It’s of a bald eagle looking off to the side in a smoldering, sort of brooding kind of way, like Richard Gere in American Gigolo. No. No, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it erotic, it’s more like the bald eagle is very focused on something, like it was just preparing for the most important test of its life, and now, at the height of its powers, it’s going to take that test. And then—get this, Jer—it says “Live Free or Die” in big, stylish letters. It’s really something. Color? Uh, the plate itself is like a brownish green—but tasteful. And the eagle is, you know, eagle colored, and I swear, it’s so detailed and beautiful that it had to have been made by a very talented individual, a very prominent and respected artist as a matter of fact. And then the big, stylish letters are bright red. And let me tell you something right now, Jerry, you can really see those letters from all the way across the room when you’re snatching a cookie from the tin late at night. It’s like a futuristic laser beam in one of those heist films you like.

That’s what I was thinking too, that I would sell it on eBay, but I know as soon as I put it on there it’s gonna go real quick, so I wanted to offer it to my closest friends and family first, seeing how I know what a great deal it is. And you and me, we go back a long way, so I made a point to call you personally to see if you want to get in on this. I’d say, you know, fifteen, twenty dollars. I think it would look great in your home. Bet it would be a big win with the missus. Let me know. I can drop by your work today and show it to you if you like. No? How about tomorrow? How about tonight? Oh, I’m sorry, you are absolutely correct. Dinner is sacred. There’s nothing like preparing a meal and eating it together. No, sir, I wouldn’t want to interrupt that. And quite frankly, it’s something I’d like to see more of in the community. But let me know when you’re free so I can swing by. And hey, say you did want it, I’d be happy to offer you a complimentary home installation. What’s that? Where would I “put it?” Now Jerry, the way I see things is that we’re gonna want to secure it to a wall at a height and position deserving of its eminence, in an area with soft, elegant lighting that would sort of, uh, accentuate the plate’s natural beauty…Yeah.

Well, let me just pause you for a second there, Jer. It’s a commemorative plate. You’re not meant to eat off it. I mean, I’m not saying you can’t. You can. You can eat off it if you want to. I’m just saying it wasn’t designed for that. “What good is a plate if you can’t eat off it?” Hm. That’s a valid question, I see your point. But I think you sort of need to rejig your perspective on this whole situation, okay? It’s not a plate, okay? It’s a work of art. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. No, you’re right, I guess you could say that technically it is a plate, yes. But also, it’s an attractive and affordable painting that just happens to be on a plate. Hell, I’ll put a frame around it if that makes you feel more comfortable. So you’re saying why don’t I put it in my own home? I would put it in my own home. I just don’t have the wall space for it. I mean, yeah, that’s true, I got lots of walls, but the damn things are pretty much made of papier-mâché. I so much as lean against a wall and I’ll wake up a day later concussed and covered in plaster in a room I never even knew I had.

So what do you say? You guys always had the coolest stuff. I think it’s safe to say you’ll retain that title with this commemorative plate. And not only that, but you’ll be getting in on the ground floor of something good, because this plate’s one of a kind and it’s only going to appreciate in value. It’ll be a cherished heirloom passed down from generation to generation. You’re investing in your future, Jerry. You take care of it and it’s gonna take care of you. And when you die, your unborn twins will fight over who gets to have it.

Oh, thank God. Thank you, Jerald. I can’t tell you how happy I am. You just made a great decision, okay? You’re gonna be so happy with this plate. It’s gonna do so much for you. It’s gonna give you a little joy every day. It’s gonna lift you up when you’re feeling down. It’s gonna put a smile on your face when you least expect it. You know, it’s gonna…brighten up the room a little. It’s gonna…Oh, man. Thank you! It’s gonna…Man, those big, stylish letters—they’re gonna come at you like lasers, man! You’re gonna be like, like Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment, that’s right, you’re gonna be a bendy little thief, blindfolded and breathing real hard as you dance sensually past those lasers to get to the cookie tin. And Meryl’s gonna play Sean Connery, okay? She’ll be watching you do your forbidden dance from the sidelines with a six-pack, a bowl of popcorn and a nice warm blanket over her lap to hide her erection. You know what, Jerry? You know what, man? You’re gonna see those big, stylish letters every day for the rest of your life. They’re gonna help you become the person you always wanted to be. They’re gonna burn through your retinas and punch you in the fucking soul!

