The Chase

Phillip Meets Chase

Phillip wanted to celebrate his promotion to National Creative Director of New Accounts. He’d decided to invest in a completely new downhill ski package: Rossignol skis, Nordica boots, poles, gloves, goggles, and the Roffe warm ups and jacket. He asked around and discovered that R.E.I, on Yale Street, was having an autumn sale. He’d wandered into the store, shocked by the enormous space, the buzz, the caffeinated salespeople, several of whom acknowledged him with a “Been helped?” or “Know what you’re looking for?” which he politely declined. And suddenly, there he was- exactly what Phillip was looking for, though he hadn’t known it. “Hello,” the man said, directly, openly. Phillip was disarmed by his unwavering stare, immediately self-conscious, as when one wonders, is there food in the corner of my mouth? Sleepiness in my eyes? Did I brush my teeth before I left the house? “Hello,” Phillip managed. He felt his heart accelerate, and grabbed the closest rack of women’s leggings to steady himself. “Do you, you work here?” What a stupid question. Of course he did, why else wear a name tag? “Name’s Chase,” he said, holding out his hand. Phillip noticed the calluses and tan, smooth skin, taut fingers. He was scared to shake, his palms were sweaty and he was sure he would stammer more. “Ph- Phillip,” he said with a nod. Did Chase wink, or did he imagine it? “Very nice to meet you, Phillip. And what brings you to R.E.I. today?” Oh, he was smooth and his teeth were perfect and god he hoped he was older than 18, was he? Yes, he had to be! “I’m looking, thinking about-” Get it together. Phillip had to look away, at the rack of hiking boots adjacent. “Uh, any skiing packages on sale?” “Great.” That smile again. “We’ve got some super promotions right now.” Did he say super? Phillip nodded. “Are you interested in downhill or cross-country?” Chase turned to walk toward the ski department, then turned back. Phillip wondered if he’d been caught staring at his rump. “Or both?” Once again, Phillip felt tongue-tied. Was it him, or did Chase have the most seductive smile he’d ever seen? “Downhill.” “Me too.” Chase lifted his hand to high five him, but Phillip had no idea what he was doing. Chase turned and walked away once again. Nearly an hour later, Phillip was outfitted with fifteen hundred dollars worth of new gear. He’d overspent his budget, but had no control once his need to impress Chase was unleashed. At the register, Chase was ringing him up when he’d asked, “Ever do any climbing?” “You mean, like rock climbing?” Phillip asked. “Yeah, I wondered because I have a friend who built a climbing gym in her garage. Just wanted to know if you’d be into checking it out?” Chase handed him his Visa and receipt, grinning. Was this a date? Phillip began to breathe a little heavier. “That sounds fun, but I have to warn you, I’m a virgin.” He blushed. “I mean, I’ve never climbed, indoors or outdoors.” He tucked his receipt into his wallet. “Piece of cake,” Chase said. He walked around to Phillip’s side of the register. “You look fit,” Chase said. “It’s like climbing a tree. Ever done that?” Phillip nodded, deciding this was not the time to talk about his fear of heights. He was in a trance, and at some point he was going to wake up. Then Chase said, “C’mon, I’ll help carry these bags.” The sun was high in the sky. The light of a lovely day danced off Chase’s sandy- blonde curls and turned the downy hair on his arms almost reddish-blonde. Phillip, although intrigued, was still confused. Was he blowing this out of proportion? He would rather know in advance, instead of getting his hopes up. Already at 25, he’d racked up his share of unavailable men: married, partnered, addicted, closeted. He was still tossing around the options in his head. Chase placed the extra bags in Phillip’s trunk, turned to him and handed him a slip of paper that simply said: Chase 342-7107. “Call me?” “Okay! Yes, I sure will,” Phillip said. “And thanks for all your help this morning,” he mumbled. “Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for starting my morning right. I gotta head back in. Enjoy your weekend in the Emerald City.” He held out his hand again and Phillip shook it, firmly this time. And, at last, Phillip relaxed slightly, sharing a lopsided smile that turned into a full, beaming, goofy grin. Their eyes locked. Phillip would never forget that initial contact. He turned to get into the car watching Chase walk back toward REI. Suddenly Chase stopped. Made a motion for Phillip to roll down his passenger window. He said, “Oh crap, Phillip, I forgot! Happy Valentine’s day!”]]>

