of the line. My parents would even let me skip church to do it.
The woman comes out of Jerry’s room. She looks exactly the way she did when she went in not a hair out of place, no hint of perspiration. I pretend like I’m walking to the other end of the hall towards some room of my own.
She starts talking to me, “I left the door open, I didn’t know if you had a key.”
“I do, but thanks,” I murmur.
How the hell does she know?
“He’s lucky to have a friend like you.”
We’re a few doors from Jerry’s room near the elevator. The light dings, the doors open, she winks at me, then steps in.
In my mind, I see her driving away from the hotel. I know a lot of these women come with drivers (it’s kind of a safety precaution, though sometimes I think it’s less savory than that). This one I see alone, behind the wheel of a 1967 Orange GTO, the kind with the intake manifold poking out over the hood. Jerry and I are both in the car with her. There’s a space in the back for his wheelchair. She floors the accelerator pedal and all three of us scream with joy while everyone watches and applauds.