Oh gosh. I’m sorry. I am so sorry, Jerry, I didn’t mean to go off like that. I just…I need the money. And I’m grateful for what you’re doing. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I—can I be honest with you? I haven’t been well. Everything’s been a lot harder since I lost my job. And then the thing with…Yeah. Yeah. I know. I can’t believe it. I can’t even say the words. It feels like everything’s falling apart…Would you wanna have a cup of coffee with me sometime? Just to talk? I miss you. Yes, I’d like that very much. Thank you. You’re very good to me.

Okay. You got it. Okay. Great! So I’ll come by tomorrow with my tools and the plate and I’ll get everything all fixed up for you. I’m looking forward to it too. Thank you again. You’re the best, man. I know. I know things are gonna turn around for me.

Hey, since I have you on the phone, I wanted to ask you a question. And I say this only because I know you’re into this kind of stuff, but, well, gosh, I don’t know why but I feel kinda awkward asking you this so I’m just gonna come out and say it, but you see I recently came into ownership of a championship wrestling belt that belonged to a very famous but now deceased wrestler, I forget his name, and I was wondering if you might be interested in it? Oh, don’t worry about that, I went to the shipping place and got some really nice paper stock—you know, high quality, archival—and so it comes with my own personal certificate of authenticity on that nice paper stock along with the deceased’s name. No, Jerry. I procured this piece in a safe and lawful manner. Now the person who sold it to me, who has asked to remain anonymous, is a blood relative of the deceased, and they have assured me that they received the belt by means which are within the general confines of the letter of the law as it is written in the book of law. Well, see I know how you have lower back pain from working so hard all day—and by the way, when are you gonna get out of that line of work? It’s killing you. Yeah, you’re tired all the time. Cranky. Yep. You don’t want to see your friends anymore. Anyway, see what I was thinking was that this authentic championship wrestling belt would not only serve as a token of your appreciation for the wonderful sport of wrestling, but it could also double as a heating pad. No, I know. I know. Just listen! If you were to acquire the belt from me, I would be willing to throw in a complimentary screwdriver. Why a screwdriver? Because the belt has these really pretty metallic bits embedded in it—God you’ll look so handsome wearing this thing around the house—and those metallic bits would probably not be appropriate material to insert into a microwave unless of course you want to set your house ablaze, and I’m sure you don’t, but let’s just say for a minute that things go south and you do, then it will serve you well in that regard. Haha, exactly. So you’re gonna want to take the complimentary screwdriver and pop those bits out before you microwave the belt. I tell you, as soon as you get that hot, freshly microwaved belt slung around your love handles after a long hard day of work, you’re gonna feel so good. It’s gonna alleviate that back pain and make you feel ten, twenty, thirty years younger. That’s right. You’re gonna feel like your old self again: a sensitive, soft-spoken, baby-faced contractor who’s in the prime of his life—a Jerry who’s all loose and limber with slicked-back hair, a shiny stud in his ear and a pair of toned, hairless arms bulging out the sleeves of a tight black T-shirt. That’s how good you’re gonna feel.

And Jerry, it only gets better, because as soon as you’re done with your healing, you can pop those bits back into the belt and strut around the house like a fancy champion!

Well, seeing as it’s in mint condition, and it’s a part of history, and since the metallic bits themselves are one hundred percent gold plated if I’m not mistaken and could be melted down and remade into a nice new ring or pendant or other such piece of jewelry for Meryl, I was thinking two hundred dollars. But since you’re my friend and you’ve been so good to me, I was thinking one, one fifty, something like that.