Simo Freeshow

Simo Freeshow

I was having a Dos Equis at Life Café. It was summer, and New York City was blazing. I sat under the restaurant patio’s awning, watching the hazy movements of mothers’ pushing strollers into Tompkins Square Park, skateboarders blurring by, squirrels nesting in the huge trees that line 10th street. My androgynous waiter delivered my nachos and chips. “A nice spicy dish on a hot day,” he said. I detected a faint accent. British? “It’s addictive,” I said, meaning the food, but it might have been vague. “I’m Seymour,” he said, tucking a long strand of thick hair behind his ear. “Evan,” I said.  “I’ve seen you here before.” The café was one of my regular watering holes. Summer was my slow season. I was a freelance hair/makeup artist/poet/musician. Seymour was all those and even more, so many that I nick-named him “Slash.” I popped into the Life Café because it was close to home, coming or going. I lived in Stuy Town with my best pal, Trudy. It was temporary digs, I’d been booted from my lower east side illegal sublet. She was sweet to take me in, but she already had a room-mate, so I slept temporarily on the foldout living room couch. Turns out he was English. Seymour was just exotic enough, lived way west on 14th street. When he told me his last name was Freeshow, I couldn’t stop laughing. “Don’t you get it?” I finally got out. “I just don’t think it’s that funny. It’s my name.” I tried, I really did, to stop. That was the first time we kissed. We were out walking his two humungous mastiffs. Folks walking toward us on the West Side Promenade parted like the Red Sea on either side. We stopped to look out across the mighty Hudson, churning a rubbish gray. Jersey loomed in the distance, a mirage of tall buildings, beige breathing outlines. I looked at Seymour, staring into the expansive view. He wore a pale blue tank top, and camouflage shorts. I got lost admiring the way the wind blew his shiny hair, he had smelled of peaches and bicycle grease. I felt like I was seeing him for the first time. Then he turned to face me. And it was like one of those slow close-up movie shots. I forget who kissed who, but there were fireworks. And that’s one of the many things I love about New York. We just let loose, right there on the West Side Highway. And no one gave a rat’s ass except us. Okay, his dogs were a little jealous. And I didn’t want to get Marmaduke 1 and 2 any reason to wreak havoc. They both outweighed me. I drove a Ford F-250 that I’d stored at my sister’s house in Bronxville. The next weekend, Seymour (now “Simo,” as his English friends called him) and I took Metro North to Janet’s house. I drove upstate to Woodstock. We hiked in the remarkable Catskills. I took him to the Omega Institute outside of charming Rhineback. We shared a hammock by their lake and took a romantic nap. We ate a delicious vegetarian dinner. That night, returning back to Manhattan, I asked him to stay overnight. He said yes before I’d barely asked. It’s always strange to sleep with a new boyfriend. Well, I’m not a great sleeper to begin with. But add to that mix: Trudy’s living room foldout couch, her room-mate Mary, whose boyfriend Larry was also visiting from Pennsylvania. (Trudy and I dubbed them the Mary & Larry Show). And Trudy also had two cats that became a little nutty around 4 in the morning. Needless to say, lots of tossing, turning, until sometime in the early morning, maybe nine or so, finally I was dreaming. But no, Simo was going to town under the sheets. Morning wood. It felt amazing being woken like that, despite the exposed room. I used my pillow to keep the moaning muffled. I was swept away, didn’t hear Trudy open her door and walk past us on her way to the kitchen. We were busted: it was too late to stop. “Wish it was me,” Trudy said.]]>

