Joey Amdahl’s
The Big Dumb Nothing
fiction from MODERN (you call this) LIVING

I see my thirty-five-year-old boss Betty Allen standing at the door of the club. She scratches at an itch that’s under her tight black skirt and her hand yanks up her fish net stocking at the knee. . A tattoo of a zombie geisha fills up her entire upper arm. The tattoo goes against everything I’ve ever thought about this person. At the office, she’s staid, composed, and all business. I never realized she was an actual real person with a history until this moment.

My coworker at Microtech, Larry Sanders, and I decide to leave the office Christmas party before we puke from one too many watered-down eggnog rum balls and go to a strip club called the Blood Red Room in the haggard part of Dallas named Deep Ellum. We stumble from the cab to the club and when we get inside, a waitress with a drooping Santa stocking hat and a black eye, so disfigured it looks almost as red as the skimpy Playboy bunny Santa suit she wears, seats us in a velvet booth that’s blotted with dark stains and ancient grime. She mechanically bats her massacred lashes as she unenthusiastically wishes us Merry Christmas and scribbles down our order in a little notebook. My eyes get stuck in her cleavage but my mouth manages to forge the words: gin martini, dry, dirty, and a basket of spicy chicken wings to split -with Ranch. Larry lights a cigarette and puffs little smoke rings towards the overhead ceiling fan. I remove my tie, wad it up, and stuff it into the front pocket of my business slacks.

“We just crawled under a rock, you know that right?” Larry says.

“Hey, you wanted to come here, man. Give me one of those.”

Larry plucks a cigarette out of his pack and tosses it at my hand.

“Drink in the landscape! Lady Mecca.” He spits out his words as he glances around the club at the various dancing girls and waitresses.

“Larry, why are we here? ” I ask.



“You don’t miss a day… Never late to work… You work and work and you work and you work… Come on… It’s Christmas Eve, loosen the hell up.”

“Regional manager.”


“It’s way more money. I’m thirty-one. Once I hit regional, I’ll loosen up and party until the day I retire… But for now, I have to keep my head in the game. Can’t drop the ball.”

The waitress comes back with our martinis. Larry tips her five bucks and says, Sorry about your eye. She fakes a smile, shrugs, and heads toward the kitchen. Larry watches her walk, his wide eyes inhale her as if to make a mental recording of her body. A loud rap song booms over the club speakers then fades into slow techno. Two thin girls, littered with tattoos, dance on stage around the pole. We order another round of martinis. From our booth, Larry waves (friendly) to the Mexican man who bartends. The man waves back. Only the lonely, only the lonely. I chant this in my mind and don’t know why. I’m getting too drunk.

“Gotta get you laid, my man!” Larry slurs.

“Nah, I’m gonna head out after this drink.”

“Wha’sit been?” Larry lights another cigarette, “Wha’sit been since you got laaaaid?”

“This is depressing.”

“Come on!” He pokes his finger at me.

“Since I went home to Winnipeg. January. Last year… a whole year.” The truth slips.

Larry laughs so hard he begins to choke.

I’m in the bathroom at the urinal and I’m just sober enough not to piss all over myself. I flush, zip up my pants, and stumble towards the sink but I end up falling into a man with dreadlocks who washes his hands.

“You okay?” He speaks in a British accent.

“I’m good.”

“Coke? Perk you up.”

“It’s been a long time… Sure.”

“I’m Zeke. You ever need me to hook ya up with more, let me know. I’m here on Fridays.” Zeke pats my shoulder and pulls out a small clear baggy of coke from his front jacket pocket. He taps a little coke out on the top of my hand and I snort.

“Yes.” I pat Zeke on the shoulder and turn to leave the bathroom. “Can I give you some money for that?” I turn back and reach for my back pocket to fish out my wallet but Zeke waves his hand ‘no.’

I’m back at the booth carrying a one-sided argument about politics with Larry but he’s only sober enough to occasionally mutter sad things about his daughters and his ex-wife. When the chicken wings finally arrive, Larry vacuums most of them down within the course of a single rap song — the wings sober him up a bit. As I regale him with the story (total fiasco) of losing my virginity on my eighteenth birthday, he interrupts me. His eyes squint and he rubs his fat, bald, head.

