<DIV><DIV><DIV></DIV><DIV><DIV><B>CHAPTER</B></DIV><DIV><B>One</B></DIV><DIV>Nine months after his divorce, Sam stopped wearing underwear. It was a practical decision rather than any type of statement. After Carol left him, he remained committed to underwear, thinking it a fundamental part of his life. He worked in a very proper, very conservative Chicago law firm that had a dress code, and while the dress code did not specifically mention underwear, it was definitely implied.</DIV><DIV>After he was fired, he began to reassess the need. Maintaining a clean fleet of boxer shorts took time, effort, and money. He had made one, halfhearted visit to a Laundromat but found the experience so depressing—so many homeless people were there hovering about like ghosts—that he never went back. He then entered a very decadent phase of wearing boxer shorts twice and throwing them out. Finally, after his dry cleaners began charging him three dollars a pair, he made the decision to liberate himself and gave up on underwear altogether, throwing away every last pair. He was very drunk when he did this.</DIV><DIV>Not wearing underwear was just one of a series of small changes Sam had made since Carol and his job had left him. Other interesting additions to his ever-evolving lifestyle included using regular gas in his car, drinking instant coffee, living in the Get Down Motel, and listening to other people have sex.</DIV><DIV>It was the loss of underwear that galled him the most. While lying naked on his bed in Room 12 of the Get Down and balancing a can of beer on his stomach, he reconsidered his decision. His body was cold, and he felt exposed and vulnerable in a childlike way. Suddenly he was ashamed of his nakedness, ashamed of everything. Not wearing underwear was crass, even uncivilized. He felt tears forming in the comers of his eyes. I am civilized, he thought. He finished his beer. I’m drunk, he thought.</DIV><DIV>The motel was strangely quiet for midafternoon. This was prime affair time at the Get Down, and the rooms were usually occupied, with the walls rattling and the beds in high squeak-and-shake mode. Sam sat up, pressed his ear against the wall, and thought he detected a muffled moan, but soon realized it was his stomach growling. He lay down again.</DIV><DIV>He was in the midst of deciding whether or not to go to the mall and buy some boxer shorts when the phone rang. It was Maureen from his office. She was only nineteen and had a childlike voice and a sweet, simple mind, both prone to hysterics.</DIV><DIV>“Mr. Gamett?”</DIV><DIV>“Hello, Maureen.”</DIV><DIV>“Thank God I found you. Thank <I>God</I>. Are you coming back to the office today?”</DIV><DIV>“What time is it?”</DIV><DIV>“It’s three o’clock.”</DIV><DIV>“No, I’m not.”</DIV><DIV>“Mr. Hurley is here,” she whispered.</DIV><DIV>“Who?”</DIV><DIV>“Mr. Hurley, the man who wants to divorce his wife secretly.”</DIV><DIV>Sam crossed his feet at the ankles and noticed he still had his socks on. He felt hope stir. At least he still had socks.</DIV><DIV>“Mr. Gamett? What should I do about Mr. Hurley?”</DIV><DIV>“Mr. Hurley,” Sam repeated.</DIV><DIV>“He’s been waiting for two hours. You said you were going to see him after you got back from lunch.”</DIV><DIV>“I had to go to court.”</DIV><DIV>“What should I tell him? He looks mad. He’s swearing a lot under his breath. He’s in the bathroom now. He might be swearing in there, I can’t tell though.”</DIV><DIV>“Tell him I was called to court, then reschedule for tomorrow. Can you do that for me, Maureen?”</DIV><DIV>“I don’t think so.”</DIV><DIV>“I know you can.”</DIV><DIV>“I don’t think so. He has a glass eye.”</DIV><DIV>“Glass eyes can’t hurt you.”</DIV><DIV>“I know, but a lot of people coming in here are weird. It’s scary sometimes. Like that man who didn’t have a nose, the one who had it cut off by his wife.”</DIV><DIV>“Ex-wife.” Sam cleared his throat. That man <I>was</I> scary. “Be brave, Maureen. Remember our talk about being brave? We’re doing important work. We’re helping people. We’re helping people who don’t have noses.”</DIV><DIV>Maureen took a deep breath. “Okay. I think I can do this. Should I do it now?”</DIV><DIV>“No, wait until he comes out of the bathroom.” Sam had to be very literal with Maureen.</DIV><DIV>Maureen whispered again. “What happens if he starts swearing at me?”</DIV><DIV>“If he does that, tell him I’ll sue him.”</DIV><DIV>“That might make him madder.”</DIV><DIV>“Maureen, just do this.”</DIV><DIV>“What happens if he has a gun?”</DIV><DIV>“He doesn’t have a gun.”</DIV><DIV>“The man without the nose had a gun. He showed it to me.”</DIV><DIV>“Well, he was just trying to impress you. He was overcompensating.”</DIV><DIV>“Overcompensating? You mean because he didn’t have a nose?”</DIV><DIV>“That’s right, Maureen. Because he didn’t have a nose.”</DIV><DIV>Maureen took another deep breath. “All right, Mr. Gamett. I’ll do it. I’ll do it if you say so. Can I put you on hold though while I tell him? He’s coming out now. I just heard the toilet flush.”</DIV><DIV>“All right.”</DIV><DIV>Sam propped himself up on an elbow and searched for the TV remote while he waited.</DIV><DIV>“Mr. Gamett? Are you still there? Guess what? He swore at me.” Maureen was breathing fast and talking in a rush, as if she were reporting live from the scene of an accident.</DIV><DIV>“He did?”</DIV><DIV>“He did. He said he wasn’t someone to trifle with.”</DIV><DIV>“He said ‘trifle’?”</DIV><DIV>“He said he was a veteran, and taxpayer, and he ain’t no pussy.”</DIV><DIV>“He said all that? How fast does this guy talk?”</DIV><DIV>“Then he said the ‘f’ word.”</DIV><DIV>“Where is he now?”</DIV><DIV>“He went back to the bathroom.”