Looking for Clues

Looking for Clues

We sat in the dark waiting for the first actors to take the stage. As soon as he entered, I leaned over to my best friend, Giselle and whispered, “He’s dreamy.” I scanned my program like she did. Stewart Harriman; transferred from Syracuse U, theater major,  semester abroad at London’s Old Vic. I leaned close to Giselle again. “Bet he’s gay.” Okay, I’d hoped he was. “No way,” she whispered. “He’s straight.” So, the bet was on. For the rest of  Charley’s Aunt, I scrutinized for lisps or limps, capes tossed with too much flourish, any other theatrical gesticulation that might suggest possibilities. Instead his performance was exquisite, nuanced with tinges of sensitivity, balanced by bravado. Not even an ounce of gay hope. Giselle and I sprinted to the green room afterwards, throngs of underclassmen surrounded him. But it was Giselle who caught his eye. She was right, straight Stewart was, and straight into her bed he dove. It was likely for the best, as I was transitioning through yet another fallout with Tom, Dick or Harry. At the ripe age of 21, I felt washed up, a senior who’d been ready to graduate as a freshman. Giselle met me at the Letchworth Diner for brunch. “Why so glum?” she asked. Ordered an iced tea. “Where do you want me to start?” “You’ll be okay, Buzz.” She patted my arm.  “Are you still seeing Timmy?” “You mean Tommy?” I shook my head no, sighed. “He wanted to see other people.” A plate of steaming french fries arrived. We always shared. “Maybe you ought to try someone our age? What about Gary?” “Nope.” I made a face. “Closet case.” “Fair enough. Donald?” “Get serious. He’s about twice my size.” “Sorry, I didn’t know that mattered. Damn, these fries are good today.” I huffed but I wasn’t really offended. Giselle was just trying to help. “How’s Stewart?” I tried to hide my jealousy. “He’s fantastic. He drives me absolutely wild. ‘Course, I don’t see enough of him. He’s rehearsing for Gemini, so he leaves at some insane hour. It’s still dark out.” I pretended to be happy. “That’s nice, I’m glad things are working out.” “Me too,” Giselle said. She smiled at me. A little piece of french fry stuck in her gums and it made me feel slightly better. Our senior year progressed, Giselle’s time divided by school and Stewart. They nearly moved in together for spring semester, but he got cold feet. Hmm. Turns out, Giselle told me, it was after he’d moved in with English girlfriend, Evelyn, that things took a drastic, irreparable turn. He didn’t want to repeat that with Giselle. Okay, so add smart to his resume. I’d begun to hate them by the time spring finally rolled around. Not to mention that we’d done more than just a few theater projects together- all three in Dr. Cho’s Theater History class, as well as Scene Design 2. When Giselle’s lead actor bowed out of her senior project, Why Hanna’s Skirt Won’t Stay Down, I was shocked she asked me to take the lead role. We met that Sunday at the diner. “Why didn’t you ask Stewart?” “I did. He’s too busy with his own senior project,” she said. Of course. “What play did he choose?” “He doesn’t know yet.” “When does he have to choose?” “This weekend. But there’s something else I have to tell you.” I was all ears. “What’s up?” Her face changed and she looked as if she might cry. “Giselle, what is it?” “I’m fairly certain…” She looked down at her hands, then back into my eyes. “I’m pregnant.” “Stewart’s?” I blurted, didn’t mean to. Of course it was him. I took her hand. A tear slid down her face. “What am I gonna do?” They’d placed us at a corner booth, so I slid closer to her. “How did this happen? You had a diaphragm, right? Did it break?” Truth was, I hadn’t even seen one before. “No, it was about a month ago. Stewart was supposed to come over after the cast party for A Christmas Carol. He’d designed the lights, so he felt he had to go. It got late and I crashed. When I woke up around midnight, I was a little miffed because he’d said he would stop over by ten. The next thing I remember, there was pounding on my front door. He was drunk, apologized, then barged into my room. We barely discussed protection before he was…before it was too late.” I didn’t know what to say. I could feel how upset she was, and for good reason. “I’ll help however I can.” Our waitress dropped off our fries. “What did Stewart say?” “I haven’t told him yet.”]]>

The Frog

The Frog

Marina Vista dropped by to visit her sister, Benecia Martinez. “I never get to see you anymore,” she said. “Where is Chilpanchango?” “You know where he is.” “In the woods?” Benecia nodded, setting the fresh guacamole bowl on the dining room table. “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked you a cake.” She grabbed the tortilla chips, already in a colorful ceramic bowl. Marina sat down. “This is more than enough. You didn’t have to fix lunch, honey.” “No problemo, my sister.” Benecia kissed her cheek. “We need to do a little hair removal.” She pointed to a few straggly hairs near Marina’s lip. “Oh please. Let’s not turn this into a spa day.” She crammed a chip into the guacomole and stuffed it into her mouth. “You look good, been jogging?” “When I can.” Benecia chugged some Fresca. “Able to hang for a few hours?” She adjusted her bra underneath the fitting black tank top. Marina nodded, scratching a mosquito bite on her back. “Mmm, these avocados are muy…” She searched for the word as she dipped a lavish amount on another chip. The back door creaked open. “Honey?” Benecia called. “Chilpanchango?” “How can you even tell he’s in here? He’s like the wind, that one.” Benecia placed her hand over Marina’s. “Shhh, he’ll hear you.” The boy came to the doorway. Marina Vista turned around, eyes narrowed. “Chilpanchango, where have you been?” His huge eyes looked at his feet. “In the woods,” he whispered, his soprano voice wavered. “And what do you do in those woods, honey?” Marina asked. He shrugged. “I don’t know. Just play.” She held her arms out. “Come over here and give your Auntie some sugar.” He walked slowly toward her. Benecia let out a scream. “Aye yi yi, Chilpanchango. What’s in your pocket?” His shorts were stained a strange purplish- red color. Marina Vista shrunk back horrified. “In the name of Christ Almighty-” “Sis, shut it.” Benecia moved quickly toward Chilpanchango, escorting him out of the room. “Be right back,” she said over her shoulder. Marina Vista had almost polished the entire batch of guacamole when Benecia returned. “What happened?” Marina asked. “What was it?” “Nothing. Just a frog he collected.” Benecia drank more Fresca. “A frog he collected? You mean a frog he mangled? There was blood.” “Don’t pick on him, Marina. He’s just a boy.” Marina shook her head. “That boy of yours, he’s a piece of work.”]]>

