The Usual Suspect

In my opinion, it's a good thing 'normal' is broadly defined in today's society. The flexible and forgiving nature of the word normal allows me to describe my friends and the building where we live in such a way that most people will just shrug and comment noncommittally, "Well, that's not the kind of lifestyle I'd want, but whatever works for you is fine."

Our kind of normal does work for me. I don't think I could live within the conservative borders of some people's variety of normal. Most of my friends couldn't, realistically. A perfect example of this phenomenon is JoeBob. He doesn't actually live in our building, but it's not uncommon to walk into the lobby and find him lounging there at any given time of day or night. I've been told on several occasions that he does have an apartment of his own, though I've often wondered when he goes there. Nearly every day for the last eleven years, I've seen him hanging out in our lobby smoking plants of varying species and perusing magazines of questionable moral quality.

JoeBob's most direct connection to our building is Tristan Barrett who, apparently, has known him since junior high. Tris lives in Number Four, across from our new neighbour. He and I met in university and we've been best friends for nearly fourteen years. I've asked him to explain his relationship with JoeBob to me on several occasions, but Tris just shrugs and says it's complicated.

Naturally it's complicated, I always respond. Isn't everything?

JoeBob, of course, is not JoeBob's real name. Don't ask me what it is, because I haven't the faintest idea. With the possible exception of JoeBob himself no one around here does, and considering JoeBob's penchant for using mind-altering substances, he's probably forgotten it too.

On this particular afternoon, The Usual Suspect greeted me with, "What's up, Cas? You got any smokes?"

"Nice to see you, too," I said. "I'm feeling much better. Thanks for asking."

"Oh yeah. You were sick. Well, you look better," JoeBob said without even looking at me. "There's that flu going around. Seriously, got any smokes?"

"Yes."

"Can I bum one off you?"

"Here," I said. I dug into the pocket of my coat and pulled out the remnant of my latest packet. I tossed it in JoeBob's direction. "Keep it. I'm trying to quit, anyway."

JoeBob's eyes never strayed from his magazine as he reached out his left hand and plucked the moving packet of smokes from the air with unfailing precision. This is a particular skill of JoeBob's, catching things while apparently not looking. Dimwit and junkie that he is, I haven't yet figured out how he does this.

He inspected the packet, and then finally looked at me. "You know there are seven left in here?" he said as he extracted one and fitted it between his lips. "Ummm…make that six."

"Right. Give me one and you'll have five."

"Here," he said, handing me one. "Got a light?"

"Geez, JoeBob—"

"What?"

"Never mind." I lit my own cigarette and passed my lighter over to him. "Do you happen to know if Tristan's home yet?"

"Dunno," JoeBob said. "That hot Russian chick is home, if you're looking for some of that. Oh, dude, while we're on the subject of hot chicks, did you see our fine new neighbour?"

"Our new neighbour, you mean," I said. "You don't live here, remember? And I wish you'd stop referring to Anna as 'the hot Russian chick'."

"Well, she's hot and she's Russian," JoeBob said. He scrunched up his face in what I could only assume was the outward manifestation of an attempt to think. "She is a chick, right?"

"Yes."

"Good. For a minute there I was worried, like, maybe she was really a guy who likes to wear skirts. You know, like Tris."

Tristan does have a history of somewhat odd behaviour, but I've never once seen the man wearing a skirt. I was tempted to ask JoeBob if there was something he knew about my best friend that I didn't know. However, in a moment of self-preservation on behalf of my continued – albeit fragile – sanity, I decided certain things were best left undisclosed.

"Did you talk to the new neighbour?" I said.

"Uhh…" said JoeBob. He looked ready to salivate.

"Catch her name by any chance?"

"Mmm…Melanie." He said it like he'd just been tasting something sweet. He grinned. "You know, I've been having this vision today. About chocolate sauce. Ever have those visions, Cas?"

"You're disgusting, JoeBob."

"Yeah, that's what our new neighbour said, too."

"I'm going up to my place. If you see Tris, tell him I'm looking for him, okay? I need to borrow his car."

"What for?"

"How is that your business?"

"Oh, you know," JoeBob said. "Gotta keep up with what's going on around here, don't I? You guys wouldn't know anything about each other's business if it wasn't for me, man."

"You're a regular wire service."

"Maybe I should be on that all-news TV channel."

"CNN?"

"Is that the one where they read the news naked?"

"No."

"Oh. Well, then never mind," JoeBob said. He waved his magazine casually at me. "Catch your act later, buddy."

"Right," I said, and hurried up to my apartment with a disturbing picture of nude CNN anchorpersons lodged firmly in my head. After that, I figured the day couldn't help but improve.