Preview of How To be bad
THE SET-UP: Vicks, Mel and Jesse are on a road trip in Florida. Armed with Vicks’ guidebook to weird and wonderful sights of the sunshine state, the three have come from a disappointing visit to the world’s smallest police station, and have now snuck in to a shuttered museum that houses a large, taxidermied alligator.
The girls are going south to Miami to visit Vicks’ boyfriend, Brady — who hasn’t called in the two weeks since he started college. Vicks is narrating:
The museum basement is practically pitch dark—it’s only got those tiny windows up high at ground level. I reach the bottom of the stairs and shine my light into the center of the room: Old Joe is sitting in a glass case –sixteen feet long, nose to tail, and grinning an enormous toothy smile that says “I love you, baby” and also “I could eat you alive if I felt like it”—both at the same time.
Mel squeals as my flashlight shines into the gator’s mouth, but Jesse walks straight up to the glass case. She kneels down and stares at him, real intent.
I stride up beside her and say, “Howdy, Joe. We came to see you. How you doing there? Wow, you’re a big boy, aren’t you?”
Jesse follows my lead. “Aw, who’s a giant reptile, eh?” she says. “You are! You are!”
“Come to mama!” I coo. “What big teeth you have! And not a single cavity. What a good boy!”
I’m so happy, ’cause it’s me and Jesse, like how we’ve been all summer, working at the Waffle. Us in sync, playing off each other’s jokes. Like how it was up until, I don’t know, a couple weeks a month ago when she got so sour.
Or maybe I got sour, when Brady left. Anyway, the two of us are right up near old Joe, kneeling down with our faces close to his big, carnivorous grin—but Mel is hanging back, with a sick look on her face. Suddenly I feel sorry I pushed her so hard when any idiot can see that even a dead gator is making her nearly wet her shorts. “Come on,” I say, “You don’t have to pet him. I’ll keep him away from you. Joe? Sit. Stay. Good boy. Stay…”
I grab Mel’s hand and walk her over to a spot about five feet from the case. We sit down cross-legged on the floor, just looking at him, shining the flashlight along his bumpy green body. Jesse comes and joins us.
We admire Old Joe in silence. Mel’s breathing a little hard, but otherwise she’s okay.
“He may be dead,” I say eventually, “but he’s a badass.”
“He is,” says Mel.
“He’s like a god,” I say. “He’s like the god of the badass. Look at him.”
“You should watch your mouth, saying stuff like that.” Jesse smacks my arm, playfully.
“What?” I ask again.
“He can hear you!”
“Who?” I ask. Then I get it. “God?” I say. “You’re worried God can hear me?” She’s such a Christianpants.
“Listen, I’m all for being a bad…bottom—”
I hoot. “You? You?” To Mel, I say, “She said ‘bad-bottom.’”
“But it’s a sin to worship false idols,” Jesse reminds me.
“I’m an atheist,” I explain to Mel, “My family worships pretty much nothing besides the glories of the potato.”