Hunting

Hunting

They were strapped to the roof of our car. Two bucks. Both shot first thing that morning; the first dawn of gun season. One by Uncle Dan, the other by dad. I thought I would like it, hunting. I carried around a twelve-gauge shotgun, an antique passed from gramps to dad to me, for the entire month of August, that late summer of 2006. But the day finally arrived. We drove out among the hills of Bristol, the early turned red oak leaves fluttering in the sun. We set up camp, dad cooked, which he rarely did at home unless we grilled outdoors. They played poker, offering to teach me. Instead I read A Separate Peace and tried to relax about the big day tomorrow, but the smoke from their tiparillos’ caught in my throat. Then, a sleepless night in a trailer with five snoring, whiskey filled men. I watched the moon, paralyzed cold, in my too thin sleeping bag, wondering if I’d have the balls to do it. If I’d be man enough to actually squeeze the trigger.  I’d never killed anything before, except ants once with a handheld mirror that I took from mom’s vanity, and forgot to return before she noticed it missing that evening. The same ants I put down Evan Cramer’s back that same summer for no apparent reason. An alarm sounded, we dressed in pitch dark using kerosene lanterns.  While the men swilled down instant coffee, Dad showed me how to load my gun for the hundredth time. How to keep the safety off while we walked. Uncle Ron told me how most morons accidentally shoot themselves while they’re walking. I wondered if that was what happened to vice president Cheney, but I forgot to ask. As we put on our hunting vests, Dad said, “Now, like I told ya, look for the rack. Don’t get trigger happy. We’ll leave you on Whiskey Rock and split into two groups, circle wide, then drive them toward you. All you have to do is pick the largest rack! But be patient.” I nodded, licked my lips with excitement, my toes tingled in dad’s hand-me-down hunting boots. Uncle Dan said, “If he shoots anything like you, Hank, we’ll have the first buck weighed in on opening day.” We left camp single file, at the first crack of light on the horizon. No talking, and walking careful, like Indians. Dad had me practice that around the house, and I nearly scared mom half to death a couple times.  “Stop creeping up on me,” she’d say, when I’d finally mastered it. “That’s spooky.” They dropped me off at Whiskey Rock. Dad nodded, pointed to the safety on his gun. Motioned me to settle down. I found a nook atop the mammoth rock, felt like I was nearly invisible. I could see how hidden I’d be, among the lowest branches of the closest trees. The moss on the rock smelled earthy, the dew felt wet enough to gradually come through the seat of my thick, camouflage trousers. As the men faded from sight, Uncle Dan looked over his shoulder and gave me thumbs up. I began to feel strange. Alone in these alien woods I had only hiked once or twice, and always with my father. It was eerie, too quiet, I could hear my heartbeat. The tiniest sounds magnified. A squirrel running along a fallen beech. A hawk settled into a nearby douglas fir, its prey in its talons.  I looked down at the gun across my lap and for a split second thought what am I doing here? Then I saw the most magnificent creature, probably a hundred yards away. A buck, I was certain from its size. It slowly moved my direction. I looked for a doe, figured she might be even closer. Dad taught me bucks often follow the dainty females. There she was! The doe came closer, twenty yards, then ten. I hunkered down even more, moving minutely, eyes frozen on the animal. I wondered how I would actually get my gun up to my shoulder, aim, and fire at the buck. I couldn’t scare the doe, surely; if she caught wind of the danger, or saw me, she’d bolt, as would her suitor. Instead I sat like a statue, heart leaping while the gorgeous doe passed by on the very same trail beneath me. Then the buck came into view less than two minutes later. He had one focus: her! I knew as soon as he looked squarely at me that I could never shoot him. There was a peacefulness as I realized this, combined with the disappointment that I would let dad down. And Uncle Dan. Even grandpa, whose dementia might make the blow easier. I would see three more does and five other bucks from my vantage atop Whiskey Rock that morning. The largest buck had a twelve pointer. All passed readily by, none the wiser about a geeky hunting teen who chose only to admire their grace.]]>

