I found the song I've been meaning to find.
Beef might not be every woman's jewel. When he slips in to Starbucks for a glass of ice water, and there's a new girl on tea and coffee, one of those skinny summery blondes with a lanyard bracelet and brand new shoes, they don't really see him. He's dented, and even though it's not on the outside, everyone can always tell. His mouth is a little tighter than it should be, his shoulders not quite as proud as they are on the shiny-headed men in suits...looking at his own feet instead of yours...you don't need a man to be on fire to know he's not a good investment. But you can be wrong.
He's the best person I've ever met. I think it might be because he came from the worst place in the world. He was surrounded by a collapsing family from the moment he was born—in the back of a police car, the K9 narcotics dog still barking at his mom—but I think some recessive good genes snuck through, so he won't let himself make any of those mistakes. He hates where he's from so strongly, he's incapable of letting it happen to him. He flinches when someone's about to make a bad decision. You can tell he's instinctively closing his hand instead of opening it to embrace the mistake. He's seen so many made, all day long, every day he was alive, every chance his family got.
His dad: in prison for beating his mom nearly to death, then killed by his mom when he got out (shot in self-defense when Beef was a teenager...and listening). His mom...what a mess. When she gets out of a halfway house, she screws up and goes into the all-the-way house. She won't know if she can come to the wedding. She won't know who I am. She won't know what it means to Beef that he came from where he did and yet made himself into something almost right by the world, and that there's no single place in the world for him to say he's proud of that—she should be telling him so, she's the only place that praise can come from, but it will never happen, and if she got fucked up enough at the reception and garbled some half-witted praise to him, he'd know it was just dim signals from a toothless brain that almost knew what it was supposed to say. His brother Mike, "Showbiz," bounces in and out of meth and crank houses. After we got engaged Beef apologized to me, saying, "you know, you marry somebody, you marry their whole family." I knew that. It was nice of him to say, but I knew we'd be paying for Showbiz's bad debt, court fees, and occasional meals for as long as he lived. I have seventeen brothers, they're not all saints. One of them actually is, and we're all very proud of him, but that's another story.
The woman who mostly raised him — Gramma K — nobody says it, but she's...no. I won't say it either. She was illegitimate by an unmarried housegirl—a servant, basically—no joy ever, no schooling, and her own children were a terror inflicted on her by her ignorance. I don't want to imagine the simple coercions that this or that boy used to get her on a mattress...I can't help it but fortunately I don't follow through with it more than a few seconds.
Through all this he doesn't have it in him to give up. He has his ways of dealing. He won't cooperate with sophisticated places at their level, he won't play along with a nice restaurant or bank. He always has to be a punk, or difficult, because if he wasn't he'd be denying his lowly upbringing, and when you're low it's either wave that flag or stand there empty-handed. He wages a tiny, quiet war from beginning to end. He uses his spoon to trace breasts in the cold gravy on his plate. And he has his 'zine. That's fine. It's actually kind of fun. His "manifestations" keep him busy, and I know he likes holding Metal Chef or going out and doing his various community interviews.
So I'm happy. I'm happier than I'd be with anyone else. Most girls would say I was crazy to choose this one, but I'm three hundred and thirty-seven. They can want their brand new summer boys. I know that when Beef actually smiles, that smile was hard come by. When their summer boys smile, it's usually because the sun's too bright or they're holding back gas.