longer fiction

NRA -Working

Why I Love the NRA.

 

 

by jbrglnd

 

Awake. Room is the same room. It doesn’t tell me anything. Where am I? Do I have to dig the itinerary out of the briefcase? No, the hotel stationery. Marriott. Charlotte. Clock says 7:09. flight is at… 7:40? Check the day-timer. Thursday May 18  1995 7:45 Benighted flight CLT to LAG Fuck fuck fuckity fucking Mangled Rot hotel. No wake up call. Shower? Not optional, heading to the office. Underwear flies, already shaving as I step in the shower too hot, shampoo once, a quick sample of soap, too cold now but getting out. Deodorant, glop of snot in my hair. 4 strokes tooth brushing, mints in my future.

Clean shorts, undershirt, socks: shirt hanging in closet, jacket and pants on desk chair.  Ball everything else into garment bag. Shaving kit too. Two big scrotal lumps.  Same suit and shoes as yesterday, Grab brief case. Fling the keycard at the girl at the front desk as I go by,

“No fucking wake up call.”

No time to leverage this into something, which is really the tragedy here. I am out the door.

Shoot down Elmer Gantry highway. Car clock says 7:18. Wondering where my watch is, which is why  I have a knock off rolex. I know there are a series of turns to get to the Schmerz  return but I ‘m going too fast to look at the map. I do it from memory and of course I get it right.

“Hey pal you’ll have to send me the bill.” I say throwing the rental guy the keys. “Where’s the bus?” He points and I half-run. I throw my shit on the rack and we don’t move. There is no one on the bus.

“Hey pal I’ve got a flight in 15 minutes. Can we just go?”

“Well we run on a schedule.” He’s dust bowl boney and nicotine stained to boot. His career plans were surely ruined when gas stations went to self-serve. But he thinks he has authority.

“You wanna get your supervisor on the radio?. I’m not only Gold status I have a sales force of almost a hundred that rents from your company. I gotta make a plane and you’re going to help me make it.”

He closes the door and we go. Actually we mostly rent from Avis. He takes me to the airport. Neither one of say a word as I get off.

Clock at the airport says 7:26. There’s a line of about 10 people waiting to get their bags scanned. I walk up and say “ I have a 7:40 flight does anyone mind if I go through?’ Of course no one says anything although I’d guess that some might really mind, generally people just won’t speak up. “Great,” I affirm

I push my bag into the tunnel take my belt off and go through the x – ray. Bag comes out and I am running. The gate is about 100 feet up. They will close the door at 10 minutes before but not always. I get there and the gate lady has her hand on the door.  “Hold on, one more.” There’s a guy at the door who looks vaguely annoyed and stops. I head over to the  kiosk. I fish the ticket out of my briefcase and hand it to the lady there. “I had called ahead and got an upgrade.”

She looks at the computer and says, “I don’t see it”

I smile, “I ‘m sure it’s in there. I called yesterday at 7”

“But it’s not here”

“You know this is so frustrating.” I look her directly in the right eye to establish person to person contact.  “I follow the procedure.” There is nothing these people value more than procedure. “But this is the third time this year that I’ve gotten to the gate and I didn’t have my upgrade.  I’ m Gold, I fly a 150 thousand a year on the airline” This part is true. “And yet…” I breathe out a sigh and shake my head at the lack of justice in the world.  She’s a round woman, a veteran, so she is not really looking for any additional excitement in her day. Both she and the guy, who has also just sighed, really want to close that door.

I give them an out “Look rather than me getting excited and writing letters and making phone calls, do you have any seats open in first class. Just put me up there and I will write a nice letter about how great the customer service is in Charlotte, Janet?” I look at her in her right eye with my right eye, a dominant act. I tilt my head and smile a smile of patient forbearance.

“Okay sure.”

“You’re the best, Janet”

And I am in 2C. Best thing about it is that I don’t actually use up an upgrade to get this done.

The stewardess is a cute young thing or at least might be under the 3 pounds of hairspray and 4 pounds of makeup. These Southern girls with that whole Cecil B. DeMille approach to grooming create an intolerable level of risk. It’s kind of archaeological dig and sometimes you end up with the curse of the mummy.

The garment bag is, as always, too big for the overhead I have her put it in the front closet. I consider talking to the stewardess anyway. I also consider pulling out my garment bag and re-arranging the stuff in it during the flight but thanks to my dry cleaner all the stuff I need for Chicago is already on the way.  Instead I fall sleep and don’t wake up until we are descending into LAG.

 

 

 

Just a few short hours in the office and I have winnowed a couple dozen items from my to-dos. Next to to-do: rubric to annoyreen on staff reduction project.  I check as done. Which leaves only the following things on my list:

5/18/1995 Thurs

2:30pm: with cloy on t&e; expenses

2:45pm: leave for flight.

Notes: fedex got suits to chicago? plane tickets? everything done? positive?

             

              As it happens, I am positive. I am generally positive. It’s an attribute critical to my success.  I don’t mean I’m particularly optimistic or posses the idiot or liberal ability to dispense with the facts.   I’m certain about most all things. It comes from being uniformly right.

For instance, when my boss asked me, seemingly as an afterthought, to stop by his office and see him before I left, I’m certain it wasn’t just to say bon voyage or pump me up for the show. It was to go on record about the way my department spends money on travel and entertainment. I’m sure Cloy wanted to do so before I left for fucking Chicano because in the next week we spend more money on meals and entertainment than at any other time during the year and it offers an opportunity for him to grind on me a little. I’m certain he can’t fire me, but he hasn’t seen me in a month, what with travel to the Asia and the seafood show in Brussels, and I think he’s afraid that I’m growing unmanageable.

But I’m also quite positive that people who consistently and substantially exceed their numbers don’t normally have to spend a lot of time explaining their T & E budget. The CEO is not asking him about it. It is just the last lever he has over. So if I take some steps to dodge him this afternoon, rather than antagonize him, avoid getting boofed with the sandy condom, if you will, I’m certain it’s the right thing to do.

I’m certain, absolutely positive that Cloy, the bastard, being a man in his late fifties, will scurry off for a tinkle before the meeting.  I asked Annoyreen, my secretary, to go over and use the copy machine near Cloy’s office for a few minutes at about twenty after two.  I asked her to ring my phone once when she sees him take the hike down the hall to the sandbox. Some secretaries, some executive administrative assistants, might find a to-do like this sophomoric and unprofessional, but Annoyreen is a smart girl and appreciates the dinners, the theater tickets and car service rides that trickle down to her due to our  generous expense budget. She has a vested interest in helping me with this pas de deux.  My phone rings and stops.

The washroom is downstream, so to speak, from his office, whereas I am upstream and around the corner. I wait about ten seconds for him to get down the hall and then I walk over and peek in his door.

Across the hall in a cube is his secretary, a woman of substantial wear. We refer to her as Jiffy Pop. She has a slight but steady tremor that threatens a shedding of parts and glasses are so thick that, when I step over to her desk, I can’t tell if she’s looking at me or just listing.

“Roy in?”

“No, hon. He just stepped away.”

“Okay. Tell him I came by.”

I hustle back down to my office and to get on the phone before he can call. I live by Occams Razor. Always do the easiest thing.

5/18 Thurs to do: call hosehead

“Joe Burkes.”

“Hey, shit dick.”

“Hey cum butt. What’s going on? You in Chicago yet?”

“No, about to head to the airport. When are you leaving?”

“Tonight. Policy against mid-afternoon flights.”

Hose is a food guy too; he sells restaurant chains. He works for a company with a  European parent that pretty much leaves him alone. I had that job once, chain account sales and, depending on what you like, it’s all right. You have to hit a home run once in a while, but you have no direct reports to bother you, decent bonus potential and, if you go with the right company, you work out of your home. But there’s no support staff, no power, little influence.  A lot of freedom in a very limited space. Like being rich and Amish.

“Come on, be a rebel.”

He argues halfheartedly, “You have to choose your battles. You know you have to justify your time a lot more when you office at home.”

“That’s horseshit. You can sit down there in Baltimore spanking yourself all afternoon as long as you’re there to answer the phone.”

“Like you don’t jerk off in your office.”

“I’m the cheese. I have people who do that for me.”

“I hope they’re gentle.”

“Yeah. So what’s the story? You talk to Boeufaroni?”

“Not coming.”

“What?” This is mildly disturbing. Nobody in our part of the business wants to miss the show.

“They pulled out. Numbers came in. They’re bleeding big time. Canceled all travel and show activity.”

“They were pretty highly leveraged.  Well, they’re probably walking dead.” My other line lights up with an incoming call. I’m certain it’s my boss. Of course I don’t pick up.

“Yeah it seems they’re headed that way. The only hope is some new investors.”

“At best, he’ll get seriously diluted. The whole reason he went there was for the stock.”

“You betcha. Sad state of affairs.”

“Price you pay with those little companies. How ’bout Pat O’Jesus?“

“I haven’t talked to him in a couple of weeks but he’ll be there. He told me he’s staying in the same hotel I am.”

“Are you at the Gland Riot again?”

“Uh, yeah, whatever.”

“Yeah I haven’t come up with a better name than that. Fuck. It’s where Syph is staying too. That’s inconvenient. Hey were you able to have the recruiter set up an interview?”

“Yeah. They’re doing it today. But I thought… Do you really want her to move her out?” Joe’s not stupid. He sees where I’m going with this. Interviewing around is death with the plantation boys who run  my company. So getting interviews for her is the first step in a two-step process.

“It would be better for her to do something else. Or the same thing someplace else,  But I don’t know anything about it. Yet” There’s more to the story but I’m not telling him.

“Sure. My boss was happy to do it, just for the jollys. Actually he met her once. I introduced them at the … some show, I can’t remember which one. But he thought she was  hot.”

“Good. Again, I had nothing to do with it. Just play stupid.”

“Got it. I’m still impressed you slept with her.” And I know he is sincere because he sounds jealous. I just wish he didn’t know about it.

“Well, I need to put it behind me… t was a bit of a misstep but I have to reduce my risk.” Actually  it’s merely problematic  as I could manage the situation but I don’t feel like it anymore.

“Your wife?”

“Not really. You disappoint me, Hosehead. No, the company. I mean the longer it goes on, the more people will find out about it. These guys are horny old fucks, but they have to have some kind of rules, decorum-wise.” This is good enough for my purpose here.

“Well I was surprised you got involved with her. Didn’t you once council me never shit where you eat.”

“Yeah, but it’s a really awesome toilet. I just  get a sense that she would like to get involved. I really don’t fucking understand why she would want to get involved with me. Why not date guys her own age? And if she likes older men, why doesn’t she just get some rich guy to marry her? Like she’s accomplishing so much with her life? It’s the food business. It’s not brain science.”

“Or rocket surgery.”

“Yeah”

“How old is she.”

“Twenty seven.”

“Jesus.”

“Yeah. That’s a good part of the problem. She is just a kid.”

“I’d like to take a crack at her, so to speak.”

“Be my guest.” I tell him, though I doubt he’ll follow through. He’s going through a rough patch with his wife. I keep meaning to ask him about it but he never brings it up. He says  he loves his wife but they have been separated for 6 months. He hasn’t gone back out and  I think he’s just being a pussy about it.

“Oh, oh. Holy fuck, I almost forgot. Have I got a story for you. Last month, I was down in Miasmi for a label group show and I run into this girl that I knew. Well, woman, I guess, she is as old as me. Anyway I went out with her once, Jesus, a coons age ago.  Do you remember a Sweaty McTowell, from Chicano? She was the broker rep for Von Clausewitz kosher foods?”

“Vaguely.”

“Well it may have been after you left. Anyway, like I said she was my broker rep. She was just okay, a little zaftig. Off the radar. But one night I got drunk and indulged myself. She got some stupid idea about it and became a brown site. Beastly with calls, stalky, obsessive,  but eventually she stopped or maybe I threatened to get her fired or I moved to Dallas, but it stopped. I’d run into her every once in a while, always awkward, she got married to another broker rep and moved down to Florida, so I saw her less and less. Now whenever I’d see her I’d either get coldly indifferent, super-professional or she’d be a complete bitch. I I just try to avoid her which  gets easier and easier to do, to the point today  where I never deal with the brokers. With my lofty status I go to very few distributor shows. But one of my guys gets sick, real sick and on short notice I can’t find anyone to cover.  So…Oh yeah, and  I had heard she was sick, like cancer sick, but it’s like 14th hand information, so I don’t know and like why would I care?  Anyway my guy has hepatitis or the crabs or something so I’m off to Miasmi.  I figure, ah fuck, I hate it, but  it’s a no brainer. I drag my flaccid white ass down to my favorite place in the world, fucking South Florida, with all the smokes, trailer trash, fucking Cubans and Jews from New York who couldn’t make it there or anywhere. And it’s March and it’s already hot.”

Cloy is now outside my office and is talking with Annoyreen. He can see I’m talking on the phone and I shrug like it can’t be helped. I don’t worry about him overhearing what I’m saying. In sales, all conversations sound like bullshit. Nobody can tell if you are talking to a customer or not. I continue.

Joe agrees “Yeah I hate that city. It just smells. Smells like a bodily emission.”

“Exactly. And I stand around the booth for a day, trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone that might actually want something, when up walks Sweaty. It turns out she lives in Grampas Taint Beach and she and her husband have their own brokerage and she has our line for that market. She looks older, who doesn’t, but she’s thinner, like she got in shape. Not bad looking. And her whole attitude is different. She’s warm, she wants to talk about old times, asking what old friends are been up to, the people in the business, human being stuff.

“So she chats me up for the last couple hours of the show, brings me beers,  which was certainly preferable to standing there with my dick in my hand and afterwards we go to dinner have a few drinks, go back to the hotel and fuck a couple times. And, oh, she wanted the room dark, but I didn’t think anything of it. And it’s fine. So I tell her I’ll give her a call sometime, out of courtesy and she says don’t bother, if she’s around she’ll look me up.”

Annoyreen intercoms, “ You need to leave now.”

“Okay.”

“So that doesn’t sound so bad.” Joe offers.

“Exactly. She leaves me a message saying thanks for the sex. It was funny. Like those exact words. Thanks for the sex. Like you’d say thanks for the coffee. So I left a message for her, saying ‘Thanks for the sex.’ I was laughing when I left the message, because I thought it was so funny..   Anyway, other than thinking of it as a paradigmatic relationship, I don’t think about it at all. And then yesterday I’m talking to my guy, the one who’d been sick, and he tells me he’s got to replace the broker in Grampa because the one principal died and the other went off the deep end. And I say, ‘what brokerage?’ and he tells me the name and I say ‘that’s Sweaty McTowell’s company and he says ‘You mean Betty whatever, her husband’s name” and I say yeah whatever and he goes  ‘not any more she’s dead. Cancer.’”

“No.”

“Cervical cancer.’”

“No!” Joe sucks in air through his teeth “Holy Christ. My balls just leapt up into my body. What the fuck… did you call your doctor?”

“Yeah.”

“What did he say?”

Fucker laughed and told me my dick was too short for me to worry about it.”

“Nice  bedside manner.”

“Well it’s an accurate assessment. He told me the odds of actually contracting cancer are in the billions to one.”

“Still, you got to have a serious case of skeevee jeebees.”

“Yeah, little Elvis and I were somewhat estranged for a few days there, but we patched it up.”

“What’s the name of the brokerage?”

“What brokerage?”

“The one your dead girlfriend worked for?”

“Gulf Coast Institutional Foods. Why?

“I’ll see if anybody’s using them.”

“Yeah actually I’d be curious to see whether this guy really did go nuts. I gotta go. I’m heading to the airport. See you tomorrow.”

The red light on my phone is blinking to indicate that I have a message. I know it’s Cloy. I grab my briefcase and go.

5/18 Thurs  to-do: call wife

I dial up Saliva from the car. “Hello?” She always sounds so tentative, so anxious.  You would think growing up very rich would make a person secure.

“Hi. It’s me.”

“Hi honey. You’re in the office? Are you coming home?”

“No, I told you I was going straight to the airport.”

“You just got in. I thought you said the show didn’t start until Saturday? We haven’t seen you in almost three weeks.” She’s revving up that special bandsaw tone. I know the look she has on her face, a squint of befuddled distress, causing wrinkles in her forehead and the thought of which vexes her further.

“But I have meetings…”

“You didn’t tell me that. I thought we’d go out for dinner tonight.” I intentionally kept my plans ambiguous in case, and as it happened, I could break out early.

“But you told me you’d be home

“Don’t whine. Don’t you think I’d rather be home? You know I hate the NRA. Hate Chicago.” She is torn between wanting to complain and wanting to know when I am back.  “Are you coming home Monday?”

“No. Wednesday”

“That’s not what you said.”

“ Don’t whine!. I’ll try to call you tonight if I don’t get in too late. I have a dinner tonight. No. Wednesday. No. Goodbye. Please don’t whine.”

I’m looking for the slam button on the phone. The biggest problem with cellular phones is that the end button doesn’t punctuate the end of a call properly and conversations with my wife beg for it. I know she’s sitting there with damp eyes, all bloodshot and blue. But she does this to herself.

The car is waiting in front of the building. This is the final leg of in grueling month of travel. I started in Chicago for a couple of dinners at the retail show, hit Hong Kong for a show, stopped in Singapore hit another show in Brussels, finished the distributor deal in Charlotte and I’m back on a plane to Chicano.  Not that I’m one of those fucking whiny jet lagged bastards with their melatonin and vitamins and irrigation.  Stop complaining, ignore it and it goes away.  I’m a road warrior, a traveling fucking bundle of productivity. A couple more phone calls to make, but first priorities. Priorities! The glass is down, I guess so this camel jockey can listen to my phone conversations.