Sneezing

Sneezing

I love to sneeze. I’m old and it’s the closest thing I get to an orgasm anymore. Used to be I would visit my neighbor, Lois. Over a decade ago, after my wife Martha passed, I started dropping by at my neighbor’s. I know what yer thinking, of course it wasn’t the day after Martha’s funeral, But Lois had lost her husband to heart disease, too. And she was a looker. Not a hooker. I said, a looker. Five eight, auburn hair, probably dyed, but still caught my eye. And dainty, like that china we’d inherited from my Aunt Rita, used it twice a year: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Oh, and I’m a sucker for big boobs. Lois was on the smallish side, but perky, responsive. Worked for me. I started by shoveling her steps that winter of 2002. Snowstorms came early in December, one right after another. We were all buried. Was the least I could do when I saw her out there struggling one morning. She offered me a glass of water on Friday. A cup of hot chocolate the following Tuesday. I could feel her eyes on me, staring out those front windows. After the third snowstorm, she asked me in. I stamped the wet snow from my Sorels, felt my heartbeat pounding. Took off my soggy gloves first. “Thanks, Duff.” She pointed at my t-shirt after I’d tossed my winter jacket, sweater, hat and scarf on a bench by the door. “You poor thing. You’re soaked!” “Yep,” I said. “I sweat a lot. Got a towel?” She looked at me like it repulsed her. “Would you like a fresh shirt? I could get you one of Tom’s.” Handed me a dishtowel. He was the dead husband, a real asshole. Sorry. I know he’s gone and all, but I saw how he’d mis-treated her, time and time again. She was captive. Shut down. Martha and I stopped socializing with Lois and Tom after the kids were born. Tom was just too, well, military for me. Plus, I didn’t like the way he’d ogle Martha when he thought I wasn’t looking. “I live right next door, Lois, remember?” “Yeah, smartie pants. But if you’d like to stay for coffee, I thought you might be more comfortable out of your wet clothes.” I’d be a lot more comfortable out of any clothes, I thought. I wondered what would happen if I just dropped “trou” right there, in her kitchen. I saw that on a CSI show. But I had too much respect for Lois. Didn’t want to mess up the days it took to progress from her step shoveler to coffee buddy. “I’m okay,” I said. Besides, I’d used extra Aqua Velva before any trip to her house. “I made fresh Christmas cookies yesterday. Sugar cookies, with the different flavored frosting.” And goddamn if she didn’t bring out a tin of them, stuffed full of santas, reindeer, stars, elves, topped in every color of the spectrum. The frosting looked glassy, the way snow looks after an ice storm. “Wow.” I tried not to drool on the table. “I’m impressed.” “Go ahead, have one. Have them all. Cream or sugar with your Sanka?” “Nope, black.” I was tempted to add, ‘like my women,’ the way I did at those AA meetings. But with Lois, I was trying to be well behaved. And, I’d stopped going to AA anyhow. Too depressing after I’d kicked the alcohol. I picked an orange stocking cookie with sugar sprinkles, while Lois fixed her coffee then sat down opposite me. Her hair, those deep red locks, were piled on her head like a beehive. I smiled. “Tom never liked Christmas cookies.” She sipped her Sanka, her fresh lipstick left a mark on her mug. Ugh, Tom. “Do we have to talk about them?” I included Martha, just so it didn’t seem harsh. I bit the cookie, the orange flavor created a zing in my mouth. “No,” Lois chuckled. I hope she felt relieved, not having to re-hash the past we really hadn’t shared anyhow. “I was wondering if you’d be up for something.” She was adorable, the way she sort of hid behind her coffee mug, a Budweiser stein. “Try me, Lois. I’m pretty open.” I hoped to god it wasn’t bingo at that damn Grange Hall. I went once, years ago, for Mixer Madness. Torture. “Unless it’s my CSI night.” “Oh, I can’t watch that show. Way too violent. I can’t even watch CNN.” Yup, Martha re-visited. Which is why we got the second TV after the kids got through college. Didn’t think my last son was gonna make it. But Danny did, by the skin of his teeth, he finished. I swallowed some Sanka and tried not to grimace. It was foul. I’d been introduced to the whole Starbucks crap years ago. My grandkids. Too cheap to spend those kind of bucks, so I get my beans at Costco, that Kirkland brand. They’re tasty as hell. “So, what you wanna ask me, girl?” I had to admit, I was feeling more frisky than usual. Something about being alone with a woman like Lois made me feel like a teenager. She pulled a paper out of her purse, handed it over. It was a flyer. I scanned it, said ballroom dancing lessons, and other information. I glanced at dates. Monday nights. CSI was Thursdays. I could barely walk let alone dance. I shrugged. “Whaddya’ think?” She had the eagerness of a Labrador, practically wiggled. “I think I can’t dance to save my life.” I felt a sneeze coming on. “Who cares? It’ll be fun. You can’t be any worse than-” The unmentionable. How could I resist? I whipped out my handkerchief. “Okay, you’re on.” I turned away. “Achooo.” “Bless you!” She clapped her hands together. “More coffee?”]]>