“Holy crap. It’s Betty Allen. She must have escaped the Christmas party.” Larry points towards the club door.


I turn my head to follow his gaze and I see my thirty-five-year-old boss Betty Allen standing at the door of the club. The enormous, leather clad, bouncer holds the edges of her driver’s license and scans for her birth date. She scratches at an itch that’s under her tight black skirt and her hand yanks up her fish net stocking at the knee. I’ve worked at Microtech for three years and I’ve never seen Betty in anything other than bland gray business suits and I’ve never seen her outside the office.

“Dude.” Larry slides down low in the booth. “She’s hot.”

I sink down in the booth and meet him at eye level. “We HAVE to get out of here. I need the promotion, she can’t see me in a place like this.”

“Wonder why she’s by herself? Why the hell is she dressed like that?”

“I don’t know, man! People have lives outside of work, whatever. We’re going to get out of here and she’s not going to see us. Betty makes the recommendation about regional manager next week. You know that, right? She can’t see me.”

“But she’s here too.” He shrugs.

“I’ve worked for three years to craft an upright work image. Image is everything. You will NOT muck this up for me!”

“She’s so hot.”

“Shut up!”

I peek over the booth. Betty Allen sits at the bar and orders a drink.

“It’s clear, let’s go.” I wave at Larry to follow me. He squeezes out of the booth and almost trips me as we stride behind her barstool. As we speed by, she glances at us.

“What are you guys doing here?” She asks.

Larry frantically shakes my hand and for some reason he’s blushing. “Good seeing you, Malcolm. You were right, they have great chicken wings here. I must go home now.” He waves to Betty, “Mrs. Allen, I will see you on Monday.” Larry walks, chin up, out of the club like he’s an embarrassed, righteous fifth grader.

An hour passes. I’ve sat at the bar doing my best not to bite the insides of my cheeks (because of the coke) and trying to listen to Betty, smile and nod, and act as coherently as possible. She brushes her dark hair out of her face and smiles with her light blue eyes. She sips her third gin and tonic.

“I’m not so bad, am I?” She asks.

“No, of course not.” I tell her.

“People at work think I’m a bitch but I’m not. I’m just assertive. Do you think I’m bad… at my job?”

“Of course not. I think people respect you. I respect you.”

She smiles as if she likes my answer but doesn’t quite believe it to be true. Which it isn’t. Most people at work think she’s a bitch.

“You live around here? That why you came here?” I ask.

“Two blocks north.”

After another gin and tonic and three tall waters for me, she invites me over to her apartment. Outside the club, on the sidewalk, she pulls on my arm and I pull back — kind of like a tug-of-war.

“Oh come on… Come over… Just one more drink…” She says.

“I’m so tired… And I want to get those reports done before Monday.”

“So your TWI reports are more important than your good standing with your boss?”

“No, of course not.”

“I see how you are…” Betty releases my arm and walks away. She raises her hand and waves backwards as she says, “Goodnight Malcolm.”

I watch her walk away in her black fish nets, tall boots, short skirt. She’s tall and thick and she knows how to walk — her walk is art. A strut, a dance, hypnotic. I could watch this girl walk to Alaska. She should teach it. This is a skill. I look up at the dark Texas sky. It’s so hot out my shirt sticks to my chest. I picture my bed. My air conditioner. My giant blue comforter. My expensive pillows. Pillows that make you thankful to be alive. My cat (I‘m sure Theodore is wondering where I am). The leftover pizza in my refrigerator… I think about sleeping-in, late for Christmas Eve. I think about heating up the pizza and watching a horror movie or maybe basketball highlights. A hot shower before bed sounds divine. This won’t end well. I chase after her. “Betty, wait up! One drink.”

We stand outside her apartment building. I have to pee. She jabs her key into the lock just as a tall, beefy-looking man walks up. The guy’s a jock. He carries a gym bag, wears his hair in a blond swoop, and looks like he just got back from some late night work out session at 24-hour Fitness. I don’t like him.

“Hey Betty.” He holds the door for us. We walk in into the apartment building.

“Toby.” She smiles.

“I was thinking I might drop by in an hour after I shower. You around?” He asks.

“No, not tonight. Have a Merry. . .”

We continue down the hall to her apartment door.