“Hey pal, pull over at the next liquor store”

“What?”

“Pull over at the next liquor store”

“What?”

“Liquor store. Lick. Her. Store. The next one. Pull over.”

He starts to slow down. “Which liquor store?”

“Any liquor store. Go down Second Avenue. They’re everywhere.”

He seems perplexed, then relieved as he finds one. “This liquor store?”

“Yes. Yes this one. This is the liquor store I’ve been searching for. My mother owns this liquor store. Mom! I’m home!.”

I get out of the limo. “I’ll be right back. Don’t move.” I mumble, ‘Idiot,” as I get out. I happen to know that if you call someone an idiot to his face, it’s merely confrontational. A barely audible insult is far worse. It means you’ve made a private judgment on them as a person. And, no matter what they say, people care deeply what you think of them.

I cruise into the store and ask the old guy behind the counter where he has any single malt scotch. When he doesn’t answer, I look at him better. Either he has no connective tissue in his face or one of his ancestors took up with a basset hound. His skin is pouring rapidly floorward. I imagine a size 18 shoe filled with the extra flesh. “Malt liquor is in the cooler.”

What happened? When did the language that I speak stop being English?

“No no no. Scotch. Single malt scotch.” He shrugs. “Scotch First aisle.”

After a momentary panic, I spot a dusty bottle of Clenchedliver. I grab a small bag of ice and he rings it up.

“$37.50”

“$32.99 for a bottle of scotch and you’re going to charge me for the ice?” I know his answer, but something inside moves me to challenge this. I haggle over just about anything these days.

“$37.50.”

“Maybe I don’t want it then.”

He shrugs. “$37.50” He has no concept of negotiation.

“Give me a receipt.”

The glasses in the car are kind of dusty, but I’ve always figured if you’re pouring an 80 proof liquor into them you’ll probably kill any germs. I dial up Annoyreen as I mix my drink.

“Jack Crawford’s office.”

“That’d me. You know, I thought we had a car service so we wouldn’t have to deal with camel jockeys? And here’s another question for you: why the fuck can’t I get a single malt scotch in a pint bottle? I pay 35 bucks for a 750 milliliter that I invariably leave on the plane. I’m sure Henderson is looking for me.”

“You bet.”

“Well I’m close enough now to the Holland tunnel to keep the call short in case he actually picks up. So transfer me over. Oh, anybody real call?”

“Real? No. Does your wife count?”

“Not past twelve with her shoes on.” She doesn’t respond. “That’s an in-breeding joke. Shoot me over.”

Happily, the voice mail kicks in. “Roy. Jack. Busted out a little early. I was going to try to see my wife and daughter before I head to Chicago.”  This. It appeals to some notion he has about propriety. I don’t need him to like me; I’m pretty sure I don’t need him at all. But he can do me much more harm than good. He’s got this whole corrupt Weberian view of the world, hard work leads to virtue, virtue leads to hard work. He makes judgments on people based on their habits. Like somehow behavior has anything to do with the marketplace.  “Although with this traffic I don’t know…. Glad to hear you’re going to make it to the show. Call me on the cell phone if you need anything.” The main advantage to being married is for professional reasons, for people like him. They think we all should have a little woman at home, I guess so we’re as miserable as they are.

Cloy, Roy Henderson, is my boss. He is Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing of the Food and Beverage division, the Paladin Group. Yes, that Paladin. The cigarette company. You would think they would change the name after they acquired my old company, Tastee Chicken as well as other food and drink manufacturers, but they can’t seem to make up their minds what they want to call themselves. So they remain a foodservice- focused company with a strong emphasis on cancer related under current. It really helps sales.

Cloy reports to the President of the Food and Beverage Division, Mike Weinberg, no Weinstein, I forget because  I never see him even though I am a key performer in his division.  He’s a New York equity guy who came in with a buy-out group in the 80s and who is the only one now left from that regime. He’s been mooted, not on the in with the old boys. The kancer kids that outlasted all the MBAs, and they’ve got him out on the ice floe. If it wasn’t for a whole bunch of stock options and a golden parachute they’d have moved him out long ago. He reports to Johnson the CEO, the same guy who was CEO ten years ago before the takeover and who is now in more control than ever. There’s a whole tobacco division that reports to him, as well as some other irrelevant junk.

Did somebody mention stock options? Well I ain’t got any. I am Vice President, but with no stock options, just a lousy 401k and a weak stock purchase program, like the rest of the janitors. Whole world is throwing around options and I can’t get  sniff. 24 months ago, when I was just about to be vested at the old Tastee Chicken company, Paladin purchased us and I not only lost a decent size equity opportunity, but got two more layers of management stuck on top of me. But I’ll get there soon enough.

As Vice President of Sales for the Tastee Food Group, I run the most profitable non-tobacco department in the company. They need non-tobacco profits, for several obvious reasons. I’m about to implement a plan that is going to contribute another $350,000 a quarter directly to the bottom line of the foodservice group. Plus I‘m only 37 without a lot of competitors and those two human voids directly above me. I’m the highest ranking guy left from Tastee and half these boys from North Carolina look like they’ll soon be going back to the farm as fertilizer. Must be the cigarettes. Must not be reading their own research.

I’m not a smoker myself. Oh, you’ll occasionally catch me with a cigar in my mouth. Not that I like the nasty fucking things but they just piss the right people off.

I‘m truly bummed Cloy is coming to the NRA show; usually, with the exception of the big guy’s gratuitous one day presence, I’m the senior hand job at these things. So there’s nobody to fuck with my schedule. Somebody reminded me the other day that Roy is French for king. Sure it is. Most people I meet named Roy remind me of aristocrats. Maybe it’s short for king size.

Aside from him, I actually like most of the good old boys. They are WASP but they are from the South so they know how to have a good time, they don’t rein you in much, they’re not tight on spending and they’re easy to lie to. My guy is a hard on but I run trapezoids around him. I think the other guys find his whole wholesome, holier than thou bullshit a little tiring.  He’s not that young or smart. Yep, one way or the other I’ll have his job soon. The problem is I don’t know how long  Weinwhatever will hold on. Someone new and it could be years before I can get division president. If the timing goes right it would give me a reasonable shot at President of Non-Tobacco and CEO whenever the old guy quits or dies.  They won’t want a cancer guy and I suspect they have had their fill of outsiders, so I could be the guy. I want the money and the stock of course, but what I  really like is acting with impunity.  Corporate droit de signeur.

As mentioned, we’re in the middle of something that will allow my star to burn a little brighter. One of those asshole consultants who went to B school rather than do anything productive has convinced them that, because of various purchases and mergers, we’re now too vertical. Too many layers. We’ve had a half dozen meetings on it and there’s a lot of hand wringing. Everybody has to come up with some restructuring plans by next week and, besides falling back on some weak out-sourcing proposals, most of the ones I’ve talked to are going to blow the deadline. By then I’ll have actually fired eight people and eliminated a whole layer of managers.  I won’t do so until Tuesday afternoon however, until after they’ve worked the show and met with their customers.  I wouldn’t want to work the show shorthanded..

For most people, the trip to the airport is downtime. Not that anything involving scotch should be considered unproductive but I open up my laptop. I go through my day-timer and my email and I coordinate.  I still write the follow up shit down from email in my day-timer and make sure that anything I can clear in the day-timer. This simple little transfer is crucial to my success. I work on planes now, in airports and hotels.  While everyone else is sleeping on the plane,  reading their  Louis L’Amour, doing the crossword and renting movies on spank a vision, I am beating them. It’s so simple but I know people will never work like this. Therefore I will always be ahead.

I spend a lot of time on reports and our reporting sucks. So I have a guy who takes them and actually puts our reporting into Excel sheets. Roy keep on asking me why he is on the payroll and what he does. The reason that the bean counters have been taking over  is that they are the only ones who know how to use the data in the stupid reports. They understand the capabilities of information and so are way ahead of the other departments and especially the executives. But because I have reports in some form that I can manage, I get to argue with them, which does nothing but impress the old guard. They are just dominating through data and the discipline that quantification brings. But often time, they really don’t know what they are talking about. Sales guys are the worst because we are always judged by short term results. There’s no time and little chance to get ahead of the curve and learn this shit. But me, I get it.

“Where are going?” We’ve headed down Broadway and are crossing Houston into  Soho, in other words not getting me where I need to go.

“I have another pick up.”  Accounting has been busting my balls to take shared rides so that is what this is all about.

We turn onto Spring then Green. Two  fucks get in in, a little oriental clad in  flannel and jeans and another one in a suit.

“Hi you doing?” Says the lawyer.

“Hey”

“That was a great meeting,” he says to his buddy. “I didn’t think they’d write a check.”

Guy smiles, “I told you they want to get in the game. You don’t cash it until I review the contract.” He is the lawyer.

“But Jesus that was easy. 8 million dollars just for asking.”

“It means we should have asked for more.”

“There’s more out to do but I have to  get the beta version finished first.”

“First thing that jumps out at me is that we have to start generating positive cash flow in 36 months or they can get control.”

Flannel makes a face. “Yeah how does that work?”

“Well without getting too deep into it, they have covenants that you have to hit or they exercise and they will have control.”

“Yeah but we have our money right?”

“They bought your stock at a valuation of $20 million. In order to cash out there has to be a sale of stock. Someone has to buy it. Right now it can only be to the other investors.”

The kid is concerned, “Once we go public that can change?”

“If it goes well it can go much higher. If it doesn’t it could be worthless.”

“Yeah you said that.” The sense of euphoria

The lawyerish guy sees my scotch. “Can I ask you for a pour?”

“Sure. Anybody else?

The oriental kid shrugs and says yeah

I grab some ice out of the bucket and pour two more.

“Much obliged” he says, getting some on the flannel, which is a weird and affectatious.

“So now you are funded. You have to make it happen.” They are quiet in contemplation, So the Asian kid says, “What’s your name?”

“Jack Crawford.”

“I’m Lim, this is Terry. “ he nods to the lawyer. He  leans forward and shakes my hand. “Terry Glangle.” Or something because I stop paying attention  halfway through his name. He looks at the bottle and says, “Is this your scotch?”

“Yeah.”

“Well thanks. I figured the car service wasn’t providing a single malt.  What do you do?”

“I run the Food division for Paladin. You guys?”

“I’m with an investment firm. I just helped these guys do a deal.  They’re developing browser software.”

“What?”

Lim pipes up, “You heard of the internet?”

I waive a hand to signal obvious understanding. “Prodigy.”

“Well that’s a browser, the thing that gets you on the internet. We write programs that interface with the browser program.”

“Uh huh.” I am not sure if I should be interested.  The thing can get you some porn I guess, games and there’s these chat rooms but who’s got time for that? However these people are proximate to money and so I owe them the courtesy of attention. “So what do these programs do?”

“We’re working on enhancing the mail experience. Creating choices for formats, link it to other programs and documents, put stuff inside the mail, graphics again, spreadsheets so many different things Help you move from site to site, improve loading times, especially graphics.”

“Drawings?”

“No visual stuff generally. And.”

At least I understand. “Okay. So we use an Ethernet plug in to get our mail. So you want to make it better. But how? It’s just mail.” Don’t get me wrong I like the mail service. Great innovation. It keeps a sustainable distance between myself and others. I like being able to  sort and chose actual personal interactions.

“Wouldn’t you like to do more with your email?.”

No. No I would not. I am not only really happy with my email as it works now, the last thing I want is me people getting all creative with me, their co-workers and, god  forbid, their customers.  This is horseshit but, again, they seem to access to something like money. “Let me just play devil’s advocate here. You are going to take stuff that is available on the internet and allow people to add it to their email.  Lots of porn on the internet. As a guy who manages a bunch of people, you want me to trust them to not send pictures of  Miss Vicki and her magical dildo to out clients?”

They laugh. “Well I guess that’s an organization issue.” Says Terry. “ But I think what these guys are trying to do is to get past being stuck with just an electronic letter. “

“Yeah. Letters are boring.” Says Lim.

Wrong again. “Look I get it for kids and people who want to go the internet on their own time. But I don’t see how you can improve email  a lot for a business organization.”  Letters have been an important part of business for like a billion years. I think we are on the verge of a golden age of letter writing. I think correspondence will become more important than ever. More formal, more precise, more important. With a computer there are no longer any excuses for grammar, spelling, typing errors and with secretaries being able to crank them out I think more and more the world will interact on email.

Lin seems a little irritated now.  “There are a lot of different ways to communicate that just words. Sometimes they can be more effective than just typing.

One thing occurs to me: buzzwords can get you money. It reminds me of something I need to do. I write in the good book: call chunk and get some buzzwords on the technology.   I want to include the use of technology as one of the elements in my staff reduction presentation.  That’s impress the bastards.

“What I’d really want is to have my portable computer turn into a day-timer.”

“What’s a day-timer?” Slim or whatever his name was asks.

I laugh because he delivered his joke with such perfect deadpan. But he never smiles. “You really don’t know?”

“I don’t either.” Says his partner

“Everybody  uses a day-timer. It keeps track of what you have to do every day. It’s great.”

“So why do you want something else?”

“I used to do everything on the either the phone and I just keep my info in the day-timer. Write everything down  But now I do a more communicating on email and I know that’s just going to accelerate.  If you can get to the point where everybody can communicate the same way you get more control and more certainty that everyone is doing their job. Plus I can force everybody to answer everything. There’s a record.”

They look confused “Well that’s an interesting take. I mean I think more about things like speed, efficiency, transparency.”

“I guess but I like that there is a little proof, evidence that is created about everything. They better follow up and do what they say because I can go back and see where they didn’t. Anyway, eventually, nobody is going to talk to anybody about anything important. Maybe I want  a world where sales  people only talk to customers when they are entertaining them. The personal is even more important then. The rest of the time they talk thru email

Terry is engaged. “Okay maybe. Maybe people won’t meet at all. Everything via the web.”

“The one thing I do know is that everyone is going to have to get better at writing. Especially sales and marketing. Every communication is going to be tactically perfect. Nuanced and subtle.”

“Secretaries won’t write letters anymore.”  Lim offers. “It won’t be job much longer. ”

These guys are very interested but I think by their expression they are having difficulty just keeping up. “I think they will have turn into editors. Can you imagine a world where salesmen are in completely in charge of their own written communication? I can’t. Salesmen are idiot savants. My people are stupid but talented, They are good at selling shit.  They know how to make people like them, not how to write a business document.”

I have two terrific girls. Annoyreen is my secretary and she’s great. She does much of my work in the form of reading and encapsulating all mail and summarizing it as email. From that she creates and edits my to-dos, which I try to finish every day. Then there is Sandroid, who is pretty good and theoretically the general sales secretary. I don’t rank high enough to have two administrative assistants. But I make sure,  as well as uploading and maintaining the databases she gets from Chunk, for reports, phone messages and other basic office info. It looks like she is taking care of the department but really what she is doing is maintaining this information machine I have created.

“If I travel, I carry little paper because of my system and I carry almost no paper because I put everything into my day-timer. I would consider switching entirely to a laptop. Its great because it’ s portable, but its permanent. “

Lim asks “I still don’t understand what a day-timer does for you.”

“It organizes everything on a day by day basis. It’s a calendar. And keeps all the contact information. And lets me make notes. And I list the things I have to do.”

They look at each other. “Lim says “Maybe we could do something like that.”

“If you do will you give it to me?”

“No”

“Didn’t think so.”

 

Need to add a section chiding jack to lose his daytimer

“Okay, so if Steve has on his calendar to call Bob Fuckhead, I want him to have his phone number so he doesn’t have to look it up.”

“It’s in there already.”

‘Yes. But he is going to need to make 40 calls a day. So he need this for each of them. So switching back and forth is slow. And he needs to make notes. And he should have a running record of the notes he made last time and maybe list the email he sent last time.” There’ s so many things I have thought about here that it occurs to me I should shut up. This might be valuable.

“Couldn’t your salesman  just make a list of important phone numbers and write notes? I mean for now.” This tells me they have something in mind.

‘That’s what they do. But they end up writing the same shit over and over again.”  I’m sure in 15 years this shit will be possible but I want it now and I don’t understand why it is so hard. “So that’s actually one of the main reasons I still have the day-timer.   I want it to take notes easily but I don’t want to have to sit down and type formally. I like that the day-timer has places  to  fill in the blanks but actually they are a bit small and getting harder to read, But I  do get to scribble whatever  I want. I need to be able to swear. And talk honestly about people, like why I hate them and why they are idiots. So I don’t want anybody to see it.” They laugh at this

“ So you still write down notes in the day-timer?” Bob gives me an impatient look.

“Well I think my guy Chunk has solved part of it. He has loaded a copy onto my portable so that I can work when I am not logged onto the intranet. It just backs up when I log on. He had to add a ridiculous amount of memory, like 2 mgs, and strip out anything that was unnecessary.”

“That’s tricky. I hope it’s stable.”

Everyone sips  their Scotch.

“My inputs have moved from and  two channels to three. Phone and day-timer to Phone day-timer and laptop. So I have to reduce the day-timer.  And  maybe I can reduce my phone to a bare minimum. ”You are probably thinking about some kind of portable device for an organizer?” This is an educated guess on my part. Chunk talked about some kind of thing with me once.  “Maybe I can get rid of my phone altogether.” They laugh and say nothing more.

Tobacco money allowed me to go out and get all my people top of the line ThinkPads which they took to like fish to a forest but I am breaking them. I can see all of their emails but also I make them send me their prioritized activities. There’s no reason or no excuse not to get things done and the system is so authoritarian that I don’t even have to check up. Hawthorne effect. Knowing I might check is enough. Anxiety use to run me; now I’m just a carrier. It’s a beautiful thing. I heard through the grapevine that they refer to me not as big brother but as big mother. As in motherfucker. This is a compliment.