Jesus Votives

Jesus Votives

We’d met during the 4:40 showing of ‘Something About Mary.’ I was feeling really low at work, so I left early, ducking into the closest theater. There were only six other people in the Quad Cinema on 13th Street and she sat in the row directly behind me. When it got to the part where Cameron Diaz introduces her “special” brother to Matt Dillon, I heard her say, “Ohmigod! Goofy bastard!” And even though I was a little appalled, she leaned closer, and whispered in my left ear, “He looks just like my boss,” which raised my curiosity. I tried to figure out if she worked with special people, or meant Matt Dillon. When the movie ended, she stood, held out her hand and said, “I’m Karla. I’m going to El Rey Del Sol for margaritas, wanna come?’ Without waiting for an answer, she turned and walked away. I really didn’t make a choice, not then. I just followed until we were standing outside the theater. She lit a cigarette. Her thick, blonde hair glistened in the setting sun, that slanting kind of autumn light that reminded me of bales of straw. “So, whaddya think?” She took a long drag and blew the smoke out of the corner of her mouth. I shrugged. I often go to movies alone. I wasn’t used to discussing them. “It was a little, well…” I had trouble finding even one word to summarize it all. “Goofy?” she asked, smiling a grin that made me smile back. “C’mon,” she said, linking her arm through mine. The impact of her movement carried us both forward, and I was swept toward 14th Street and El Rey Del Sol. “Ever been here before?” Karla asked as we were led through the tiny restaurant to an even smaller patio in an alley behind the kitchen. We sat, and I looked up at the various apartment buildings looming around us. “No, I live across town.” “Brooklyn?” she said, with a faint air of disdain, like I was some piece of shit if I lived over a bridge or through a tunnel. “No, the East Village.” “Hmm.” She gave me a once over. “You don’t look the type.” I sort of half-smiled. I’d heard this many times before: one version of it or another. You look like a Kennedy. Or, do you come from money? Women often tried to carve some myth out of my location. And who cares, right? I say let them! Karla lit up again. “I like this place ’cause you can smoke. Even wacky weed. And the drinks come in these Jesus candles.” She demonstrated with her hands, but I was clueless.  “Ya don’t know Jesus candles?” She started listing off the most common margarita flavors. “Usually they’ve got cantaloupe, banana, pineapple, and coconut. Then there’s a flavor-of-the-day. What day is it, Thursday? Might be kiwi!” I have to admit, her childish enthusiasm was amusing. Before our kiwi margarita’s had even arrived, I knew I was gonna get laid. I told her I was an accountant, to which she added, “What a hoot!” I was somewhat afraid to ask what she did for work. When I did, she replied, “I book clowns.” The drinks arrived. “You…what?” I’d never heard of that before. “Yeah, clowns, like Ronald McDonald? We have several professional clowns who do everything- entertain people at carnivals,  act on TV commercials, go to birthday parties. We keep them pretty busy.” She sipped her margarita. Well, more like gulped. “And you’re their booker?” She nodded. “It’s a cake job. I’ve been with the company since college. Just can’t leave. I’m too attached to those clowns.” She laughed, so I did, too. “I know, crazy isn’t it?” “No.” I shook my head emphatically, trying not to think about my wife who’d left six months earlier. Karla’s inability to leave her clowns suddenly made her look like a prize to me. I smiled a big grin at this clown booker. “You have any siblings?” I asked, wiping a dribble of kiwi juice from my mouth. “Yeah, my older brother’s HIV positive. He owns a tattoo shop in the Mission.” Her voice got smaller. “San Francisco. That’s where we grew up.” “I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what to else to say so I looked at my feet and wished I’d worn something other than my tasseled Cole-Haan loafers. “Hey, man, no sweat. He’s a survivor. It’s been something like ten years since he was diagnosed.” She paused. “My little brother’s in the clinker.” She narrowed her already slanting eyes. “I know,” she snorted, “ya gotta wonder which is worse, huh?” “Really? Gosh, Karla, I’m…” “He fucked up. He got caught doing what lots of executives and presidents and all sorts of hoity- toity people do.” I wondered what his crime was- murder? “What’s he in for?” “He was working for the mob. An inside job. And they made him the fall guy, or at least that’s what he says. He wasn’t willing to blow the whistle on his loser buddies, so he got twenty years, booked for armed robbery with attempted murder.” She lit a cigarette, blew out the match. “Enough about me, how about you?” I was reluctant to disclose any details about my family after that. “Well, I’ve only got one younger sister. She’s working on her master’s at Columbia. Journalism.” “Wow, she must be smart. Smarter than you, I’ll bet!” she joked, and the pressure drained away. “Listen, you wanna get out of here?” She’d already pounded her entire margarita, and I was only half finished with mine. But I had reason to think that something better was coming, so I said, “Sure.”]]>