Yeah. No. No, I know. You could do that. You could go to the pharmacy and get yourself a cheap, flimsy heating pad. But Jerald. Jerald, listen to me. You could do that, but it won’t have been worn by a very famous and very dead wrestler!

Okay. Okay. I get it. I understand. You don’t want the belt. But let me ask you a question: Do you know anyone who would? Tell you what, if you refer me to somebody, or some nobody, or just some local peanut and that peanut goes on to buy this thing, I’ll cut you in on the deal. How about that, Jerry? We’ll call it a referral bonus. Good. Keep me posted.

You still want the plate though, right? A promise is a promise. Then I’ll see you tomorrow. Should I bring a film to watch after we’re done with the install? I was thinking Backdraft. Ever see that one? No? Really? Kurt Russell’s in it. I think it’s his best work. He plays a moody firefighter who loves his younger brother so much that he shuns and demoralizes him. There’s this beautiful scene where the fire company’s responding to an alarm and Kurt’s in the fire truck riding up front next to the driver and the sirens are blaring. And like a vengeful sloth, Kurt turns around real slow. And he looks so pale and pained and haunted and maybe even a little scared, and the whites of his eyes are like twin moons moving across the sky because he’s giving Scott Glenn the side-eye. It’s the most chilling thing you’ve ever seen in your life. Yes, worse than Meryl’s when you haven’t done the dishes. It’s toxic. It’s morbid. It destroys all that it touches. Medusa wouldn’t look at him! I swear to God, I was watching Backdraft at home on my couch once, and just as Kurt turns around and casts his ghostly eyes upon me, a crack forms on the surface of the television set and it spreads quickly to both ends and the whole screen shatters.

You know, there are times when…Sometimes I find myself thinking that I want to be in that fire truck with Kurt. That I want to be on the receiving end of his deathly side-eye. Because I feel like, in this film, what Kurt really needs the most is a friend. And I want to be that friend. And other times, I feel bad for Scott Glenn. Sure, he does some awful things in this film to deserve that look, but it’s just so sad that he’s doomed to get it from Kurt every time someone watches this damn thing. I want to take his place, you know? I want to take the heat for him so he can catch a break. He deserves a break, don’t you think? He does. This film always makes me cry.

Oh. Not in the mood for tears? Then how about something fun?

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but you don’t like Alec Baldwin, right? I knew it. Ever seen The Edge? No, you’re thinking of The Revenant. It’s like that, only ten times better. You see, in this film—

Hey Jerry. Jerry, I want to share something with you. I want to let you in on a little secret. Promise to tell no one. Promise? Good.

I made that plate. With my own two hands. I made it for you. That’s right—I am the artist and you are the inspiration. Hey! Don’t get down on it just because I made it. Just because it wasn’t assembled in some factory. Okay, well maybe I’m no real artist, but—you know what? Screw you. I will call myself what I please. And hey, you’re buying it, right? I’m so talented I sold you my wares sight unseen. How about that? Hm. Good question. I don’t really like to talk about that sort of thing. I feel it does me no good. But for you—sure. Jerry, I thought about who you are. I thought about the things you like. I thought about what you stand for. I thought about…I thought about Richard Gere. I thought about how you stink after work. The armpits. The fungus in your scalp that makes your hair smell like vomit and brine. I thought of that stuff and I took it, I took all of it, and I put it in the plate! Why didn’t I—because, dummy, I wanted to be subtle. I wanted to capture your essence, not your likeness. I didn’t want you to see it and think, “Hey, that’s me!” I was trying to be covert. Thank you. No, I didn’t make the belt, the belt’s real. I’ll bring it with me in case you change your mind. And by the way, you should, because it doesn’t matter how you wear it—around your waist, over your shoulder, draped over your head like a towel, wrapped around your face like a big gold mask—as long as it’s on your person, you will look glorious and imposing, like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Mm-hm. Mmmm-hm.