The system works unbelievably well. I stumbled onto Chunk as a bad salesman I was going to have to fire at Tastee. Someone somehow dumped him on to my team. 30 seconds with the guy and you knew he couldn’t sell.  A diversity hire I suspect, but  a Chinese kid for a salesman is just ignorant.  I rode with him and he did everything by the book, but he had all the personality of a paramecium. Sales isn’t about procedure. It’s about psychology. The only tie he showed any energy was when I talked to him about my new lap top that I didn’t know how to operate. Because he knew about the mechanics of selling and, more importantly, the shit I care about, he was the perfect guy to help with the transition of the remoras with their new machines.

While I could have fought to create a position,  he was too valuable to let anybody else in the organization steal him from me. I told him I had to downsize him out and pay him as an outside consultant. And it turns out he’s happy.  He’s paid almost as much,  he doesn’t have to worry about being fired, doesn’t have to come into an office every day and he’s young, so he really doesn’t care about health insurance and benefits.  It’s a beautiful thing. It’s good to be organized and systematized, but these days I feel absolutely automatic.  I don’t sit around and worry about things to do, niggling details, deadlines and the things I’ve forgotten. Everything .

I suspect that I’m one of the few executives  in the world who actually is more productive because of a computer. It hasn’t been easy but I’ve been honing the system for a couple years now and it’s approaching perfection. Not that I didn’t work at it constantly.. At home. Evenings. Weekends. In hotel rooms and on planes. At first it bothered me because it left me so little time to think.  But I came to realize  that it’s okay because now  I don’t have to think a lot. I know. I react.  I’m certain. It feels a little like omniscience. And almost that god-like. As long as I am thorough and keep up and back up, as long as I react to what it tells me to do, there is very little uncertainty.  That’s why I am going to make a radical cut in staff, saving big time cash but also outdoing everyone else’s plans.

I’ve been thinking about writing a book on how to manage without  middle management. It’d sell and I’d make some money, not to mention round out my character nicely.

The guys are talking about their deal again. The screen  glows in the darkness of the tunnel and the brightest thing on the list of to-dos that Annoyreen has sent me is the Monday afternoon trip to see my younger brother. That really is the bitch about this show. I grew up in Chicano and there is a threat of cluttering bullshit that lurks every time I go there, people you might run into, old friends, but mostly just the fact of the past. I feel like I’ve done what I’ve started out to do and this should be positive, even triumphant, in a modest way. But incidents and personalities lurk like viruses and this time I’m going  all the way back into the petrie dish. I haven’t been to the South Side anymore and the family has drifted so far apart since my mom died that I don’t usually see them. Chicago is just another city for me and if wasn’t for the NRA  I would never  go south of Congress. This appears to be unavoidable due to some problematic things to deal with my Dad. It’s finally of some value to me for my brother to be a lawyer.

That, managing the transition with Syphyllis, the firing of eight  people, going to dinner with customers I hate, standing around the booth with my subordinates , who annoy me, and the presence of general industry goons and you know why I hate the National Restaurateurs of America show.

And yet, in spite of it all, I’m in a damned decent mood at 2:15 on the third Thursday in May, out of the office, on my way to Newark and pouring the third of approximately 4 score drinks I’ll be consuming over the next five days.

I take another sip. I used to drink a lot but now it’s just Scotch. The real beauty about Scotch is that it is a single drink. No complications. No peripherals, just ice. Now some would call me a philistine. Well, no one I know anymore would actually call me a philistine, only my old friends at the University of Chicago. But anyway some would say I shouldn’t drink a high quality single malt on the rocks. I believe it is the perfect medium for the liquor. You see there is a much broader palate of malt flavors to work through as the ice dilutes. You freshen it, you add another cube. There are highlights, nuances you don’t pickup until the scotch has chilled watered down and re-fortified.

Believe me? Don’t. I just like it cold. I’m adding another cube now as I start what would be about the third one.

The Asian kid asks me, “Have you heard about Simon? From IBM”

“I’ve heard of it. It’s like a super phone right?  But my guy warned me off it. Said there was all sorts of problems with it, I don’t even remember but there was special software and it only communicated within its own system. He even said it was a shitty phone.”

“All that is more or less accurate. But I am sure IBM will figure it out. They’ll end up dominating.” They go back to talking amongst themselves.

It’s so nice out, the ride is comfortable, I’m on time, things are going well,  everything is taken care of, no loose ends. Its’ being on the WASP team but it’s something more. At moments like this, when in other words, the system and I are on  automatic I  begin to feel a little detached. I mean this positively and more physiologically  than psychologically, something euphoric, slightly trance- like, though that isn’t exactly right either.  I’m positive things are good, on course, taken care of. I work hard and then I stop. It could be just the removal of stimulus but it’s more ecstatic than hypnotic.

It’s happening a lot more frequently these days. I lose all worry. Anxiety is zeroed out.  I don’t even have to think.  When I feel like this, it’s more than just a mere daydream, it’s almost like a buzz, a high. Not drunk; drink helps, but if I drink too much I lose it. I’m unassailable and aerodynamic, effortless in control,  relaxed. Events are exact and predictable. The things people say to me are scripted and deferential. It’s like being royalty.

This euphoria, that’s a better word, is tenuous and dependent upon many factors. It requires a convergence of setting, physical comfort, mental tranquillity, setting and surroundings. It depends on the service industry. People waiting on me, reflective of status, both earned and inherent. It’s hard to maintain the frisson of transcendence for very long. Music is a great help, but it has to be stuff that supports the mood rather than creates it. In a way it’s about the control that comes with control.

And when it all culminates, at its height, it feels like I’m in a movie.  I am the protagonist. My life, my character is such that it deserves filming. But the treatment, the mise en scene,  is not like a movie from the 90s but rather one from the  50s. Post noir but maybe still black and white. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Sabrina, La Dolce Vita, , for some reason The Sweet Smell of Success, and some others I can’t think of at the moment. I mean the stories aren’t important.  With Sabrina, for instance, I fast forward through most of it. I just like it when Humphrey Bogart is guiding events. It’s just the mood. And I indulge in it. And the film more than any other would be North by Northwest. I watch it, or rather the beginning of it, over and over again. I know there’s a whole espionage, chase, murder story thing that goes on but I don’t pay that much attention. I just like the character development, the sets, the way people are dressed, Cary Grant  the way he manipulates people, gets what he wants. It is executive as perpetrator of giant scam. There are other ones,

I was born about 30 years too late. The WASP aristocracy in corporate culture. That’s where I belong.

It’s a good strong signal today.  The scene right now: The movie set is well designed, good production values, so you don’t see the cameras or the crew.

The character is in the back of the limo on this warm sunny day. He is enjoying a drink in the middle of the day. Why? Because he can. He is a powerful, handsome man with a beautiful rich wife and a sexy young mistress. He has everything under control, along with an expensive car and a beautiful house and people who fear him and do his bidding. He’s comfortable, the story moves on, it’s a comedy where people say amusing things and people laugh at some absurd occurrence or another but in the end, things turn out exactly right. It’s classical in that sense; all the elements are subservient to the overall concept and structure.

              The characters is in the limo, amused by the strangely dressed, intellectual types with whom he is forced to share a cab. And yet he bests them at their own game while sharing his largesse.

When I’m in mode, time even becomes malleable like a movie. I lose the concept of time. It’s a little eerie, but I wouldn’t mind feeling like this all the time. The ecstatic sense, the euphoria is more and more available as it  gets more approximately true every day.

Sometimes though,  the feeling that I’m going to step out of the theater in a couple of hours creeps into my mind. I’ll step into the sunlight and things are going to be as they were before, that I’m going to be somehow this pimply thing with no money to speak of and no clue, who has never been in a zip code that didn’t start with 606, writing moon brained letters to some girl whose parents sent away to keep her from him. A kid who has no idea what life is and no idea where to go out and get it.

See, I lost the feeling. I’m out of my movie. I have to be careful not to think too much.

Regrettably, the tunnel is not so crowded and we actually are creeping along at a constant pace. I hate arriving at the airport early. For the love of God, I almost did have enough time to go home and see my wife and kid.  But more appropriately, I dial up Chunk.

“Hi?”

“Hey it’s Jack. How are you?”

“Good, Jack.” He was always enthusiastic, but of late he thinks he’s cool. I’ve broached the topic of writing a book and selling the software and I think it’s got him a little turgid. Like we are partners.  Or equals.

“I need to start working on our little project but I need to start understanding this thing better in conceptual terms. Can you give me an analogy that describes the system?” I need to get a better handle on this but I suspect that this shit is pretty simple and the computer nerds just scare you off with buzzwords.

“Pardon me?”

“Well, I was thinking it was like panning for gold, that you used the screen to find chunks of information.” I like this metaphor. It has music.

“Punch cards.”

“Punch cards? IBM cards? Do not fold spindle or mutilate?”

“Yes and this system just makes duplicates of the cards and matches them back up.”

“It’s not very sexy,” Judging by his silence, he doesn’t know what I mean. “Can you think of another way of describing it?”

After a couple of minutes of silence I’m about to give up. “Think of it as a funner.”

His Asian comes out once in a while. I know what he’s saying but I’m obligated “Funner than what?”

“What?”

“Okay. I ‘m thinking of a funnel.”

“It has a filter. The filter only lets a few things through, the things you want.”

“Okay.”

“Your funner rests on top of many other funners.”

“Like nesting.”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

“Yeah like nesting. Problem is it’s one way. It’s uni-directional.” He pronounces this deliberately and with some pride.”

“Yeah I wanted a system that was two way. The shit needs to flow uphill too.”

“Well the system is still one way. It has a way to send the water back up to the top just recirculates and we change the gravity.” I don’t say anything and he has pretty much lost any decent chance at a clean metaphor. “ Or we turn them upside down and the funner goes the other way.”

This going nowhere. “Sorry I have to make a call.” Actually there is a to-do: 3:45: call aubrey at monde du sandwich re dinner at NRA. Even with a character as tricky as Aubrey I just react. Occasional preparation but all I really want to do is react. To not think, to not consider, to not worry.  I want to succumb to the system totally. Give myself over, even my personal life. In fact, in truth,  to eliminate the difference between work and a personal life. Become the system. Submit. Ishn’Allah

So I look in the good book. Important things get times even if the  designation is arbitrary

5/18 Thurs. 9:00 f/up: with zone directors – get presentations back for review.                   done                  

To-do: check to see if all weekly reports are in. done

To-do: have annoyreen give me latest follow up compliance percentages for NRA. done

To-do: don’t forget airline tickets, dopey. done

To-do: E Mail Send to: annoyreen.

 

I quickly add her to the mail-to field and type ‘Nor, you will be receiving a packet from human resources tomorrow morning, the 21st. it has instructions inside but I want you to talk to me before you open it.’

 

To-do: assign to annoyreen- severance pkgs.-list & details in my out box 10:30  : product line meeting with various marketing personnel.

To-do: check on mktg. preparation  for party at NRA show.

                                    Notes: helping w/ sales

                                    objective: enormous quivering cluster fuck.

f/up: reduce the role of marketing department.

 

Marketing wants to get involved with restaurant chains, because, as they see it, there is not a lot of sales involved but rather it is a technological, R&D, spec oriented business. They want to take over long term sales projections. Apparently they think sales should be just about getting people drunk and dinners and strip clubs. It is, but there is a level of nuance and actually chains need more sales skill than, say getting product into a distributor.  Marketing as a discipline is trying to prove Henry Ford wrong. History isn‘t bunk; projections are. The future is a forecast that never happens. They are just wasting my fucking time.

 

5/18 Thurs. 12:00  : lunch with mr. kim from korea.

                             issues: wants exclusive for whole korean sub-continent

                              objective: I have no idea.

 f/up note: Speak English

 

Actually, the follow up should be don’t make any more meetings with people who don’t speak functional English. This would open up a lot of time in my schedule, as it would preclude contact with most of my subordinates and all of my superiors. Questions: Why does he want the whole sub-continent? He can’t sell anything to the north and the exclusive is for only three years. Are things about to change? Is there any business there?  Was he really talking about something else? Did I miss some nuance? Is he addled? I’m blew this off – let the international guy handle it.

5/18 Thurs 2:30  : r. henderson on expenses.

                               issues: entertainment spending

                               result: Unilaterally canceled

                              f/up: note to Annoyreen -do not resked; wait for him to resked

             

As mentioned, wants to bust my balls about some of the more vague items on certain reports. The end run is already done; have already discussed w/ pres. & CEO. He’s squeezing me for ten grand in expense savings and I’ll deliver hundreds of thousands this week, be a hero after this week so that he won’t have the balls or the ballast to lean on me. He will then drop it.

The rest of the day it looks like this:

5/18 thurs.   2:29 to-do: call joe burkes I drawing lines through things; this way I can read them later if necessary

2:45 to-do: leave for airport

2:50 to-do: call wife

3:15 to-do: call Cloy re: leaving and meeting. Call received

                                note: call when close to tunnel

                          f/up: zone directors-presentations ready

3:45 to-do: call aubrey at monde du sandwich re dinner at nra

4:40  : Benighted flt. 994

                                info: reserv. #66121- hotel incontinent on michigan ave.

8:00  : dinner w/ syph at someplace 900 block randolph !!???

                                Note: lay the groundwork with syph

          

It occurs to me that as I perfect this system, It becomes binary. More and more limited  A constant series of yes and no. One or two.

I dial Aubrey at Monde du Sandwich. As I wait for it to ring I can see planes taking off above the filthy swamp plants. I’m fugoing to be way early to Newark. I get his voice mail.

“Aubrey. Jack Crawford with Tastee. Trying to get a hold of you to set up dinner with us in Chicago. Please call my voice mail or stop by booth 1630 to let us know which day is good. Thanks.”  Us to him means me and Bilge, one of my zone directors who is his buddy, but to me it just means me and my johnson. I don’t think I need Bilge in the equation anymore, especially since he’s one of those going away on Tuesday. I get along with this guy well enough and I want to make sure I maximize my credit for this account. You see, we got them signed up for a proprietary  product and I was able to switch them to a cheaper product. I didn’t tell them, of course, but I haven’t heard a peep out of them. I’ve got the plant cost accountant putting the money set aside in a separate accrual and I can’t wait to inform my bosses that I have another hundred grand they can apply directly to the bottom line.

Did I mention that I hate voice mail? I don’t let my people leave me messages unless it’s an absolute emergency. I tell them it’s because I want them disciplined, but really it’s because I can’t store it indefinitely.  I want a record of everything. I want them to commit and be accountable.

              By inspiration or instinct, the bottle of scotch fits nicely next to the laptop in my briefcase. I never thought of that before. I knew there was a reason I was getting rid of  superfluous stuff like paperwork and reports. I know what I’m doing even when I don’t know why I’m doing it.  But sadly my glasses are not in here. It’s okay – I  only need them to see. I hate my glasses but it’s bad not having them for the show. I’ve become pretty damn myopic, but I hate them so much that I leave them everywhere. I can’t remember where I had them last. They may still be in Belgium.

As we pull up to the airport, Lim says, “Hey nice meeting you, I have one more question. What about phones?”

“I think people will use the phone less and less. Phones will become less and less important because people will email everything. The phone is like a middle man. People are going to have their computers with them all the time. What do they need phones for? Phones are dead.”

The bedouin is all pissed off when I don’t tip him. “Because you can’t understand English and therefore can’t follow orders.” I don’t mind tipping per se; it’s not my money. I just don’t like the fact that I have to deal with this kind of low life when I’m using a limo service. I might as well take a cab.

I step up to the ticket counter at Benighted. “Jack Crawford.” I tell the agent as I hand him the tickets, “I have an upgrade.”

“Actually sir, You are on the upgrade list. There’s still a couple seats left so there’s a chance…”

“Apparently you didn’t hear me. I’ve already upgraded.”

“You’re not in the computer. Do you have a confirmation number?”

“I don’t have a number. Now listen. If you want, I’ll call back to my secretary who called for the upgrade and get the number. I’ll also get a supervisor on the phone and tell him what is going on. Not only am I gold executive, I have about 40 direct reports that fly this airline constantly and if you want to  fuck with me, you can. But I’m not above blacklisting this airline for all our corporate travel and I’d like to tell your bosses why that is and who did it to me.”  Actually, I was on the wait list but it’s my word against someone else’s I talked to on the phone that he can’t contact so it’s really just a matter of how big of a stink he wants to withstand. This guy’s threshold is pretty low. He mumbles something but gives me the seat. My business is more important to the company than a lowly ticket agent, employee ownership or not, and the sooner he learns that the happier I’ll be.

At least they’ve improved the Dead Varmint Club at Newark. The airline owed that much to me. Now if they’d only let me run a tab I’d be a happy man. It’s crowded as always on Thursday, full of guys like me trying to avoid the unwashed in the terminal. An ex-boss used to argue that airline clubs were more crowded than the terminals, but at least you get a somewhat select crowd. Actually, he was just a cheap prick who wouldn’t pay for my membership.  No, it might get a little tight in here but at least these people have been on a plane before, mastered hygiene, aren’t transporting poultry, and so on.

There’s one stool between a fat guy in a suit and a woman with red hair.

“Mind if I squeeze in here,” I say to the woman only. The space is so small that I can’t sit down on the stool and move it gracefully forward, so I lean it against the bar and just rest my foot on the bottom rung.  I look at the woman again and smile. She’s precise. She says so with a gratuitous expression between a sneer and a bored grin, with her subtle makeup and flawless hair and tailored business suit. She has delicately pale skin and clear blue eyes. She’s pretty, kind of like that mother-daughter country singer team, but hopefully with a deeper gene pool.