The Message from Ruben

The Message from Ruben

A stranger accidentally text-messaged me. Usually I’d press delete before reading any of the content. I’m quick that way, unless it’s a familiar name. I don’t have time for bullshit. But then, I read the beginning:

Hey sexy,

Bet you think you never here from me again?

Sexy? That wasn’t a word I’d use to describe me. And what about the bad spelling and grammar? Still I scrolled down to see if a name was included:

Ruben.

Did I know a Ruben? It’s not like Bob or Tom. I stared out the window of the café, watched the leaves catapulting from their trees. I tried to recall him, scanned through the file of various men. It wasn’t a vast one, believe me. And then it registered. Ruben was a trainer I’d met at the Wisconsin Athletic Club. He’d spent two years in Nicaragua working for Habitat for Humanity. Before he left, we’d had a drink at Hi- Hat. The place was dark, hazy with smoke. He sat at a table with high bar stools. I sat opposite him, his grin lit up the entire room. My legs dangled in mid-air. “I feel like a doll on these seats.  Or a zoo animal. I’m too short to reach the ground.” “I like you. You’re funny,” Ruben said. He sipped his cosmopolitan. He’d ordered Chardonnay for me. I wondered how he knew white wine was my preference. “Thanks for the wine,” I said. “Cheers.” We clinked glasses. I wasn’t sure he could understand me, but I didn’t care. “Really? You think I’m funny? I think I’m depressing,” I said, thinking we should have gone to my place. I wanted to tell him I was engaged to the wrong guy. Wanted to mention there was a strong possibility I was pregnant. But I didn’t. Just stared at his perfect eyebrows. Now, married with two kids, and barreling toward divorce, I sighed. The wind had picked up outside, swirling the leaves up toward their former branches. I glanced back at his text, bit the inside of my lip. Should I delete it?]]>

Triple P Party

Triple P Party

“You’ll never guess who I saw yesterday.”