She unlocks three separate locks on the door, click, click, click. We walk in. A thirty-something woman with red hair, wearing a white bath robe, bounces up and down on the couch. She simultaneously eats ice cream straight out of the bucket with a fork. Her eyes are too close together and her eyebrows look completely penciled in. Three of my apartments could fit into this apartment and all the furniture appears to be new: leather couches, hi-def TV, expensive paintings, Persian blue rug. Tom Jones’ song “Mama Told Me Not To Come” blares from a really nice sound system behind an embarrassingly scrawny pine tree, with a few ornaments half-heartedly thrown or stuffed into but definitely not hanging off the branches. A half dozen already opened boxes lie on the floor at base waiting to be filled or already opened and discarded. It doesn’t seem to matter which.

“This is my roommate, Sharron. She likes to bounce.” Betty says.

Sharron waves. I wave. She continues to bounce and eat ice cream.

“I’m going to change, my clothes smell like smoke, okay. Have a drink, in the kitchen, make me one.” Betty says as she saunters toward the bedroom.


Sharron jumps off the couch and follows Betty into a bedroom. I walk to the kitchen and flip through the cabinets until I find two glasses. There’s expensive vodka on the counter and I mix us vodka tonics. I lean against the counter and take a drink.

Sharron walks into the kitchen and puts the ice cream back into the freezer.

“Do you like dogs?” She asks just before taking a swig directly from the vodka bottle.

“I guess.” I don’t, I’m a cat person.

“My parents breed Fox Terriers. Betty has a boyfriend, in case you didn’t know.”

“She has a boyfriend?”

“Hand me that knife.” Sharron points to a large kitchen knife in the sink.

“Here.” I hand her the knife. I can’t stop staring at her penciled-in eyebrows. They bother me.

“I’m going to kill myself in the bathroom. Do you do ecstasy? Do you want a pill?” She smiles.”Open your mouth.”

She drops the pill on my tongue. I swallow the ecstasy. Sharron takes the knife and leaves me in the kitchen. Somewhere near the end of the Tom Jones’ Greatest Hits CD, the e’ kicks in. When the music stops, I can hear Sharron and Betty arguing in the living room. I casually walk in.

“Why’d you call him, Sharron!” Betty pushes Sharron onto the leather couch which causes Sharron to break up in laughter. Little girl laughter. “Fuck you!” Betty yells. Betty now wears pajama bottoms and a black tank top and Sharron’s still in her robe. A tattoo of a zombie geisha fills up Betty’s entire upper arm. The tattoo goes against everything I’ve ever thought about this person. At the office, she’s staid, composed, and all business. I never realized she was an actual real person with a history until this moment.

I zone out what the girls are saying and fumble with the IPod until Tom Jones comes back on. I want to wrap myself in their Persian rug. I want to take a bath. I want to pet a bunny rabbit. I want to put my hand in a jello-mold. I’m thirsty. I want to dance. A lot is all right. A lot with the world is all right. Tom Jones is all right. In this moment, I get Tom Jones… but I don’t know what that means and I’ll probably forget it by tomorrow morning.

“Give me your phone!” Betty yells to Sharron.

I kneel down near the entertainment center and rifle through more songs on their iPod. Tom Jones isn’t doing it for me anymore.

Betty rips Sharron’s cell phone out of her hand and chucks it against the wall. The phone smashes into three pieces.

“You bitch!” Sharron laughs at first but then storms over to the book shelf and picks up the kitchen knife. She stomps into the bathroom down the hall and slams the door.

“You know you shouldn’t have called him!” Betty yells after her.

I plunk down on the couch. “You think she might do anything?”

“No. She’s just talk. And she’s a bitch for calling my boyfriend. I need another drink.”

I stare at my hand for a half-hour. Betty’s in the kitchen. I decide to knock on the bathroom door. “Hey, are you okay in there? I’m rolling pretty hard right now and it’s sort of killing me that you’re in there and you’ve threatened to kill yourself and all.” She doesn’t answer me but I hear the splash of bath water.

Back in the living room Betty’s switched the music to something slow. She dims the lights and grabs me by the shoulders. We slow dance. She whispers in my ear:

“We work at the same company. Work and right now…”

“I know exactly what you’re saying.”