The bartender recognizes me. His name is Darwin, ironically,  some kind of Jamaican or something, who is obsequious to the point of bitter irony. I oblige his servitude and retain a certain nonchalance regarding the spite. I owe it to him and I owe to white men everywhere. He’ll probably poison my drink someday. I mean intentionally.

“Hello boss. How you doing?”

“Hey buddy. How’s your scotch selection. Any better?”

“We have so many different kinds.”

This fucking airport is full of people who can’t give you a straight answer. I can’t seem to see the scotches behind the bar but then again I don’t have my glasses.

“Any Clenchedliver?”

He tries to not look confused and rather than get into a discussion I add, “or something with a glen in the name.” He looks around and then holds up something that seems to be shaped like a Phlegmchronic bottle and I nod.

The woman next to me is smirking. I smile and observe, “Service tailored to the connoisseur.” I decide this might be worth pursuing and derogating the less capable might be a good place to start. “This airport never ceases to amaze me. Do they recruit theses people from the lines in immigration?”

“Well it is the closest airport to Ellis Island.” She has an accent, but from another English speaking nation. It occurs to me that if she’s Irish I may have insulted her, but probably not. Picking up a woman is not unlike a sales call; you ask leading questions, you process the information, interpret connotation, context and body language and adjust strategy and tactics. I suppose I am a good looking man but I am the master of the presumptive close. Actually the two activities are pretty  analogous. I’ll put that in the book too.

“We closed that years ago. Besides I don’t think we’re talking about people who they let through. I think this is immigration purgatory.”

“Ones they didn’t let in?” I find the whiteness of her skin vaguely aristocratic. And her teeth are okay.

“They’re stuck here. Can’t come in, won’t go home.  That’s the only way to explain their presence. Nobody would actually hire them. Luckily, it’s America. English isn’t a second language. It’s barely a second thought.” She likes it. I’m thinking, okay if I can get past this thing with Syph maybe I’ll have something to do later on this evening. You generally know with in a few seconds if something is going to go somewhere and this shows promise. “My name is Carlotta.” She’s definitely a Brit. but she isn’t super upper class. Not Cockney but something in between.

“John. Nice to meet you. Are you visiting us or on business?”

“Business. The insurance business. I’ve been in our home office in Connecticut for a few days and now I’m off to visit the Chicago branch. And you? What line are you in?” I think of the British as aloof, so the fact that she is talkative means she is probably interested.

“Food. Fish and chicken.”

“Just in the states?”

“No all over the world. However, I don’t sell a lot of product in England. The EC is banning our products because of hormones. Good enough for the rest of the world, but….”

“Worse thing that ever happened to us, joining the Common Market.” She uses the old name. I’m reassessing, because of that and some of the accent. I don’t think she’s over educated.

“Oh I’m sure it’s good policy. We get bigger and healthier and you twitch along with mad cow disease.”

She smirks, “So you have visited us?”

“I’ve blown through a couple times. I’ve done mostly touristy stuff. I always wanted to get out and do some more things that the natives do.” A joke comes to me. “I did get to see a football match.”

She falls right into it. “How did you like it?”

“I was disappointed, but I wasn’t crushed.”

“You’re very witty. Are you sure you’re not really a Brit.”

“More quick than clever.”

“Most American men I meet generally prefer physical humor.”

“The Three Stooges?”

“Yes.”

“I’m kind of in between. Call me Moe Coward.”

She had been sitting in such a way, with her coat over her legs, and being that we were in such close quarters that I really don’t get a good look at her legs. She seems, as I said, trim and I feel confident enough in this assessment that I didn’t do my normal check. She goes on about what she does and I listen to about fifteen percent of it, occasionally falling back on a standard joke to throw in and seem interested. Then she moves her coat.

I’m confronted with two tumescent sausages, globby and fetid in nylon casing and shoved directly into shoes without even a polite mention of an ankle. I recoil. And short too, they barely reach the foot bar of the stool. I knock back my drink and throw a twenty down, leaving a tip against plan, and mumble something about having to make a phone call and get the fuck out of there.

That’s the problem about these little clubs; you make one mistake and the waters are fouled. I end up waiting to get on the plane at the gate with all the canaille. A good word pleasant evocative of volleys of grapeshot. I  look at the USA Today.  Things are looking good. They passed the Contract with America. A little more than eighteen months and we will be rid of Clinton.

They make the call for the young, the weak, the sick and the powerful, meaning those of us in first class. Priority travelers were the ones in the life boats on the Titanic.  You know, women and children and Gold Status first. It’s fine too, because although an old couple beat me through the door I’m able to pass the damn millegenerians in the jetway.

Getting on first is as important as anything else. I just don’t want to wait or walk behind those fudragging assholes who are too lazy to carry their luggage so they have those goddamned carts that they can’t drive up the aisle without tipping over a dozen times and the idiot who doesn’t know where to stow his five pieces of oversized luggage and the mother with the  3 infectious sores that she can’t control at home let alone in a small crowded metal tube surrounded by strangers who hate them on sight and principle. No, the real reason this is important is that on a flight under two hours like this one, you have to get the stewie to get you a drink before you take off  or they think, well you’re okay and the flights not that long and they’re busy, doing what they think is more important shit anyway.

 

5/18 Thur. 4:40  : Benightedflt. 994

So I’m thoroughly hunkered in, drinking a regrettable sewers on the rocks – no single malts for Jack until we take off- when I look up and there’s old kielbasa legs. And standing in front of me I realize she’s tailored, not trim.  She’s got the symmetry of a satellite. Got to start wearing my glasses.

“So there you are.”  She’s loud. She’s gone all Eliza Doolittle on me. I realize she’s not exactly the upper class type that I hoped. She more a product of the Thatcher years, grasping, upwardly mobile, shallow and focused. She has a buzz on and she’s pissed off. Maybe I didn’t mask my disgust.

“Sorry. I have a  migraine.” It’s a bit more excuse she deserves but should function.

“Very rude, buggering off like that. Like I was infectious.” The line to steerage is not moving fast enough for me.

“Listen I really don’t feel…”
“What happened to common…” Her sickly pale skin is beginning to flush as she gets angry. She is also pulling a Union Jack  with her eyes, blue and  really bloodshot.

“Listen lady, keep talking and I’ll throw up on your shoes.”

Just then my scotch arrives. The sky waitress is pretty but has sort of a strange look on her face and I guess this means I won’t be picking her up either. “The headache must not be too bad to be drinking.” The Brit  mumbles to herself loud enough to hear. I put my hand over my eyes. I think the attendant gets her in to the roach cabin. Now I know why the Irish hate the English so much; the English are the Irish just with a queen and a few hundred years of plunder. It’s the hatred of small differences or whatever.

But now, I’m in my sanctuary, first class. As far as the actual airplanes are concerned, they are just oddly shaped rooms.  I go into a room, they rotate the globe for me and I leave. I haven’t looked out a window in years. But I like sitting in the big seats. It’s appropriate, but I still appreciate it.  I don’t even turn my head to look at the entity next to me. I have a rule about engaging in conversation with the person next to me: Never ever ever ever. I start to feel sleepy. Maybe it is a little of the jet lag.

I wake up a while later but I don’t open my eyes. No one will bother me as long as I still appear to be asleep. I fly into and through Chicago a lot but I guess because this time I will be dealing with my family, I feel like I’m flying directly into the past. The future, as we’ve established is bunk; the past is complete hokum. I don’t think about it. I remember almost nothing about growing up. I think I was happy some of the time and unhappy some other. It’s totally moot.  It couldn’t have been better than the time I‘m having now. I‘ve never even felt better. No one lives forever, at least no one has lived to talk about it. But who says I can’t be the first? They’re regenerating organs from tissue or something like so that by the time I need them you’ll be able to get them off the internet.  The future is so precarious and incomprehensible that it doesn’t really make any sense to operate other than to assume the present is all that matters. The only real signs of aging are my eyesight and a slight tail off sexual stamina. And I’m more than willing to blame my partners for the latter.

I’m not irresponsible; I’m aresponsible. I know what responsibility is and I choose not to participate. The main reason I married my wife was that she was rich; not that I wanted her money but rather that the two areas where I actually have a kind of responsibility, her and the kid, are completely protected by trust funds. So basically, my to-do list has a daily unwritten to-do: Don’t fuck things up.  Remain independently wealthy. As in, independent from my wife’s money.

The amazing thing about America is not that any poor boy can grow up to be president or through hard work become wealthy but that a middle class guy like me can live like a fucking rajah on fringe benefits, expense accounts and the security of his wife’s money.

I have made some nice purchases in real estate, a game that I could master. If I felt like it. After she got pregnant, well, after I decided to marry her, I put 250 down, almost everything I had including stock and retirement, on a $900,000 dollar house in the town of Snapple Ripple, New Jersey. I knew full well that we’d apply another few hundred grand more from the sale of her place in the city. But at the time it adequately impressed her family and made the whole process much easier. Thank god this happened when it did. Also fortunately, none of her set ran in the same circles as my hillbiliy overlords or they might have  found out that I wasn’t actually an officer of the new company, am impression  I massaged.  I was sitting on the board as far as they were concerned and now it’s too late. It doesn’t matter that I’m not. Their money and/or their connections  will come in handy a few years down the road. I have a few thoughts about schemes if I canmake it to  CEO, things like taking it private, busting it up for parts, etc. Of course all the while enhancing my net worth.

For now I pay the mortgage out of my pay and I pay for everything else out of her trust fund income. Ah, she whines a little now and then, but she doesn’t really understand how it comes in and goes out. She buys the ‘I have to go out and make good because your family is so rich and they won’t accept me’ line. So I’m gone some and work late a lot.

It’s such an established pattern that it still allows some trolling in Manhattan. Not as much as I’d like. Because as much as I love to get laid, what I really love is to get laid  and then crash, fall asleep and not have to worry about the smells and the drive home. These days it seems I’m always traveling with someone and logistics don’t allow me the opportunities that I had when I was alone on the road. Hosehead’s line is I’d save myself a ton of money and time if I’d just learn to jerk off. But there’s no uncertainty to that, no antagonism, no edge, no creative lying. It’s the pursuit, the sell, girls too pretty, too young, too hip, too classy or too rich for me. It’s really why guys cheat; married sex becomes too much like masturbation.

I open my eyes just a slit and right next to me on the console is real scotch in a real glass and I feel good enough to try miraging myself into the old movie.

The character is  sitting here in first class, relaxed, catered to, transparently important.  Five K for the watch, two for the pen, buck and a half for the suit, five hundred for the shoes.  The look is good.  The one accoutrement he lacks is the martini.

I haven’t been able to pull that off like the movies, like say,  William Powell in the Thin Man movies. Makes the damn things look like standard equipment. I’m going to learn to like them one of these days, but they scare me. I tried and they did  possibly irreparable damage years ago. Oh yeah, and the cigarette thing. Looked good then; not so hot these days, though, if for no other reason than the smell on your clothes and the taste in your mouth. I give a fuck about bothering people part.

I’ve even taken to dressing in a certain way,  gray flannel suit, Gregory Peck  but British too. I’ve taken to wearing only very conservative, Saville Row kind of suits. Okay, a little bespoke shop in Singapore’s Chinatown but the little bastard is excellent. Suits in gray, blue and black, narrow lapels, tab collared shirts, ties that are  somewhat thin and wing tips. I’ve got these glasses like Mastroianni. If you are dedicated to the look, even though it’s conservative, it’s still stylish.

5/18 Thur. 3:45 to-do: call aubrey at monde du sandwich re dinner at nra done – left message

4:40  : Benightedflt. 994 done

                              

I have no checked luggage and being in first class means I’m in the cab line in an instant. It is still light out when I grab a cab which is nice. I decided not to rent a car yet because I didn’t want to get stuck in traffic but the traffic is all backed up at the toll booth which allows us to fly by coming in from the airport. I look over the information on the layoffs to make sure it is correct and we are at the airport in no time.

  info: reserv. #66121- hotel incontinent on michigan ave. done

 

I’m staying at the hotel Incontinent. I love this chain. They have a frequent guest program and take frequent flier miles, but because it is sufficiently upscale  there’s no chance of Marvin and Trudy and the four kids from Des Moines staying next door. I made sure Syph was booked several blocks away, at the Gland Riot. It’s the way it should be. I’ve got a lovely room, a suite, necessary because I’m firing people. The colors are muted and rich, the furniture cherry, with thick carpets, overstuffed chairs in the front room, a big bed and a view of Michigan Avenue. It’s so artfully subdued, I think it’s beneath the visual frequency range of the rabble. Most people can’t even see this room.

Everything is ready, everything is perfect. I sent my suits ahead via federal express and have them waiting for me.On an expense report it looks like more show materials.  I have the hotel dry clean all my suits,  partly because they need it, partly because I don’t want fuschlep them on the plane but mostly for the way that they hang them up. I just love them, there waiting for me, perfectly spaced in my closet. Corporate rules are no cleaning for trips of six days or less, but when I’m taking up residence like this for a week, everything gets done. I should have brought my wife’s furs. There is another package of 6 new white boxers, 6 new white v-neck t shirts, 3 pairs of black socks and 3 pairs of brown socks that I purchased at Bloomindales two weeks ago and had shipped.

Three pairs of shoes,  2 Bally wingtips, one pair Gucci loafers. Brooks Brothers shirts in the drawers. Ties that my wife bought me somewhere expensive, cleaned and hung next to the suits.  It puts me in the cinematic mood.

The protagonist makes some room for scotch in the honor bar. He puts things away in the drawers. He knows orderliness is important, too. He lives in his hotel room like it’s home. No loose ends, everything in its place. It’s much less stressful. He sets up the computer on the desk and is prepared. He is standing straight, confident, like a general, like  Patton, surveying the field. He’s thinking. He makes a note.

5/18 Thur note: start notes for a book on management.

                    to-do: network for contact in publishing? Is there an advance to be had?

Another point is to find some sort of historic figure to give the steak some sizzle, you know like Machiavelli, Lao Tzu, Atilla the Hun, etc. Look up the following: Vlad Tepes, Cesare Borgia, Caligula, Torquemada. Side note: Book’ll sell better when I have a better title, so we have some time.

5/18 Thur 8:00  : dinner with syph at someplace I never heard of 900 block randolph

I go outside and the bellman grabs a cab. I give the driver the address and it seems weird to the both of us. Weird to him because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, weird to me because it seems like it would be right in the middle of the Randolph Street wholesale market. I’m right, of course. We pull up and here is this busy, upscale restaurant in the middle of the block where I first started selling food.

It’s a stew of recollected effluvia. Selling for Railton. The independent restaurants and the  distributors on this street were some of my main customers. Lots of number 10 cans, lot of French fries, lot of ketchup and burger meat. Taking orders really because I didn’t know how to sell but damn lucky to have the job. It was 1981 and the economy sucked and I only got the job from a  guy my dad knew.

I was there because I was in love with this girl and her Father was keeping her away from me, actually sent her back to South America to keep her way from me because he didn’t want somebody who couldn’t support her. And admittedly I was kind of way into a bunch of stuff that wouldn’t pay the rent.  So I wrote her letters because I couldn’t call. But I dropped them off for her and her Mother said she would write back. I never got one.

 

 

Phil was my boss and was piece of shit. He just yelled at me for not selling enough and didn’t train or help me at all. Best thing anyone ever did for me.

My recollection are dominated by fucking Greeks who renegotiated after the deal was made, fucking Jews who lied to you and then made fun of you when you acted surprised, the fucking Italian assholes who fucking ignored everybody but the goombas and took every phone call that came in while you were trying to sell them. They all agreed to 15 day terms, but didn’t tell you which 15 days.

I called one day and I had heard she had gone, had to go back to stay with her aunt. This was strange right before graduation. Her aunt was sick and needed Consuelo to stay. In Argentina. So I wrote her letters because I couldn’t call. But I dropped them off for her and her Mother said she would write back. I never got one.

That summer I got a job.

I sold Greektown. There is an old joke about Greek restaurant owners, that if you went into a restaurant and tried to sell him anything, he would ask you the price and if you said free, the greek would grab the sides of his head and say, exasperated, ‘oh, so much!” But it wasn’t that good. They preferred to buy form Greeks. They would switch for a cheaper price. They would make you wait. And they wouldn’t pay, which made you half salesman, half bill collector.

But I learned a few things. The most aggressive negotiators are the worst negotiators; they put up a wall because they were afraid of their tendency to say yes. If you act tough you get tough back. They were entrepreneurs because they were optimists and they were mostly afraid of their own optimism. They were risk takers in  an industry that did not reward risk well. So you had to reduce their risk.

 While they talked price all the time what they believed in their intuition and their genius. I kid you not.

 

I tried to find out who they were.

But if you look at these guys you had to respect them. Most of them seemed to come from the peloponese. While they sometimes called themselves Spartans, was poor and rural,  kind of the Mississippi of Greece. They came here with nothing, first they were bus boys and then cooks and then managers and then they would go into extreme debt to open their own restaurant. It one of those American dream stories and I really thought it was pretty cool. Of course I want selling all the guys who failed.

And they knew it, they knew deep down they had a luck and connections and they barley hung on when things weren’t so good. In short their success hung by a thread. And the last thing they wanted to be was reminded of it. They wanted to know that you cared about their business. Shit, even if they knew you were faking it a little but you just spent times listening and asking questions about their business and trying to learn and told them they were worthy of respect.

So you had to spend time with them, figure out their needs, listen to their problems, take a little business first and service the hell out of them – when they were out of something, you put it in your car. So I made myself always available. More info, more samples, more emergencies on Friday afternoons.

 

It was okay because I literally had nothing else I wanted to do. I would go out with friends once in a while but the point of going out was to find girls and I just wasn’t interested. I was just waiting for Consuelo to come back.  They said she went away to school

Soon the commissions started getting good.