She was chewing gum so loudly that I had a hard time understanding. This was nothing new; no one spoke more rapidly than my best friend, Audrey. Often I had to ask her to repeat herself, which she would, but only after a huge sigh. “Who?” I moved the phone back to my right ear. “You have to guess. You’re gonna flip out.” Ugh. These games were only fun when she caught me during my shift at Café Rouge. On weekend nights, I was the first bartender on schedule. By 9:00, Jacques and Mimi, the owners, were downing their second or third bottle of Bordeaux. When Neena, the closing bartender would arrive, I’d normally be on my second or third phone call from Audrey. Neena called her “the wife.” But, tonight was my only free night. I was home alone. “I don’t want to play.” “Why not, Mr. Cranky. You’re gonna shit when you guess who it is.” I thought about who would be the last person I’d want to see if I died crossing 2nd Avenue to pick up dinner at The Cauldron. “Um, Sylvester?” “No. Omigod, what made you think of him?” “I have no idea.” He was our drug connection in college. You could get almost anything from him: ludes, speed, joints.  Or through him. Or however those people work. I’d left a tab with him, and only on rare occasions had a pang of guilt about it. “Nope, last I heard, Sylvester was still behind bars. You know, Nancy Reagan’s crackdown.” “Just say no.” I thought about lighting up a joint. “What a crock.” “Would’ve loved to be her, just for one day.” Audrey sighed. “Oh, give me a break. She was an addict, too.” I lit up, took a huge hit, then held my breath. It was great tasting weed from Hawaii. Maui Wowee. “I know, I know- you’ve said it a million times. Anti-depressants. I’d be on them too if I was married to that goon. Don’t try to change the subject. You’re not guessing.” I blew out the smoke, and had the same endless thought: where did it all go? “Boy or girl?” “Boy.” At least that made the game more exciting. “Give me another clue.” Without a second’s thought, “Lives in Jersey.” She was dexterous at games. “That rules everyone out. The only person I know from Jersey is Debbie Lewis, and she joined the Peace Corps in 89.” I took another toke, felt the immediate flood… of what? Relief? Nah. Incapacitation? Maybe. I sunk further into my sofa. “Really? What country?” Exhaled a thin stream. “Liberia.” “Huh. Okay, here’s another clue: double initials.” Now she was eating some noodle dish, I heard the slurping sounds and my stomach growled. Sammy’s Noodles. Mmm. I closed my eyes and tried to remember anyone I knew with double initials, but only celebrities came to mind. Tina Turner. Matthew Modine. Then, as I took another drag, one of my favorite authors popped into my head. Audrey and I had met him at a 92nd Street Y book signing. “Was it Shel Silverstein?” She giggled, then burped. “Sorry. No, silly; not even close.” “Is he hot?” There was a pause. “Very. Least we used to think so.” I crushed out the joint and sat up. A deeper level of interest. “We, as in, you and me? Or the public at large?” “C’mon, think. Okay, here’s a really huge clue. Worked with me at the radio station, same Saturday shift. Favorite band was Haircut One Hundred.” The light clicked on. “No way.” I sat up. “Peter Pavia?” “The one and only. Can you fucking believe it?” My heart was pounding. Suddenly, I needed water. “Where? How?” “I was at the Cloisters- ” “Park or Café?” “Slow down, mister, you’ll give yourself a heart attack. You need to be careful; your genes aren’t so great in that department.” “Yeah, thanks for reminding me.” It was probably true. Dad dropped dead on the job, massive coronary. No signs, so the family story goes. He was 47. Now that 30 was approaching, I felt that number haunting my own future and could only wonder. “Just looking out for you. So, I was at Cloisters cafe, having tea with Lenore, you know, ‘luscious Lenore,’ dances with the City Ballet. She pointed out some guy at the corner table on the patio. That gorgeous patio with the vines criss-crossing overhead, and that immense fish tank, and the creaky stone flooring.” My impatience grew. “Audrey- get to the Peter part.” “I’m there. It was him, in the corner, sitting alone. He was reading.” “What. Reading what?” It was inconsequential, but it suddenly seemed important. “An issue of The Paris Review.” “Oh god.” I had dry mouth, chugged a huge glass of water. “What?” “Well, it’s not Kitty Kelley, is it?” Another double initial celebrity. And Reagan biographer. “What was he wearing?” “Black leather bomber jacket. Like the ones that hang above the registers at Cheapie Eddie’s. Only nicer.” “Uh huh.” I was already conjuring images of Tom Cruise: Top Gun. I’d be his Goose, his second in command, his… “-recognized me right away.” “What? Sorry, could you please repeat that?” “He recognized me, and looked past where I was standing. He probably expected I’d be there with you.” I jumped off the sofa, smiling. “What makes you say that?” I held the phone away so that Audrey wouldn’t hear me breathing harder, began pacing. “Just an inkling.” “Did you get his address?” Marriage proposals. Honeymoons. “A number?” “Better, my dear. This Friday, we’re attending Peter Pavia’s party.” The Triple P Party! “Omigod! What will I wear?”]]>