</DIV><DIV>Sam punched a pillow. “Maureen, I’m not coming in to see this guy. Tell him something else. I have to go. The guy is nuts anyway.”</DIV><DIV>“Mr. Gamett, please. What do I tell him? I’m scared.” Then she whispered again. “That glass eye is <I>so weird.”</I></DIV><DIV>“Give him some excuse.”</DIV><DIV>“What excuse?”</DIV><DIV>“I don’t know. Figure something out.” Sam hung up the phone. “Just figure it out.”</DIV><DIV><BR><BR>Later, he watched the History Channel again. He had gotten hooked on it a few months ago when one of his regular clients had wanted him to sue the channel because its frequent running of Holocaust documentaries caused him great emotional distress. Sam had dropped the case but become addicted to the channel. It was one of the main reasons he stayed at the Get Down. The other reason was that it was free. He had handled the divorce of Nezlo, the owner, and taken free lodging as payment for getting his Internet-ordered bride deported back to Russia after she gave him a venereal disease.</DIV><DIV>Patton had just relieved Bastogne. Sam watched with admiration as Patton, hands on hips, ivory revolver in holster, jaw resolute, reviewed his exhausted but victorious troops. An amazing feat, the narrator said. Sam repeated this out loud, then looked around the room and wished someone were with him to share the breaking news. Patton, you old son of a bitch. Sam opened another beer. Patton, you old <I>dog</I>.</DIV><DIV>Sam stared at the television set until the <I>Battle of Bastogne</I> was replaced by <I>The Building of the Hoover Dam</I>. He watched as American men, in construction helmets and carrying blueprints, squinted in the hot sun as they conferred in shirtsleeves, their faces optimistic, no problem too large. These were men with purpose, men with plans, building something that would stand the test of time. Years later, these very same men probably drove by the dam with their grandchildren in their Chryslers, pointed out the window with pride, and said, “I built that; your goddamn grandfather built that.”</DIV><DIV>Sam drank some more beer and swished it around the sides of his mouth before swallowing. He had nothing to show for his life. No wife. No kids. No hydroelectric dams. Never even wore a construction helmet. He wouldn’t know how to read a blueprint. In fourth grade, at his mother’s urging, his father had tried to build a go-cart with him for the Soap Box Derby. His father was terrible with tools, though, and eventually they had both gotten frustrated. After three hours, it had still looked like a milk crate. His father had said forget it, and took him to a movie—<I>Iced</I>. It was about an old man who killed people by hanging them on meat hooks in an ice locker. On the way home, his father said, “Let’s tell Mom we went to the park.”</DIV><DIV><I>The Building of the Hoover Dam</I> was followed by an in-depth history of coin-operated vending machines and their impact on culture. Sam watched this last show for only a few minutes before flipping through the other channels. He paused momentarily on ESPN, then settled on the Weather Channel. An unusual cold front was developing over the Rockies. Sam stirred on the bed and was considering going to the bathroom when the phone rang. He stared at it and counted fifteen rings before answering.</DIV><DIV>“Hello, Maureen.”</DIV><DIV>“Mr. Gamett? He’s gone. He finally left.”</DIV><DIV>“What did you tell him?”</DIV><DIV>“I said you suffered a serious head injury.”</DIV><DIV>Sam paused. “Maureen,” he said, “why did you say that?”</DIV><DIV>“I figured he might feel sorry for you.”</DIV><DIV>“What did he say?”</DIV><DIV>“He swore.”</DIV><DIV>“Did you reschedule our meeting?”</DIV><DIV>“No.”</DIV><DIV>Sam propped up some pillows and lay back on them. He was actually glad Maureen had called. He was in the mood to talk.</DIV><DIV>“Did anything else happen? Did Microsoft call, looking for help on any of their antitrust suits?”</DIV><DIV>“Mr. Gamett? I have to go. Good-bye.”</DIV><DIV>“What? Where are you going?”</DIV><DIV>“Home. I have a date, and I’m late. Bye!”</DIV><DIV>Home. Sam glanced around the room, slowly hung up the phone, got up, and walked to the bathroom, where he removed three beer cans from the sink. He splashed his face with cold water and looked in the mirror. It surprised him how much he hadn’t changed. He appeared the same, despite everything. Hair wasn’t even gray at forty-five. Never got fat, reasons unexplained. The thought that he wasn’t aging normally momentarily scared him. His heart and mind weren’t telling his body things; his hair, waistline, skin, were still blissfully in the dark. He splashed more water, then tried to make a muscle with his arm. He couldn’t make a muscle, he had no muscles. He opened his mouth and checked his gums in the mirror. He had no idea what he was looking for. Some sign of deterioration or decay. But his gums appeared fine. He looked at his face, studied the well-proportioned chin and the strong nose, the slight scar on his left jaw, a white mark just below the ear. He fell off a bike when he was nine, crashed into a door. He ran his hand over the scar, touched it with his fingertips, and remembered the pain, the tears. Then he stared into his eyes. He stared until the room behind him disappeared, until his body melted away, until it was just his eyes in the mirror, empty and dark.</DIV></DIV><DIV>SISTER NORTH. Copyright © 2003 by Jim Kokoris. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.</DIV><BR><BR><BR></DIV></DIV> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Sister North</b> by <b>Jim Kokoris</b> Copyright © 2003 by Jim Kokoris. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.