 

But it was also my starting point. At first I was a mad man, trying to make enough money to prove my worth to  my Chilean antagonist so he would let me see his daughter again. It didn’t matter that I was selling fish. I got used to customers who no matter how well I serviced them, bought the next time on price anyway. I ran product down to the bastards at the drop of the hat to help them cover for their mistakes. I got to be friendly, just friendly, mostly just friendly with the hookers who were still working under the El when I pulled in at four in the morning to start to my day. I worked till 6 or 7 at night trying to find new accounts. And I was still taking a class or two trying to finish up a degree. I made mistakes because I was aggressive, but mostly because I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I met my buddy Hosehead then. He had pity on me or something, but he helped me out. I sold fish, but I ate shit. Everyday. I got a toxic dose of reality.

I hung around with the  guys I couldn’t stand just to learn the business.  I turn my head to look at the Southeast corner of Halsted and Randolph. Barney’s  is still there, greeting every asshole who walks in the door with a ‘Yes sir, Senator.’ I remember sitting in the bar and being appalled by jokes they told; they were crude and racist, yes, but just fucking lame. ‘So blind people can hate ‘em too.’  Just listening to my Dad I knew better, or worse, jokes than they had.  Turns out I was pretty good at telling them too.  You’ heard them all before – ‘this is for my Ameica’ and somebody goes out the plane door. Lazy Mexicans, drunk Irishmen, smelly French, stupid Pollacks.  I do accents which distinguishes me from just somebody with a good memory. Mostly smokes or Mexican. They all prefer those. They make them feel better about themselves and then they liked me better.   I left to work for the competition and then I came back again and in eighteen months doubled my income. Eventually my hopes for seeing  Consuelo again  faded away but I was making money to pay off school, get an apartment, do things, go places. Eventually I came to like it. I liked being focused which was better than being obsessed with her and not being able to do anything. Then I liked the money and then eventually the  girls that came with it, especially when, in those days, you had a few grams of coke in your pocket on Lush Street. But mostly I liked being good at it. They didn’t trust me or accept me because I was smarter that they were but the only thing that mattered was how much product you could move.  I could move product with the best.

I get out of the cab. The restaurant is something like Passe or something stupid like that. I notice her standing by the bar immediately and I know that I’m going to wait until morning to do put anything in motion.

She’s wearing the blackest cocktail dress. Her skin is so white, not translucent like a Swede but with density, like ivory. Her hair is black and straight and full and she wears it back, like something out of the later fifties, simple yet a look few can pull it off. That’s actually the problem with women and fashion; they see someone with exceptional features and exceptional style and they think that they can emulate those styles with their unexceptional features.

But her eyes are the most exceptional thing, they are perfectly defined without a trace of hesitation by their creator. Giotto’s O. More round than almond shaped, but with a slight epicanthic grin in the corner. They are brown, which is usually a drawback. But hers are so dark you can only see traces of brown in the strongest light. The contrast in the eyes with the cornea, denser and whiter than seems usual, is intense. The only thing I can think of to compare it to would be the keys of a piano. The only flaw is that her nose seems slightly too thin and refined and I have accused her of having nose job, She denies it but I’m sure she’s lying. I don’t know that many Jewish girls from Highland Park who haven’t had a some kind of reapportionment.  Even the wife has had her tits done and it looks a little cartoonish on her thin frame.

But it isn’t that important. I don’t know what is with me and a beautiful face. I can’t even tell you how I define beauty. It is symmetry and proportion I guess, but complete proportion and symmetry would make for a bland look.  Maybe it is the combination, a thing exotic amidst the expected, outstanding features that do not upset the overall balance. The recipe for attraction on a subconscious level is supposed to be the balance, or paradoxical of a woman and a child, innocence and sex, love and lust objects and I’m sure there’s something to be said for that. For me, the appreciation of beauty and carnal desire have been put in the blender. Too much time in art museums I guess. Syph is beautiful and that is the reason I got involved where I wouldn’t have normally.  She is more beautiful than my wife, who had a brief run as a model before she her family decided it was beneath her or something.  And/or before the birth control failed.  Syph’s too short, almost tiny, to be a model but at this second, in every way, she’s lovely.

She’s also that tidy, disciplined feminine girl that used to drive me crazy years before, the ones we’d meet on Diversion street, who were too good to be there but there nonetheless, Jewish and waspy girls from the North Shore.   They were at once sophisticated and tough, they knew what they wanted. They compromised little and condoned less. They drank mixed drinks,  not beer like the Southside Irish  girls, not the rum and coke guinea girls from Elmwood Park. These girls weren’t there to get drunk. They were interested in guys with money and cocaine. Their superiority was the challenge. Until I had met her I’d forgotten about it. I meet these fastidious women now, ones who are older, my age, and I think they are a pain in the ass.

“Hi Honey.” She tries to be cool but she almost squeals. She’s all excited about the restaurant and generally it seems busier than the floor of the Merc. There’s this feeling that something else is going on that is much more important than eating. If nothing, an impressive lot of thought and effort has gone into the interior, with busy, indirect lighting, tall windows and huge potted plants, wood and rough cut lumber and adobe colored walls. The design is like unfinished southwestern queer Victorian big  game hunter. Restaurants give me such a headache these days.  It’s filled with young, stylish people which means they have chosen clothes, hair and makeup diametrically opposed to whatever was fashionable seven or eight years ago. I’m in my dark blue suit, so I guess that makes me the biggest member in the place. I care. However I wish it was a more traditional restaurant because more traditional surroundings help get me into a movie context.

“How are you?” I ask and receive a fecund kiss.

“Fine, now.” She realizes that sounds a little too gushy and adds, “It’s been a long month.” I hadn’t seen her since we caught a matinee at the Waldorf before I left on my big trip

We’re seated. She starts in about some things going on in her territory.  I really don’t need to concentrate all that hard to follow her. It’s my business to know her business.  She’s bright but not analytical or creative, so I get re-hashed conventional wisdom, stuffed into two or three marketing paradigms.   I’m marginally discreet as I look over her shoulder at the talent at the bar. The waiter arrives.

“Good Evening, How are you?” He’s a little squishy and he looks the both of us over. Maybe he’s employing some of the critical thinking he learned in fashion design school but more likely he’s trying to size us up. He needs to know how much effort he’ll have to put forth and how much tip will be involved. I’m a good tipper, all the way up to 15%, but they got to work for it. I think he decides not that I’m not to be fucked with.

“Can I bring you something to drink?”

“Be serious. What would you like to drink, my dear?”

“I’d love some champagne.”

There’s no fucking way I’m going to let this get that celebratory. “I’m not really up for it. Why don’t you get a flute for yourself? Could you give her a nice Cristal or Perrier Jouet in a glass?”

“We don’t usually do that, sir.”

“Well, why don’t you work on making an exception and while you’re at it bring me an highland single malt that is no less than 12 years old with a single ice cube if they are large or three if they are small.” I don’t even look up at his face but I know he’s getting the message. She disappointed that I’m not turning this into a reunion, but she loves the tough guy stuff.

“Bad day, honey?”

“Yes, no, not really. A series of small and near disasters.” I’m thinking if the brush with the over stuffed casings in the lounge in Newark.

“Your wife?” I have never said a word to her about my relationship with my wife but she constantly brings her up hoping I guess that I’ll tell her how unhappy I am, that I want a divorce, that kind of shit. That’s the problem with women, they think because you’re fucking around that you are unhappy. I perfectly happy with my wife. She’s worth 5 or 10 million dollars. But I throw her bone. “ A contributor.” And then after a slight lull, I look over her shoulder and say, “You know I almost ordered a martini.”

“Well why don’t you?

“I don’t really like them. It’s been years since I actually drank one but I remember I didn’t like them. But it just seem like the right thing to drink.” She’s not used to this sort of ambiguous rumination coming from me. She just smiles, all gloopy.

The drinks arrive and he sets them down without a word.

“ I kind of stuck it up his ass and not the way he likes.” She laughs at this, though she doesn’t really think it’s funny. Girls in our business laugh at crude stuff just to show they’re tough enough, that they can’t be intimidated. It’s completely out of character for her. She is fairly feminine in an old fashioned, bourgeois way. She does like making fun of people and she’s hoping I’ll add something a little more clever about him or someone else, but I haven’t geared up yet. We taste our drinks.

She goes on about some people in the industry. I bitch a little about Bilge, her counterpart in the East who I find completely annoying. We’ve been involved for only about six months and conversations are pretty much down to just a few topics. She is Jewish but young so it looks good to be with a member of the WASP team. Fashionable, really.  Yet she refers this arrangement as a relationship. It’s really funny how stupid women are in their constant search for relationships. We only have two things in common. The first is the contempt we share for our colleagues. The other is sex. With each other. I’d have a lot more to talk about if I could to discuss the sex I want to have  with other women. I really don’t know much else about her and I don’t really care. She’s told me about her family but I really don’t listen. I remember she’s from Highland Park and she has brothers or something.  We talk about meaningful things. The weather.

“So you’re going to see your Father?” I don’t remember telling her about that and regret that I did. Personal stuff.

“Yes.”

“Is he on the Southside?”

“Yeah. Seeing him with the PArkinsons is bad enough  but I generally hate going back there.” I really don’t feel like going into the shit with my brother. “Everything has changed, the neighborhood has changed, there’s so many smokes.”

She sighs “What do you mean when you say that word?”

“You mean smoke?” The beauty about smoke is that it is our word. It means what it means to me and my friends and that can be anywhere from jigaboo to just a  black guy, but there is nothing to pin us down. And I happen to know that basically as long as you don’t use the word nigger and nobody gets you on tape, you can pretty much say or do anything you want. There are no consequences.  It’s a beautiful thing.

“Yeah. What does it mean?.”

I smile. “It’s just a word we used to use.” This sounds more like an explanation than I am comfortable. My code: never explain, never apologize. That needs to go into the book.

“Are you worried it makes you sound like a racist?”

“No. I’m really not. I’m a realist not a racist.”

We both take a drink. The scotch is perfect and she drinks more. She is lovely even when furrows her brow.  I like to push her buttons.

“People are what they are.  There are good people everywhere.” I don’t believe this. “Scum bags too. There just happens to be a lot of them. Concentrated. Where I grew up. ”

“Your smokes.”

“Well.”  I smile at her, “It’s not like the lily white north shore.” This always reduces her credibility and I’m never called on the logic of it.

“Have you had a chance to look at the menu?” I don’t know how long he was there. I was looking pretty intently at her.

“You like escargot. Have the crevettes à l’ai.”

“Okay”

“I’ll have a wedge with blue cheese.”

“Is there a reason there are, as you say, a concentration where you grew up?”

“I am sure there are. A lot of big government and social programs. A lot of shitty parents, individual irresponsibility.  I  read the Bell Curve.” I haven’t really but why read a thick book with a simple idea you agree with?

“Poverty?”
“Overrated.”

“Lack of political power?”

“They win plenty of elections.”

“Race?”

“Dunno,  You would have a fun conversation with my brother the cop.”

“Is he a racist?”

“No my brother is a good guy.” I am actually sure either of those things are true. “He tries to get bad people off the street and they don’t care. They just as soon protect the criminals. He’ll tell you some stories. Some people prefer crime to work. Some of these families haven’t had a job in three generations.”

“Lack of opportunities. Companies have abandoned the inner city.”

“Companies abandoned the inner-city because they turned it into a shithole.”

“Companies left because they got tax breaks and the land was cheaper and taxes lower. And racism.”

“That’s ridiculous. There’s no reason to move if you have a perfectly good factory in the city.” This is fun.

“There are if you get tax incentives to move and your factory is old.”

“You’ll stay if there’s reason to stay, but if you can’t get workers, why bother? If your good workers move away and don’t want to come to your factory, why would you stay?” I take a drink.  “We lost our homes, our neighborhoods, our safety while liberals kept on inventing policies like busing and open housing that didn’t help the people they were designed to help and screwed the real working class.” I get pretty frothy during this speech and I think I intimidate her. She’ll respond but she’ll want to de-escalate.

She sighs, “Everybody there got screwed, with the exception of the people doing the red-lining and the buying and selling of property.” She slows down like she doesn’t want to put too much distance between us. And because she is losing badly.

The waiter comes and we order. I order a seafood gig, a cioppino, and some pasta with garlic because she is going to taste like it anyway, and I can carbo-load for the marathon alcohol consumption I’ll be doing this weekend.  Soon she’s forgotten she’s mad at me and gushes throughout about her risotto, which, as far as I can tell, is cream of rice with chicken broth.

She changes the subject. “So when are you going to be over at the show?”

“I’ll be over there every day.  There are strategic customers who will be there. There will people there who won’t have their badges on and we have to recognize them. But mostly there will be animals I have to keep an eye on..”

“Don’t you have managers for that?

“I fear that some of my managers are a bit ingenuous.”

“Present company included?”

“I don’t know. Remember I didn’t promote you. All I know about is your sales performance I’ve seen little of your other skills.”

“I am very interested in showing you my skills.” This is what passes for nuance.

“Have you gone over and seen what Lizard is doing with Saturday night party?”

“I talked with her. She has a lot of good ideas but she made me promise I’d keep it secret.”

“So I can’t lose. If it is good, it’s good. If not I’ll get rid of her ass.”

“You wouldn’t really fire her.”

“Without a second thought.”

“You don’t like her.”

“She is extremely annoying.”

“Why? You know we are friends.”

“She has that persistent characteristic of marketing people wherein  they think marketing has any significance at all.”

Dinner is fine, a little richer than I anticipate but it feels like a counter weight to the scotches. She gets a Crème Brulee which is her default but gets a Frangelico.  I have my favorite dessert, scotch.

“Did you bring the food stamps to help with bill?’

“You can’t buy restaurant food with food stamps.”

“Wanna bet?”

The little queer is actually a pretty decent waiter and so I give him twelve percent on the pre-tax amount.

“I am very encouraged by the direction in Washington right now. They are going to cut it off. All of it. Not just food stamps but the welfare. Contract with America.”

“Punish the kids? ” She is beginning to get annoyed. I could go further and may be even drive her away all together.  That‘s a possible solution. It occurs to me if I push it too far she might get up and leave. While that might help solve the long term problem, I do have needs this evening.

“Well for one thing, there will be fewer of them right away. The rate, whatever you call it, the bastard rate, will go down. Don’t give them welfare and there’ll be fewer still.  The problem is that some of these people don’t want to be helped and if you just give them something, they’ll take it. Make ‘em work.”

“Who’s watching the kids? I mean, they can’t afford daycare with a minimum wage job.”

“ Well, grandmothers, aunts or god forbid, the fathers. My mother worked and our grandmother and then my sister watched us.” This is true. Well, it was true about three times.

“And if they don’t have anybody? Or if they haven’t got anybody they trust?”

“Then they give the kid up for adoption or put it in the foster home. They shouldn’t have had the kid in the first place.”

“What if it was a mistake or an accident? There’s no room for error in your world?”

“Sure there is, as long as you don’t ask me to pay for it.”

“I was wrong. You’re not necessarily a racist. You’re kind of bastard, too.”

I laugh “It’s not complicated. I’m a realist.”  She’s pissed off but good.  This will  probably make for better sex.

“Let’s go to the Champagne Bar.” She is off the topic already.

“What is it with you and all the bubbly tonight?”

“Well I was happy because I going to get to be with you all weekend.”

“Don’t over sell it you know. I have dinners every night.”

“I know but I can see you after every night and we get to hang out at the booth. Come on, lets go to the Champagne Bar, that place.” I know the place. There’s often a serviceable jazz combo to be heard there and it’s expensive enough to keep out the losers. It’s a comfortable room but somewhat romantic. I’m not looking for that kind of ambience.

“Nah, I hate that place.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“I’m holding out for  1959.”

“Is that a club?”

She is holding me close as we head outside. I have little respect for her at the moment because she is just responding to cliché prompts: expensive meal, wine, dessert, confused pheromones. She shouldn’t like me anymore than the beginning of the meal, if anything she should like me less. Except that I have been difficult which I postulate that the more difficult you are with a truly beautiful woman the more they like it. Most men, everyone really, is so easy on them.

She stays on the sidewalk with a gawking car parker while I step between the cars to hail a cab.  I scan down Randolph east, looking for a halo when after a moment I hear her say ‘Get away from me!” I assume it is the car parker, but far less problematically it is an old crazy dude in an overcoat.

“Am I home?”

She not saying something as some smoke  scumbag shuffles up and mumbles something about a paper for a dollar.

“No.”

“Please. For the homeless.”

“Get the fuck out of here.”

He scuffs off to touch somebody else.

“Are you okay?”

She whispers, “I am fine. I overreacted. He scared me but he just wanted to sell me a paper.”

“A what”

“A paper. They sell it, I guess. I read something about it. They have to report or…I don’t know.” She’s flustered

“I love what Rudy is doing in New York. I don’t even see them anymore. I hate bums.”

She somehow shaggers me into a blues bar, her second choice. I find blues to be a toothless cousin of jazz and tonight is proving me right. I mean, I used to know where there were some talented blues musicians but there’s so much demand for it in this town that mostly you end up with crap.  Blues is about losing. I got no time for that. It is loud music and I could get into character, a little like Cary Grant in, I think, Charade, if I wasn’t so annoyed by Syph.

While I’m merely hazy she’s getting increasingly drunk and beginning to hang on me, which I hate. I know jazz, or at least I  listen to it a lot. There are songs, actually I think I like certain songs more than certain artists, that are so evocative, so moving that they consume you. Right now I wish I could hear Lalo Schiffrin, filling my ears and mind, projecting me into my private movie. There’s the accessibility to the Birth of the Cool. And of course Sinatra. You have to be smart but also discriminating. Maybe that’s why there’s so many pompous asshole jazz fans. I don’t listen actively or critically anymore, but I do  use the stuff I know to build and create my movie mood, the euphoria.