We kiss. Only the lonely. Only the lonely. I hear Sharron open the bathroom door. She walks down the hall and sits on the couch. She’s naked. In the moment, it seems right.

Knock, knock.

Sharron immediately tells Betty not to answer the door. Betty answers the door. A heavy guy with a Mohawk haircut and a dark blue mechanic’s shirt, jeans, gray Converse shoes, walks in. He shoots me a nod as Betty pulls him by the shirt down the hall and into what’s presumably her bedroom.

An hour passes. It’s a little after four in the morning. I sit on the couch with Sharron. She holds a t-shirt against her naked body. I need to figure out a way to get out of here. The ecstasy has worn thin, my stomach is a fist, my mouth the Sahara, and these people are strangers. Sharron bats her thick eyelashes at me but I can’t stop looking at the little brown lines she’s drawn in where her eyebrows should be.

“I should go.” I say.

“Oh come on. Stay here.”


“I want to lay in your lap.” Sharron lays her head in my lap before I can get up. This isn’t good. She looks up at me. “Betty hates her boyfriend. She’s always bringing guys home to punish him.” Her voice is high pitched and slow.

“Guys? Like how many guys?” I ask.

“I don’t know. That’s not polite to ask.”


“She just likes to do it with different guys.” I notice that Sharron’s masturbating under the t-shirt as she tells me this. Or maybe she’s just scratching herself. She stops. I wait another ten minutes before I stand up, carefully maneuvering her head by replacing my lap with a couch pillow. I need to go home.

I stretch my arms and yawn. Sharron’s eyes are closed. I pick up a blanket from the ground and spread it over her. I walk towards the front door.

Betty’s boyfriend storms out of the room down the hall and beats me to the door. He shuts the front door sort of hard but he doesn’t slam it and he doesn’t make eye contact with me, or even seem to notice me, before he leaves. I open Betty’s door and slowly move into her room.

Betty lays in bed. It’s dark. I step over a pile of dirty clothes and I sit on the edge of her bed. I smell lilac-scented lotion. We don’t speak for a few minutes. Tears dribble down her face but she doesn’t seem emotional. I don’t know what’s going on with her but I feel bad. She’s screwed up. She’s a screwed up person. Her hand plants on my back like it’s a starfish, stuck to me.

“I moved to Dallas from Florida. When I drove, I stayed with some friends in Albuquerque.” Her voice is clear.

“Oh yeah.”

“My cat Johnny… Johnny ran away in Albuquerque.”

I know she’s telling me something that’s important to her but I zone it out and nod compassionately at all the right cues. I hate this. Why am I still here? I feel debased, empty, sucked dry by the big dumb nothing. I don’t want to hear about her sorry, runaway cat. I want to be at home, petting my own cat -Theodore- on his chin, eating my pizza, watching TV in bed, and then waking up early, exercising and doing my work. Calling my mom & dad to wish them a happy Christmas. Promising like I did last year that I’ll definitely make it home next year for Christmas. Like a good person. Like a solid, upstanding, working class citizen. Like a good American. A good son. A good worker bee.

“I liked kissing you.” She says. Her fingers slide up my back.

“It’s four thirty in the morning.”

“Kiss me again.”

“Not a good idea.”

She rubs her hand on my leg then to my belt.

“Please don’t.” I say. She doesn’t stop.

“You’re one of the applicants for regional manager, correct?” She asks.


She pulls at my belt.

I keep my feet planted on the floor, on the edge of her bed. I don’t want to do this but I don’t move. I don’t bolt towards the door. She continues to pull at my belt. GO before it’s too late! You fool! Run! Run damn it! Run!

She sits up and wraps her arms around me. She sticks my earlobe between her lips. She licks the inside of my ear then moves her tongue down the side of my neck. She whispers:

“I have condoms.”

She’s the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I have to use the bathroom first.” I stand up. She lays back.

I walk down the hall to the living room. I stand at the front door with my hand on the door knob. I glance back at Sharron, asleep on the couch. The apartment is mostly dark but through their diaphanous window curtain the faint amber glow of the outside world burns in.

Joey Amdahl teaches creative writing in the great Northwest.
His LIFE OUTSIDE THE BOX– was a Smoke Signals 08 DICK LIT selection.
were MODERN (You Call This) LIVING selections in earlier issues.

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