No. Your hair doesn’t really smell that bad. Actually, it does. But in a good way, you know? I mean, you could probably get rid of it. Could get yourself some tea tree oil. Apply it to the scalp. Massage gently. Bet that would do the trick. But maybe—maybe you shouldn’t. That scent, it’s your calling card. It’s so distinct. So sweet and nasty. So perfectly you.

Speaking of which, will Meryl be there tomorrow? Because I haven’t seen you in so damn long. Because, for the first time since you got married, I would like to see you without your significant other around. And what’s with that? I mean, don’t get me wrong—I like Meryl, I think she’s great. She’s helped you become a better person and you’ve done the same for her. The two of you are a formidable team. I just—look, I’m trying to be more open about my thoughts and feelings. I have dreams about you. I miss you. I need some me-and-you time. I need some alone time with my Jer Bear. I mean—fuck. Does Meryl not like me? Does she not want me to be alone with you? What possible reason could she have for that? Uh-huh. Yeah. Okay, can you please remind her that, according to the fire marshal’s report, it was an accident? What do you mean, am I “asking a question or making a statement?” I’m doing both, you fool. No, I am not questioning the validity of the fire marshal’s report. I’m asking if you can make a statement about that report to your wife. Oh, for fuck’s sake. What do I want? Hm…I’m afraid to tell you. Because I’m scared of myself. I’m scared of how much I want. Okay.

I want everything, and I truly mean it.

I want you to buy the beautiful plate I made. I want the proceeds of that sale to line my wallet with cash and validate my artistic endeavors. I want the cash to help assemble a legal team that will go after my insurance company, who won’t pay the claim on my house. I want you to buy my prized wrestling belt, one of the few things that survived the fire, and model it for me. I want to buy it back from you at a later date. I want to roam freely among your solid, cream-colored walls and place my hands and head against them, because they are not fire-damaged and prone to collapse, like mine. I want to watch movies at your place, because Kurt Russell killed my fucking television. I want to rekindle our friendship. I want what we used to have. I want to set fire to your home while I make love to you. I want to kill you, become you, and take the money from your insurance policy. I want all of these things. I want none of them.

Oh, take it easy, Jer! I’m just kidding about half of that stuff. No, I won’t tell you which ones. I’m not going to make it easy for you. Look, the fire was a symbolic fire that would burn as a result of our love-making. Yeah. And the love-making was just my way of saying how deeply I want to reconnect with you. And that other thing—well…That was just a sick thought that popped into my head. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry—do you forgive me?

Fine. Be that way. But how can we ever move forward if we can’t learn to forgive? Don’t you hang up that phone on me, Jerry—I’m not done with you. I’m coming over to your house right now, and we’re gonna hash it out. And once all that is settled, you and me are going to sit down and watch The Edge. Because it has all your favorite things: Seaplanes. Surviving in the wild. Expensive watches. Anthony Hopkins. And yep, your nemesis Baldwin is in it. He plays a murderous homewrecker. But don’t you worry, because over the course of two hours old Tone breaks him down by using that calm, sophisticated voice of his to deliver an ego-killing barrage of camping tips. See? I knew you’d like that one, Jer. Besides, I’m sure these days all you do is watch shows about flipping houses—it’s about time you watched something good.

Just make sure you have an extra pair of pants on hand. Because you’re gonna crap your pants when you see this plate. That reminds me. Let me tell you about these chinos I got—I think you might like them. They’re beige and pleated. Non-iron. You pull them from the dryer and they come out hard and flat, like a surfboard. It’s unbelievable. And they’ve got a nice boxy cut to accommodate those tree trunks you call legs. I know. I know how hard it is to own one good pair of pants, let alone two. I mean, what is the world coming to that it is so damn hard to find a good pair of pants?