But instead I am stuck with this blues stuff,  jarring me, songs  probing the pain of a good gloopy drunk. So we spend a little time in the bar and I let her dance with some guy, which I guess is supposed to make me something like jealous.  She gets a little drunker and we get the fuck out.

We get back to the hotel room. This place feels more like home than the place in New Jersey and I almost feel like I want her out of there, like it’s mine and not too be shared. But I also want her, period. The first one is a quickie, not by design but by definition. It’s been a few days and she’s lucky I got my pants off. She’s used to it and knows that if more is to be had she had better make it interesting. It can work out for her.  I don’t care if she achieves an orgasm or not. It’s nothing personal, I just don’t generally see why men should care anyway, all other things being equal. Her problem, not mine.

 

Friday

 

 

I have to piss so bad that as I pull the covers back I expect to find my bladder has distended into something like an udder. I take the daytimer in to the toilet with me and warm it up as I empty.  As it comes on, it clicks, yes, no, yes, no. As simple as that. I get my day.

5/19 Fri.     Chicago

                   

7:30: call annoyreen on severance packages note: fed ex packages to arrive saturday

9:00: call aubrey at monde du sandwich re- dinner at NRA

11:30  : check lay of land at mccormick place (mccornflakes?)

                   

                    2:30  : sales consultant gig-ballroom at gland riot

7:30  : meet hosehead for pre-drink drinks note: syph? out after?

8:00  : hospitality suite.

11:00  : (tentative) connect w/ girl for fla. guy/ where?!

           to-do : meet brother for lunch to-do: call carolyn at empire escort- re: sun setup for fla. guy tonight, idiot from arkansas  & for lenny – reminder: fuck w/lenny

to-do:  start cost saving process

                    to-do: call glom on dinner with seizures pizza

 

 

She’s rolling over  as I come out of the bathroom.

“I think you better get out of here  pretty soon.” I suggest. It’s kind of a vaguely ugly thing to get us started. She doesn’t bite. She’s relaxed and kittenish and I kind of like that but this is no time to waver.

“I don’t have anything going on this morning.” She looks at the clock. “It’s only 7:00!”

“Well I need you to go.” The natural tendency or temptation is to give a reason.  But doing so, in this or any other unpleasant negotiation has its drawbacks. First,  a simple statement has more authority than any position by it’s mere matter-of-factness. Secondly,  if you define the reasons for your action, it gives the other party something to refute. Third, you induce  the other party to answer the question for themselves with what they logically assume to be the reason. This process  is far more powerful  than any reason, however logical, you come up with. And finally,  especially with women, never explain, never apologize. Just don’t.

She is shocked and hurt and literally naked and in a moment aware of it. She pulls the sheet up and croaks out, “Why?” I sit down naked in an armchair with a grapefruit juice in my hand. It’s kind of funny how my nakedness is power and hers is weakness.

“Some situations have come up. There are some things going on that I have work on.” My pretense is to seem to have a sudden concern, from new information, which she is to impute as I have learned about her interview with the competition. To my slight surprise, she displays a degree of prescience and gets angry.

“I knew there was something wrong last night. You were going to do it last night but you waited to do this until this morning so you could fuck me three more times.”

I wait but a smile still gets away from me and I answer. “And your point is?”

So she flies out of the room and leave a moment later in what state of undress I can’ t tell because my back is to the door. This is good because it’s humiliating. I don’t necessarily want to humiliate her a lot but a little increases the likelihood of a clean break. I just hope I haven’t overdone it. There is one problem with this tactic. I’m assuming an angry but more or less rational person. Because of capacity and imagination, smart people who are upset can do stupider things than stupid people.

5/19 Fri 7:30: call annoyreen on severance packages

I’m sitting here naked, soft underbelly exposed and so I get up and make sure the door is locked. This not only makes sure she’s gone physically, but also seems to seal out the need to consider some of the possible ramifications if she doesn’t act sensibly. She’s just got to keep it together for a couple more days and this thing will play itself out.

I was slightly mis-medicated last night. She talked me into syrupy shots at the blues bar and it is giving me a small headache, but it will leave soon.  The bed is warm, and, damp sheets and smells not withstanding, it feels good. I easily fight off an urge to go to the gym for a run. Running is literally the stupidest activity that humans engage in. Every pounding step you take drives any thought right out of your head; you can’t concentrate or dwell on anything. At times there can be benefit to that, I must admit.  But I feel pretty much in control, there is little to fear. In bed here I have a strong sense of akhimsa, completely absorbed in the buzz of my own static, digging even the slow swirl in my head. I’m waiting for the movie to start.

After a moment I do need a drink from the minibar and I down a small jar of apple juice in one gulp and I’m back on the bed. It’s 7:07.  I need to drop by the show by late morning and be back to the Loop to see my brother at one o’clock. This is a good day. I actually like small to medium hangovers. This one is slightly sullied because I consumed something other than Scotch but still it’s okay. You are profoundly pleasure and sense oriented.  I find myself creative and mean.  I have a plan. No one has really got a trace on me and I can take care of things as they come. I’m waiting for the movie to start.

I wake up at quarter to ten. That’s almost seven hours of sleep and that ought to take care of any residual jet lag. God I am so sick and tired of hearing about jet lag. Shut up and have a drink.. The room is cool and I feel a sense of happiness in being here and, oddly, a sense of health and strength. I wish I could stay in bed for just a while longer. I basically want to stay in this room forever. Just mail me the deposit slips.

I call downstairs to have the concierge get the number for a dent-a-car, so I can have one brought over to the hotel on Sunday.  I order a continental breakfast with a pot of coffee. I call and check voice mail and have, strangely, nothing. I get fewer and fewer voice mails; it is really for my customers and the people in the company I don’t yet control. My people are all on the program.

I transfer over to Annoyreen but her voice mail picks up so I hang up. The strangeness of not having any messages plucks a strange note of emptiness. I almost feel anxious and it gets my pimply ass moving toward the shower. I have a slight case of the alcohol bends, blood pressure redistributing unevenly and it momentarily gives me a thumping in my head. I drink more steadily these days and I’ve lost my hangover legs. I get a coke out of the mini bar and wash down 5 ibuprofen with the soda, which isn’t all that cooperative. I look at myself in the mirror. Everything is fine except the enormous bags under my eyes. A little preparation H will take care of that.

I piss without having to hold my sticky member. I get into the shower and the hot water on the back of my neck feels just great. Again this is pure pleasure, not quite my little cinema, but just feeling good. I am terrifically sensate, especially horny and wish that Syph, well, her body, was still here. The warm water is heating me up from the outside in and I feel like a lizard on a rock. I wash up spending a little time on my penis and futhinking that old Syph ought to thank her lucky stars cancer isn’t a sexually transmitted disease. I shampoo and, after a few more moments luxuriating, reluctantly get out of the shower. I’m pretty much wash and wear, a nice little wave to my hair, a little tuckpointing is about all I need.

I get shaving cream on my face and the breakfast comes. It’s a cute little wetback bringing the room service up and so I leave my robe fairly loose and tip her generously. I pour some coffee and finish shaving.  I connect to E-mail, but there’s nothing on it. I call voice mail and Annoyreen again.

“Hi. It’s me. Read the information I left you?”

“Yes. I’m shocked. Do you have to fire all of them?”

“We’re not firing them. The position has been eliminated. It was decided that we don’t need that layer of management anymore.”

“By who?” She implored.

“Well, me.” She was a little more shaken by this than I thought she would be. She waits a second. “You? Alone?”

Did I mention the hard and fast rule is never explain, never apologize? But I give her the justification she seems to need, “If this wasn’t done now, it would have happened very soon. By doing this now, they can get a much better deal from me than they will when there is a general corporate reduction. Some of them may stay in the company” Which is probably a lie but that may be a possibility  if things don’t go well this weekend. And I guess it offers a measure of plausible deniability in case my secretary has to give a deposition at some point. “I have to go. Make sure the stuff gets here Saturday.”

I draw a line through  5/19 Fri. 7:30 to-do: call annoyreen on severance packages and scratch out

 

the word severance in case someone looks over my shoulder.

                            reminder: fed ex packages to arrive Saturday

8:30 to-do: (forw’d’d  from 5/20) call aubrey at monde du sandwich re                                                                 dinner at NRA

 

I call Aubrey at Monde and leave cell phone and hotel numbers.  I wolf down a damn good Danish – more carbs to get me through the day –  and a second cup of excellent joe while getting dressed. I grab my briefcase and head out the door.

5/19 Fri.  : 11:30 check lay of land at McCornflakes?)

 

McCornflakes sits by the lake looking like a cheap model made by a particularly dull architecture student for a TV sitcom that was never aired. The one side is a bad imitation of Van Der Rohe and the other is derivative Johnson and Burgee. I’m heading over to see if my weasels are setting up the show. These are mostly the junior guys and actually they really are pretty weaselly but I hire them that way. They’re my weasels. The cab drops me right at the main door. I’m thinking about the small sales meeting we’ll have that afternoon, trying to think if I need anything. I’ve set it up so the guys I’m firing have done all the work for me at the meeting. They make the presentations and I just observe. And some stultifying fuck wad consultant. Usually I break them off into groups but I need to hear everything that goes on now. Part of me hopes they present something of value, but if they do a lousy job it just makes the ax more justified.

There are crates of unassembled exhibitions all over the show floor. It always seems like the Teamsters will never pull this thing together, but they always do. Right now it’s just a lot of fat guys smoking cigarettes, sitting on crates, pants slung low displaying their gaping  gashes and waiting for time and a half to kick in before they start moving.  I get to our exhibit which I recognize only because two of my weasonal managers, Pajambone and Randy Johnson (whose nickname, Inevitably, never stuck) are sitting around looking glum.

“Where is everyone and where are the samples?” I boom, scaring the feces out of them.

“They’re downstairs trying to get the samples. The teamsters won’t let him take them in without waiting in line and Bil says if he waits the samples will thaw out.”

“Where are they?”

“Downstairs trying to sneak past security in the other building. If you go through downstairs…”

“I know where they are. Wait here. Don’t go anywhere.” Bil Bild, Bilge, is a zone director and so marked for removal. Other than Syph, his departure will make me happiest. He’s a fuwhining, under-producing, over-compensated, age-protected pain in my dick  who acts as if he can get things done but in truth can’t find his ass with his hands.

I cross over to the other building and head down two flights.  There is Bilge arguing with the security guard and the rental van sitting at the curb, one box unloaded and three regionals leaning up against it holding their dicks. Bilge is screaming at this semi feeble smoke security guard who just isn’t going to let them in. He’s sees me and he doesn’t know whether he should keep screaming or what.

“What’s going on here?” I ask in a cool tone.

“Hi Jack, This asshole fails to understand that if I wait in line with those teamsters upstairs my samples are going to go bad.”

“Bilge, we don’t need to use abusive language here. Go wait by the van. I’m very sorry, sir. What’s you name?”

“Crispus Jackson”

“Crispus like Crispus Attucks?” I demonstrate my deep knowledge of SAT questions.

“Yes sir.”

“Well Mr. Jackson I’d like to apologize for my colleague. He’s under a lot of pressure and he tends to fly off the handle but he needs to realize that you have rules here and that those rules exist for good reason.”

“Yes sir, well thank you sir.”

I walk back over to he van. “What happened?”

“I’ve been trying to get the stuff in for a half hour and the ass…” It’s a mistake asking him. He’s the kind of person who mistakes complaining for narrative. He should be willing to take an aneurism for the company.

“You guys put that stuff back inside. Bil, get in the van.”

He starts to complain “What the f…”

“Just get back in the van. All of you.” He does so, as do the other guys.

I stick my head in the driver’s window. Bilge starts to complain about how I embarrassed him but I cut him off. “Now that he can’t hear us, I want to make a couple of points. Peons like this don’t respond well to bullying tactics. It’s not like the hotel or airplane people. They get no points for customer service. In fact, fucking with people like you is what they like best about their job and when you get into their faces, you greatly reduce your best shot of doing your job, which is getting around them.  This is what you to do.” I look at three guys in the van and pick out Peed Overself as the most non-descript.” Bilge, you give Peed two twenty dollar bills and all your singles. You guys give all your singles to Peed.”

Bilge whines, “How do I write this off?”

“I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Now how many singles do you have there?”

“Fifteen.”

“Good. Peed, you come with me. You guys take the van out of here, circle all the way around  and then come back here again. That should take at least ten minutes. If old Crispus is still here, keep going and loop around again. When he’s gone, unload quickly and quietly and try to make it look like you’re doing what you are supposed to be doing. Let’s go.”

Chuck and I pass through the door and again I offer my apologies to the security guard. We go up the stairs to the next level. We find the security office and go around a corner from it. I take a blank envelope, which I keep for special occasions, out of my briefcase.

“Okay, this is the gig, Peedle Dee. We write on this envelope ‘To: Crispus Jackson. From: Don Tyson Note: Thanks for the special help.’ Three exclamation points. Now give me the money. We take the twenties, put them on the outside, put the singles in the middle. This is a cheap envelope so we can see that there are twenty dollar bills in it. It’ll look like a lot more. Now I want you to go to security. Tell them you have something for Crispus Jackson. Tell them you would like to hand deliver it because it’s important. Put the envelope on the counter so they can see it. Wait, then after a minute say that you are going to the bathroom but will be right back and ask them to hold on to the envelope. Then go get a cab”

“They’ll think it’s a bribe or something?”

“They won’t know what to think but once Crispus gets up here he’ll have a few questions to answer. That should give them enough time to get the stuff unloaded.”

“You don’t want me to help them?”

“Nah, just go get some lunch. I’ll see you at the meeting.  By tomorrow you are just another white guy in a suit.”

“I hope he doesn’t get fired.”
“Shouldn’t have fucked with Tastee Chicken.”

Best thing about this is Bilge is out $40 bucks because he won’t have time to bury the expense.

 

 

5/19 Friday:  meet older brother for lunch

              Nice Freudian slip; I listed this as a to-do  I told  my brother Joad, I’d meet him for lunch at the  Chitlin. He couldn’t think of the name of the place, only that it had an Irish name.

I hate Irish bars. I normally have no prejudice against anyplace that serves drinks, but I can’t stand bars with all that phony Irish culture bullshit, that as far as I can tell consists of three songs, baby shit green, crappy momentos from the airport gift shop and ugly red headed girls. I was just dragged into too many of those fucking places in the old neighborhood. My brother did some of the dragging, especially when I was underage. I remember his fucking basement after he got married he had the crappiest old bullshit, leprefuckingshitchauns and crappy porcelain and embroidered fusayings in pressboard frames. His wife was a mick, in fact her father was a bricklayer, right off the boat. Fortunately they’re divorced now. He’s already there at the bar. Thankfully, I don’t see anyone else I know in the place.

“Hey.” He smiles and stands up to shake my hand. He looks old and fat and I’ve  never got used to the fact that I’m actually taller than he is. Joe was always an intimidating physical presence, more stocky than me naturally and when he was younger and lifting weight, he was frightening. The fact that he was often slugging me for no particular reason had something to do with it. He was an excellent football player in high school, a fullback and he went to Iowa on a scholarship. He wasn’t actually interested in school and left without a degree after he used up his football eligibility, came back and my father helped get him on the police force.

The fact that he didn’t care about school while I was expect to bring home nothing lower than a B didn’t escape me and I hated the double standard. At the time, I felt that my father basically defined me in the ways that I wasn’t like Joe. He was kind of a local celebrity, his picture was in the paper and later his college team played on television. My father bought a bigger television so he could spot Joe on the field even if it was only on it during kickoffs. He walked around wearing all this freakish Iowa paraphernalia, even though his kid hardly played.

With my dad and him there was an understanding. it was on a nuanced level as well. I didn’t fit his idea of a man. I wasn’t popular but  I was chatty, especially my Mom, I was no athlete; I ran cross-country. Joe went to his alma mater, Mount Carmel, a football factory while I opted for St. Ignatius, which was a better school but didn’t even have a football team. This was at my mother’s urging. I remember stating at the dinner table that if only Ignatius played football, I’d go out for the team. Joad’s response was, “What would they be called, the fighting pocket protectors?” and my father thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. It’s funny how long laughter can stay in your ears.

“Good to see you.”  And I think it’s good to see him.

“I didn’t expect you so soon. You’re usually late”

“Not so much these days.”

He’s wearing his uniform, so he must have hurried over. He’s wearing a windbreaker zipped up to the top, so people can’t see his uniform while he’s at the bar. However the damn thing is way too tight, swollen by his lost football muscles and the bulge of his belt and gun are such that only a particularly dull blind man couldn’t tell who he is. This doesn’t seem right. He’s been a detective for years.

“Can I actually get a scotch here?” I say when a bartender approaches.

“Why wouldn’cha be able to?” His brogue is soft but he’s got an attitude.

“Single malts?”

“Yah, sure.” He’s not going to be helpful.

“Anything with a glen in it, with a couple of ice cubes and whatever my friend here is having.”

“Guinness”

“Conformist.”

“No. I actually like Guinness.”

“It’s completely nasty. A liquid stogie.”

He changes the subject, bored, uninterested in arguing and  surely because I’m right. “You’re here for your show?”

“Same ol’, same ol’, bro.” At my use of street argot, he rolls his eyes.

“That’s all I need to hear coming from you.”

“Get a little of it at work?”

“All day long. Actually it doesn’t bother me as much from the perps as it does from the niggers on the job.” It’s a little jarring. I’ve given you my theory on the use of that particular word but my brother doesn’t even bother to look around and see if there is anybody within earshot.  It’s a convention crowd so basically one race here but still.

He is generally reticent, hard to get much of anything out of him, especially at first.  He favors my father. The rest of us are talkers.

“Actually show starts tomorrow. I’m here for some meetings and to fire some people. Well how about with you, what’s going on?”

“Just punching a clock.”

“Yeah? When I saw you at the wedding you talked about going for Lieutenant.”

“Ah fuck, I don’t think that’ll happen.” I wait for something more, some explanation, but he doesn’t say anything. I change the subject.

“How are the boys?”

“They’re doing fine. The one thing I’ll say for Colleen is that she keeps them in line. Their grades are good and they’ll stay good as long as they want to play football.”

“Jack’s a freshman?”

“Sophomore and Tommy is in eighth.” He drinks and thinks about it an adds. “They’re good kids.”

“You get to see them a lot?”

“Some, weekends.  Colleen is working nights so I take them out to dinner a once or twice a week and I try to make their games.”

“And they still live in the house?”

“Yeah. I keep on telling Colleen that since we’re divorced she doesn’t have to live in Mount Greenwood anymore.” He adopts a tone like he is talking to someone particularly thick skulled. “The rule only applies to cops and not their kids. She can take them out south. It would save us a fortune on the catholic school and get them away from the niggers.”

“How is Colleen?”

“Ah, she’s fine. You know, she really is all right. I just can’t fucking live with her.”  He drinks again and I wait a couple of minutes for him to say something else about her. “But no, you did it right, marrying a rich girl. A beautiful one too. Didn’t think you had it in you.”

“I got lucky.”

“Well don’t turn into one of those country club types. Rich liberal motherfuckers.” Actually this is precisely what I aiming for. The country club, rich and motherfucker parts, at least.

“I’m sure they’ll get to me.”

It goes like this for a while. As he gets into his cups, he loosens up a little and at one point turns and says “You know you turned out all right. Your brother…fuck,at least I got one sibling I can talk to.”

I don’t know quite what to say and while trying to formulate a response between thanks and I’m sorry, he laughs, “I think the key was getting you away from the crazy broad you were wanted to marry, what was her name?”

“Consuelo.”

“Yeah, Consuelo.  Goofy liberal bitch.” I heard a lot of talk about my old girlfriend after she bolted on me, but if anybody else had spoke that way about her, I would have slugged them. But Joad was my hero and torturer for so long that confronting him doesn’t seem possible. He’s soft now but it’s hard to get the idea of the hulking, violent 19 year old out of my mind. And he didn’t call her a spic. “Good thing you didn’t end up with her.” I don’t want to talk about it so I change the subject.

“So what going on with your promotion. I thought I read that they had thrown out the system for testing for promotion.”

“There’s all sorts of racial priorities that they fuck around with before white guys ever get a chance. I thought they had worked out a system and then they come along and throw out the test scores because not enough minorities scored high enough on ‘em. It’s the usual bullshit.”

“But there is some hope.”

“No not anymore.”

“Why not?”

He hesitates in his response. “Something else happened.”

“What?”

“There’s some trouble at the station and now there’s all sorts of internal investigation horse shit.”

“For what?”

“Falsifying evidence.”

“You?”

“12 names. 2 assistant DAs and 10 guys on the job and yours truly was on the top of the list.”

“Is there anything to it?”

“No it’s all bullshit. The guys were nigger gangbangers.”

“So you were, what…” I wait for him to fill in the blanks. He looks at me directly in the eye like I am an idiot.” …getting evidence together? You were sloppy? What?”
Joad gets a little impatient, “What you’ve got to realize these guys are all guilty. Some of them have been arrested before and didn’t go away. So we were just trying to make sure they were off the street with a decent charge. You don’t see it. Society is under siege.”

There’s more here but I’m not sure I want to now. It probably explains why he’s got  a patrolman’ uniform on.

He stares through his beer glass for a few moments and then says. “You know your sister is town this weekend, too.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.  She’s staying at the Palmer House.”

“I should blow a call into her.”

“You should. Do you want. You will anyway.”

“I will call her. I am going down to see the other one. Palsy .”

“He’s just fucking nuts. Did you know he just bought a house in Beverly. Paid 250 grand for it. On Wood St.”

“Yeah he told me.”

“His wife doesn’t even work either. She volunteers. For the  church. Opus something or other. I don’t know. I can’t stand the church anymore, that whole bullshit, that no matter how much you fuck up, God always forgives you as long as you put something in the basket. I’m done.” Then he remembers Paul. “Hope they like living among the savages.”

After a minute Iask “Lunch?”

“Nah.”

It’s hard to talk to him. It’s hard to even agree with him. Part of it he’s got his cop thing going;  I’m  just uninformed, or maybe un-uniformed. My opinions or thoughts are discounted just like I was when I was his little brother. He came out of the police academy and all of a sudden he was the only one who ‘knew’. Theirs is the only possible reality.  It’s such a fucking bore.

“That neighborhood, I… He stops and shakes his head once. I assume he is talking about the one in which our brother is buying a house. “It felt like mine. More than Evergreen.  It was ours. Now it’s overrun.” He’s really gone around the  bend on the smokes.  Ready for the white hood.  “You know all my friends were from there. It’s where all my best memories are. It’s where I wanted to live. It like they stole the past and the future.”

We drink until the conversation grinds to a stop and I take the opportunity to get up and leave. He seems to have gotten even smaller during our time together and his eyes are bloodshot; they seem watery to the point of tears. He turns and walks away. For just a moment I get an inkling of movie time, like this is a scene from one of those gritty urban drama things.

A lot has been written about how we like to see our heroes fall. I feel sympathy for him, but he’s fucked now. I hope it works out but, as I go out into the warm sunlight, there’s a tiny thrill to know I’m stronger, more in control of life than he is.  As I think about it, the  downside  of my father’s faltering mental skills is that I don’t get to show him how successful I’ve become. Not that I want approval or apology, but rather to lord it over him because in the final outcome he was just a fireman and Joe is just a cop, whereas I’ve got the world by the neck.

I hop a cab and head up Michigan Avenue.  The guy keeps glaring back at me nervously, like I’m going to shout at him turn one way or another without warning. I begin to realize that I’ve got one of those complete auslanders who haven’t figured out all of them bathroom fixtures yet. The smell is spooky and intense and traffic is slow. In New York I have the car service and rarely have to take a cab. Here it’s completely hit or miss.  But I feel so good in fact that when we get stalled in traffic, I almost throw a few singles over the seat and begin to walk up Michigan Avenue.

It’s a beautiful day, but it’s a little eerie, the concept of unstructured walking.  I live in a very controlled environment. There is conditioned air, warmed or cooled, humidified, de-odorized, disinfected, acoustic, pressurized. The great outdoors is the space between a lobby door and a vehicle. I mean, I’ll usually take a look around as I walk to the next open door. It’s nice. It’s like the occasional opening of a window. I don’t golf or play tennis. I run on a treadmill. I don’t walk anywhere. My wife occasionally gets it in her head to take the baby for a walk, but instead we go for a drive. It’s not like we can see any neighbors.  I’m like an Morlock, except it’s really not bad. I’m a well apportioned, upscale troglodyte.

Grant Park is very green. It is clean which is something Chicago does much better than New York.  It feels like spring and I like it. I take a deep breath and my lungs are filled with  a smell of infinitely concentrated dog kennel, courtesy of a homeless guy lying on a bench. It pierces me with disgust and destroys my mood but also forces memories from being  younger that I don’t  feel like reconciling. I shake my head to make them stop . How do you wash out your insides?

I’m come up to the  stairs with the lions. Art’s ten cent suit. The stairs are covered with school kids. It so happens that this place holds happy memories for me. I sometimes think about  how the whole art thing is pretty much a scam and if I thought about it I could probably figure out how the racket is put together.

My mother loved the art museum. We would go to the Museum of Violence and Misery, too and the other  ones, but I suspect that if it wasn’t for my brothers we’d have gone here every time. At first she dragged all four of us, but my sister who was both older and bright enough to start college at sixteen was soon too busy or embarrassed to be seen with the family. Then Joad opted out soon afterwards because there wasn’t a football wing. So it mostly me, my younger brother and my mom, about once a month. Maybe it was her enthusiasm, but I actually enjoyed it. We’d talk about things and later she’d quiz us about who did what, who they were, what else they did, what school, etcetera so that after a while I got a pretty good feel of what was what.

The memory of it is basically like a chronology; I remember things based on how I moved to and from them. She dragged us to see the Impressionists, which even to me as a child seemed strangely apropos for her. It was a kind of escapism, I guess.  I started out with Goya and Delacroix and any renaissance thing depicting action. The naturalists were kind of like comic books but after I’d seen the works again and again, I somehow absorbed an appreciation for the style, technique, so on. I went through a basic naked woman  titillation stage and from there to various people of different schools who painted in strong forms and bold colors, but with potential or latent action. I developed a liking for Carravaggio and Valasquez, but also people as seemingly different as Schiele  and Ivan Albright and a bunch else. Maybe it was about the time that melodrama would appealed to the eye of a sullen teen, but there was more. The possibilities were much more profound or terrible than the action paintings. I loved potential, like grasping the moment when the  past was forgotten and any result was possible.

Then there was sculpture, the Rodin stuff especially and I remember now that at one point I had decided I wanted to be a sculptor. Giacometti was another.  Then an architect. It seems more strange than distant now, ridiculous of course, but the memory of some other mind.  After I started college, I kept it up. I liked into the twentieth century stuff, secessionist, the expressionists, cubists, Dada and abstract, all the shit that young intellectuals are supposed to like. It was a good base. Add some humanities classes in high school and college and I could come across as someone who actually knows something about art.

As it turned out, I never created anything. I’m completely maladroit.

My brother Joad laughed at my interest in art and my friends thought it was just plain odd. I never realized how it would come in handy. This was crucial with  Saliva, who is an old money Manhattan cultural dilettante type. I have an excellent memory for facts and names and could keep up with the most effete of her friends. It gave a cultured nuance to go with my hard charging business persona. And rugged good looks.

I also spent time here with Consuelo. I was probably at my sharpest then, which was good because she was not easily bamboozled. Of course I had very little money being in college. But unlike any other girl I had met to that point, and come to think of it since, I didn’t have to spend any money on her. Going to the museum, even on free Tuesdays, was just fine by her.  We probably had more dates here than anywhere else.

Consuelo. This is the same Consuelo that my brother just mentioned. I haven’t thought about her in a long time. I’ve sometimes noticed how the past can cluster up all at once. Somebody mentions a name and it’s like an incantation. Not that I believe in this sort of thing. I’m a hard headed realist.

A boy is sitting on the pedestal in front of one of the stone lions and he’s talking to two very pretty young girls. The little fucker has a scraggly goatee and a tattoo on his skinny forearm. I can almost hear his patter. I don’t do much art these days, man.

I know something else. History isn’t bunk; it’s worse, it’s rank nostalgia.

The well dressed man  walks down Michigan Avenue as if he invented the concept. The blue sky glows, buildings reach up, traffic moves, pedestrians stand at corners and the sidewalk glides beneath him. All of this is his context, all to his advantage.

5/19 Fri. 2:30  : sales review – conference room a gland riot

I divide the field sales group into sappers and weasels. I’ve never come up with an adequate name for the zone directors and now that I’m firing them all I guess I never will. The sappers are the long timers, generally called sappers because they get down in the mud and handle the dirty work. They are mostly a little older and are in the larger cities and have been with me for a while. They know their territories as well as their limitations. They are also cruder, less well educated and meaner. I’ve had some sappers go up the ladder, but generally they don’t and most of those who do end up getting fired. As they get older and more pigeon-holed it does become easier to squeeze them on a variety of issues, from salary to bonus to expenses and cars. But the sappers will do anything for me. It’s the Stockholm syndrome.

The weasels on the other hand are the younger people who come from good schools, are upper-middle class, ambitious and corporate. One of the worst theories that sales organizations spout is this idea that everybody can work their way up to be the vice president. Oh no you can’t. I’m the fucking vice president and I need a bunch of people to sell something, not be worried about their next move or trying to take my job. And I need people who want to increase their pay by improving their bonus rather than trying to get promoted. I realize they use me for training and experience. Some weasels stay; the best go away. However, if a weasel decides that maybe he’d like to take a territory and stay there and not strive to get promoted but work on the margins of bonus, then he can become sapper. And the thing is my sappers and I understand each other very well. For the most part they’d eat their own children for me.

I find the conference room and slip in the back. They’ve already begun and I feel a tingle of pride that they have proceeded without me; I’ve destroyed their will to improvise and they are following the schedule as written. I believe I can rule the world. As mentioned, I had all the Zone managers put this together along with Sandroid.  They are Bilge, Special Ed Hegel, and Thomas Lewis. the field sales zone directors,  Syph, who is the Director of Special Channels and re-distribution. Thomas is the only smoke I have right now. I call him Tom because I know at first he didn’t like the name and he tried to let me know that he didn’t like the name but he never came right out and told me. I think it’s the whole Uncle Tom thing. There’s also Bret who is in charge of national accounts. But he’s been sick for a while now, some viral thing, so if he lives, when he returns to work, he’ll find he doesn’t have a job anymore.

I just told them what things I wanted covered and then let them present the topics. The best thing about this is that because they are reporting their people’s performance to the rest of the group, I get a stronger impact on the people bringing up the rear. All the numbers are out there for all the world to see.  Bil’s presentation is the worst, sloppy and not-focused and I  cut him before the end and ask for the next presentation. He’s just not a manager, just a salesman, but too expensive to keep and too old to deal with.  Special Ed’s is just a stupid business school enema. Syph’s is flat and too long and too full of fucking marketing buzzwords.

Tom is the last one. His is terse and basic and incorporates actual market trends  and actually puts analysis with the information. As I watch him speak, I genuinely have mixed emotions about him. I’ve never connected with the guy. Usually people try to kiss my ass, or be my buddy or bullshit me into thinking that they like me when they don’t.  With him I just get straight business, even in conversation and nothing more. I’d just assume he was boring or obsessive but his people like him and others have told me what fun guy he is. It actually irritates me slightly.

              The second part of our program is this consultant forced upon me by Cloy. He’s here to talking about planning helping your customers by analyzing the market place, telling him what future trends are going to make the market look like, telling them where the voids are in their strategy, then helping them fill them. I think it’s a great idea; if you’re right, you’re telling your client you think he’s stupid and if you’re wrong you’ll cost him money. 

              I’m zoning just a little, the room is warm and dark with his power point presentation, I’m feeling a little sleepy.

              The consultant is saying. “Did you ever hear advice and then hear the opposite advice?” His presentation scrolls down. Look before you leap; he who hesitates is lost  “Who else can do one?”

“Don’t burn your bridges behind you but don’t look back.”

“Good. Who else?”

“Learn from your mistakes. Don’t dwell on the past.”

              “Okay but basically the same thing.”

“We have to be light on our feet and we have to follow procedures.” God are my fucking people stupid.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff; be detail oriented.”

“Just get the business;  be strategic.”

“Do you see how it works?”

“Face time is always valuable, but don’t waste your customers time and never make an appointment  to say hello.”

“Find out what your customer wants versus always close.”

As much as I like this guy’s reciprocating saws it sounds like a lullaby to me. I realize of course that my inattention is a cue to the sales force that this guy is irrelevant but that’s okay.

And for a just a second I think I’m going to fall asleep. It’s the jet lag mustering an assault. I can resist it but it makes me groggy in a liquid submerged extra warm prenatal dementia kind of way. I can’t get out of it. They are talking about how you have to add info on market share positioning and other various market bullshit. I have a theory on this and I guess it will go in the book. I don’t believe in a lot of strategic planning. I believe in being light on your feet and extremely reactive. For the short term your customers know what they want and for the medium term, say a couple years out, they’ll let you know what they think they’ll need. In the long run, we are all fired. The world changes so fast and nobody can predict even given the a continuation of the current conditions. As for the unforeseeable, well twenty years ago everyone was talking about the endless bounty of the sea. Well now every year there’s a new species being quarantined from over-fishing. Facts change things.

Look at pathogens.  E Coli, Salmonella have existed since the dawn of time and yet nobody had the means for finding and testing for them. Something didn’t exist and now it’s dangerous? Give me a break. Then if you had a food plant and spent million of dollars developing a program for control of these bacterium, say ten years ago, you’d have been out of luck because they all of sudden found Listeria and the regime for controlling that was completely different. And don’t even get me started on governmental standards and regulation. No, there’s a good argument to being ahead of the curve on a lot of things because the damn wave is just plain wrong half the time. And for long term planning you can’t depend on your customers because they are just as likely as you to be stupid. Give them what they want, not what you think they need and that’s the best way you can take care of them. And service the shit out of them. These sorts of insights are why I should be writing a book.

5/19 Fri. 2:30  : sales review-ballroom at bland diet

6:00 to-do: call carolyn at empire escorts- re: sun setup for fla. guy,

                                    idiot from arkansas & for lenny

“Hello may please speak to Carolyn.”

“This is Carolyn.”
“Hey Carolyn this is Jack Crawford from New Jersey.”

“Hi Jack, how are you, my friend?”

“I’m doing great. I’m in need of a couple, three girls for this weekend. One has to be top shelf…”

“For the night?

“That’s up to them but yep.”

“Top shelf is  8 bills..”

“Holy fuck! 800? I think I paid 5 last year!”
“Prices went up. I have good girls. A lot of demand this year. Economy’s improving.  If you were somebody calling for the first time it would be a G.”

“Jesus, well you didn’t let me finish. I want her to be good but I’d like one a little older, early thirties and she’ll have drinks with this guy for a while, hold a conversation. I don’t think he’s at all kinky And he’s clean, a family man.”

“Those are the worst.”

“No, he’s okay I’ve known him for years.”

“Whatever with that. It’s still going to be 750.”

“Jesus. Who you going to send?”
“Remember Mary from 2 years ago?”

“Yeah she was great. Then I need one for Sunday night.”

“That will be tough.”

“Well she doesn’t have to be anything special, no offense, just a little booby and she won’t tied up for long.”

“That’s extra.”

“No, no ropes necessary. She’ll tuck him in by 11:00 She could probably double up.”

“We don’t do that.”

“Of course you don’t.”

“Um, allright. Where and when?”

“Tonight make it the hotel bar at the Hotel Nippo at 11:00. Tomorrow at the Retarded Rock Café. What ‘s her name?”

“Ramona.”
“Ramona? You’re kidding.”

“Ramona.”

“Now I got a more complicated one. I want to fuck with this guy.”

“Then why you calling me?”
“Very funny. No this football player who does promotional work for us. Our agreement is that we get him a girl one night during the show. I’m tired of the fucker and I want him to go away. I want to get him an ugly girl, although he’s so stupid I’m not sure if he knows the difference. I would say get a black girl but he’s a brother so it sort of loses it’s point now, doesn’t it?”

“I know some guys who are really pimps. Maybe I an dig up a skank for you. So, you’re gonna make me lay down with pigs. For all this, for all the trouble, say all, told $1700.”

I think about this for a second. The actual cash is moot; this is not a line item that the auditors spend any time on. But I’m feeling adventurous and confident enough to try a little something different. “Now you know me well enough to know that I’m going to jew you down, but I know that you can do better than that. “So why don’t you bill me for three girls at say $2000 and send me over a token of your appreciation.” I’m kind of excited; I don’t know what she’s going to do. It’s a mystery.

“A small gift?”

“That’d be great. You still have the credit card number?”

“Better give it to me again. Which one is it?”

“Minor Snub Card.”

I give her Lenny’s hotel and tell her to coordinate when she is ready.

That taken care of I call the Palmer House and leave a message for my sister to call.

 

5/19 Fri.   7:30 meet hosehead for pre-drink drinks

  8:00 hospitality suite in the gland riot.

We’ve got this hospitality suite set up at the Gland Riot.  We somehow started doing theme parties a few years back, I can’t remember how. I sort of abdicated control of the process to the fuck ups in marketing, figuring they’ll do exactly that.  I anticipate things going badly and it would be just one more reason to beat on them. As it has turned out, they’ve actually done a good job, but this year they’ve gone a little too far. The theme this time is the psychedelic sixties. I don’t know what their plans are, if they’re going to put LSD in the punch, a little peyote crudite or what, but we’ll see.  Psychedelic sixties theme with Karaoke. We seem to get a bigger ball room every year and this year we’re in the second biggest room the Gland Riot has got. They’ve done a hell of a job. They have plasmatic shapes projecting on the wall, go-go cages, peace signs and they’ve all go these hip hugging jeans with enormous bell bottoms and tied dyed shirts that read Tastee Chicken and Fish.

I think it’s too good, too authentic and it might just scare off or piss off some of the older customers. I vaguely remember something about a war going on then and that some people weren’t happy about it and some weren’t happy about the people who weren’t happy about it. And assassinations. Oh, what the hell. I win either way, as usual. It’s still called a hospitality suite but it hasn’t been held in a hotel suite in years. We invite about 500 people and end up with about that many, although I wonder whether they are the ones we actually invited.

I just thought I’d stop down beforehand to make sure everything is all right and then go have a drink with my friend Hose. I go upstairs to the lobby bar. It’s not too crowded but I know it will be momentarily, as all these conventioneers do the conventional thing and drink in the hotel bars. He’s sitting with some people and I don’t know if they’re customers or not so I go to the bar and catch his eye and by the time I get a Phlegm chronic with a minor chill, he’s broken away from them.

“Hey Crawfish. What’s going on?”

“Hey Hose. Hey I didn’t want to tear you away from those people but by the same token I didn’t want to have to talk to them either. Customers?”

“No.  Sales guys. Competition actually. Small fry, just seeing what’s going on. How you doing?”

“If I was doing any better my taxes would go up. How bout you?”

“No complaints. Another year at the NRA.”

“The NR fucking A to you.”

“The N fucking RA. Nevertheless we always manage to have a good time.”

“Yeah well I still hate it. Did you go over to the show at all?”

“A couple minutes. Brought coffee for the guys.  Made an appearance at the booth and got the fuck out. The beauty of National Accounts, my friend, I may have business here but it is only incidental to the show.”

“Here’s to you.” I say, like grace before we crawl in.

“How’s your little one?”

“Unlike you Joe I haven’t turned into Ward Cleever yet, so don’t ask me about the little one or the little missus or anything little. I got a big expense account, a big thirst, a big ego, a big hard on, as far as you know, and I’m going to have a good time over the next several days in spite of this fucking show.  I’m Jack Crawford, don’t bullshit me.”

Hose mostly just ignores me. “Well what do we have on the docket?”

“Tonight is the Hospitality gig. I hope you’re not bringing any Green Berets.”

“I don’t know but I sent invites over to a couple of customers. If I rub them off, can you break out?”

“I hope so. I have to deliver one of my customers to his date around 11:00.”

“Playing Huggy Bear again?”

“Yeah I don’t know but these assholes seem to trust me. Afterwards I’m free, so we’ll see what happens. Saturday unlikely, I’ve got those knuckleheads with the Indian concept blowing through and they’re young so I imagine I’ll be out late with them. Sunday’s customer will end at an appointed hour when I deliver him to his girl, so that’s a possibility. Tuesday I have a dinner theoretically set up with the little fuck from Monde du Sandwich, so that’s out. And there’s something else I’m supposed to do but it wasn’t properly set up yet. How about you?”

“Saturday is dead for me, too. The guys from  are in from WR Grace today as are my favorite mopes from Marriott, so that may last late and I was looking to blast out of here by Tuesday afternoon.”

“So you’re free on Monday?” He nods, “Well earlier or later. Let’s lock and load. Good.”

Hose considers it for a moment, “It kind of sucks going out on Monday.”

“Getting stupid on a Monday is a good challenge, not a lot happening, makes you creative.” I don’t think he buys this contrarian logic. “How’d things go with  my little friend yesterday?”

“I don’t know much besides she had the interview.”

“Beautiful.”

“Yeah, I started the process, feigning news of a disturbing nature. I would like to be at liberty during the show, but there’s a legal side to this. It’s somewhat complicated. And you know how I feel about complications.”

“You are a bear of very little brain.”

“And getting littler.” I raise a glass. He looks around at the people starting to wander in, in anticipation of the opening of the party.

“It was certainly easier when we use to come here to crash the hospitality suites rather than running them.” He seems nearly sad.

“Yeah.” I rummage around for something to remember. I just don’t care about the good old days kind of shit.

“The real challenge was not getting thrown out until you had a couple of drinks.”

“The best was drinking at the expense of your competitors.”

“No. You’re wrong. The best was leaving with the girls they had invited.”

He laughs. “It’s too easy now because the rooms are so big and so many people go. It was a lot more fun and challenging when they were held in those side by side suites.”

“Well, a lot of them checked for invitations

“A well dressed, well groomed white man is authorized to go anywhere.  Your theory.”

“As long as he acts like he belongs. It’s not a theory. It’s proven.  Some fun times.” I feel weird and pathetic talking like this and Hose is in danger of  going off on a nostalgic tangent; I’m not in the mood. I think this is something that happens to you after you get married. You become convinced that your real fun is over and you start looking back rather than forward. Good thing I only married my wife for her social connections. But I won’t let Hose embarrass himself. “Look I got to get inside. I’ll see you in  a little bit.”

The room is filling up quickly and I find a place at the side of the stage where it’s difficult to see me, and near the speakers where it’s difficult to hear others. Nehru suits, Edwardians, Rainbow wigs, pretty funny stuff actually. The worst part of the evening is the beginning when my people, particularly the newer ones, feel the need to bring over the customers I haven’t met before. The older customers I know and they know me and I only really talk to the most important ones. A lot of polite waves involved. I should be on a float. But these people are not here to talk business and I have no desire carry on a conversation with them that isn’t related to business, hence the proximity to the speakers. We’ll talk at the show. I can be charming then, when it’s my job.

I even have a secret. It is best to win your audience when you maintain some distance, even exude a slight disdain for them. Then you can act you are  overcoming it. If you act as if you genuinely like them, then you aren’t giving them anything, but if you seem to be concentrating on making them feel important, well that’s a real gift.

I see a nice figure in a tight dress, the I realize it’s Di job, one of my people. I mean she does have a nice body, hooters, but is too stupid to get involved with and her face isn’t that great either. I see Syph, about 20 feet away. She is in the spirit of the thing, with a mini-skirt  and boots and really makes it work. She looks at me flatly and turns away. The rest of the pickings are pretty lean early on.

Most of the music I can do without but some of it’s okay I’m not big on Motown or even really the Beatles, but I liked the Stones and the Who and Hendrix, that kind of shit from that era, but I got over it. I really don’t listen to that kind of music at all anymore and I think that people who do are just trying to re-live their youth. Special Ed, comes up with a customer, an oriental guy and a couple of girls from marketing.

“Jack this is Pak We of Kar Ton.”  SpEd is helping out Brett the international guy who is apparently his buddy.  Again, both are going away on Tuesday.

“How do you do, Mister Pak.”

“Hello, how are you?” He doesn’t hand me a card so I know he’s been drinking already.

“Welcome to our little party. Are you enjoying yourself?”

“Yes thank you.” I’m not sure he can hear me and I think we’re both comfortable with that. He’s smiling at the girls.

Ed yells at me “Jack, Brett told me you were singing in Singapore, that you can really sing.

“Truthfully, that’s  the only time I’ve ever sung at a Karaoke bar.” That Is not a lie.

“He said you were great you ought to do it again tonight.”

“Yeah.” The girls pipe in.

“No chance.” and I stare at them without a smile to let them know not to push it. But SpEd relates the second hand  story to them while I look across the room at Syph’s legs.

It was an odd occurrence. Another scene in the  movie. It was in a thing called a KTV which I guess stands for karaoke and TV but really means combination men’s club, strip club and, as I found out, a whorehouse .

A tall and handsome American executive and his flunky out  all evening with Chinese customers. The cliches; the mediocre $2000 dinner, scotch out the ass, stupid little gifts, the usual. They end up late at this karaoke bar. Together they get more and more hammered. One by one they get up to sing. The American executive holds back and he is the last to sing. He demures at first. He is neither shy or incapable. This is just not the kind of thing he does.

I have a passable voice a low baritone and I can carry tune nicely without a lot of effort. Singing lessons was one of those things that my mother tortured me with, all the way into high school.

But the girls begin to goad him and even his subordinate joins in. He feels like resisting; he is not easily cowed. But he is also a little  weary.  He’s tired of the place and tired of his companions and tired of their country and even tired of being out drinking. So he looks  through the song list. In his petulance, he seeks the least likely song to sing. He finds Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones. He’s delighted. It doesn’t belong in a karaoke bar and must have been the B side of something else.  But he knows it pretty well and likes its macabre feeling.

So I just figured well, I’ll do this and put the evening out of its misery and everyone will want to go home.

I started singing the first part pretty straight, my voice lower than I remembered it, but I think in key. The meanness of it affected me more than I thought possible and the undercurrent of violence appealed to me. My voice felt so strong and I liked the menacing aspect to it.  By the end I was feeling like il Commendatore, from Don Giovanni, interpreted by Screaming Jay Hawkins.

The room went crazy, the Chi nese went crazy, everybody cheered. All the women rush to the man, pulled toward him magnetically and somewhat fearful. Even the shy or  demure girls, I was really turned on by that and by oriental girls for the first time.

“So you won’t get up there Jack?”

“No, this is for you kids. You have some fun.” Maybe if SpEd had kissed my ass like this a little more it might have saved his job.

Hose and Whorehead, my oldest sapper, wander over  with old Organ Morgan, who we all worked for at different points in the distant past. For me it was 15 years ago, when I was new in the business. I gave Whorehead a second start in the business a little over a year ago at the pleading of Organ after Whorehead had been forced out at Useless Foods. Jury is still out as to whether that was the right move.

“Hiya boss. What d’ya know?” Whorehead says, shaking my hand, engaging in lickage and smiling  so hard his eyes are slits.  Whorehead is really Jorge. He’s a first generation wetback but he must have no Spanish blood; he looks like a prairie nigger.

“Not enough apparently. I still got to come to these things. Mr. Organ my old friend how are you?”

“If I was any better I’d be two people.”

“If you were any fatter you’d be two people. Retirement agreeing with you that much?” I hated the bastard when I worked for him and while that has faded it still does me some good to ride him just a little. He has formed this enormous medicine ball testing the tensile strength of the front of his shirt.

“Hey watch that! I’m only 55.” He decides to decide I was kidding. “ I understand that you’re now president for the whole Palladin food group.”

I don’t correct him “Yeah, well the chicken and the fish are 90% of the sales, so it’s not like it’s anything different. No new headaches, just bigger ones.”

“Still you’ve done well. You make us proud.  Have I ever told you guys I wanted to fire you?” At least eight times I’m sure. “I tell you Jorge, he comes in and he’s a smug little college shit who’s got all the answers. I couldn’t stand him. And the worst bleeding heart liberal you’d ever want to meet to  boot.  If you  could believe it.  Argued about everything. If it wasn’t for Joe here I would have canned him. But he kept on telling me that he would learn.  Eventually he moved product. but he drove me crazy first. You ain’t still a liberal?”

“If you’re not a liberal at twenty then you haven’t got a heart, if you’re not conservative by the time you’re forty than you haven’t got a brain.”

“Amen, brother.”

“Who said that?”

“Churchill.” I’m not really sure but it sounds right.

“Bill Churchill who used to sell for us?”  We have a laugh.

“Whorehead, no one would ever accuse you of having a limited perspective on things.”

Organ has a sip of his drink and looks around the room. “No, this is a good one you got going here.”

Whorehead disagrees. “Not a lot of chicks yet.”

“There’s some. They just ain’t talking to you.” Hose offers.

I ask, “You didn’t get dressed up, guys?”

“I couldn’t remember how people dressed in the sixties.”

Hose says to Organ, “I imagine it’s hard to find bell bottoms in a 52 waist.”

“I asked Tom if he was going to wear one of those really huge afro wigs like O.J. did in that one movie.” We all  laugh over that too.

“Still the NRA it ain’t like it used to be. Used to be wilder.” Organ is stooped over his drink, posture like a question mark.

“The hospitality suites used to be all over. Real suites. You’d go from one to the other.”

“Trying to sneak in was the best part.”

“Yeah that was back when Lush Street was really hopping.” I look long at Hose. I can’t believe he is indulging these guys. “We’d be there till four, with a  little luck, back to room with a girl and be back at the booth by 9:00.” I mime a launch and he goes on. “You’d get to the booth and have to chew a mint every ten minutes because you could feel the alcohol smell coming back, sneaking up your throat. And then you’d go over to the beer booth at like 10:30 and knock back like three quickies just to adjust your vertical hold.”

“I was certain that I was becoming an alcoholic  doing that.”

“And you’d be standing there try to be still when, after four days after doing this, your head was spinning so badly you were afraid you’d start to  wobble.”

I try to get them off it.  “You got to remember in those days, we had fewer resources. Our ability to have fun was much more restricted. We can do a lot more stuff that we could then.”

“Maybe you can. I need to avoid bringing home any diseases.”

“They make products for that, Joe baby. They’re called condoms. They even make them in a size small enough for you.”

Hose thinks about something for a second and says “It seems kind of stupid getting snipped and still having to wear one.”

I take the chance to annoy him, “You probably haven’t gotten laid in a while.  You got to let go man. Let’s get you a girl this trip in. It will improve the sex you have with your wife. You want to get nostalgic, let’s go get laid. I miss the chances you bring you in, little bastard spic.” I think about whether I’m offending Whorehead but he’s used to this and sufficiently glassy eyed not to let this bother him.  “You were a magnet.”

And Hose really is certainly a good looking guy, black Irish, dark eyes, black curly hair and an almost olive complexion. And these weird thick eyelashes that women love. We used to tell him he looked like a Mexican; we used to tell people his really name was Jose and that he actually was a beaner. Jose became Hosehead which became just plain Hose. That’s how these things happen.

Then Organ reminds me, “You remember how you got the name Hose? It was during an NRA.”

“A particularly impressive bout of effluvia. Drinking shots at Bitch’s, I don’t however remember exactly, lets see if I could guess. Tequila? Am I right?” So maybe I am wrong.

Hose acts like there’s something to be embarrassed about. “Well you would have been right with about ten different choices. The worst I’ve ever been. We did coke which kept me going all night. We started at like 4:00 in the afternoon at the Bud booth. I was so sick the next day and you fuckers kept bringing me food and drinks and breathing on me with your beer breath and that fucker O’Connell who wanted me fired anyway was there and I was tempted just to go over there and kick him in the balls. Just to get him to fire me. Just get it over with. Just to go back to the room I was hurting like I never hurt ever.”

All this is making Organ wistful, “Well let’s do it.  Lets go get stupid again. The Lodge is still open right?”

“Sorry guys. I don’t think I’ll be able to break free. I’m booked solid.” I look over at Hose to make sure he doesn’t say anything to these guys. That’s the last thing I need is to hold these fuckers upright for a whole evening.

“I don’t remember you ever getting that drunk, Jack.”

“Don’t kid yourself.”

“He was always concentrating on getting laid.”

“You were always a man on a mission. You were laser-like.”

“Don’t kid yourself. I’m still a missionary.”

“Yeah, yeah. yeah. They named the position after you.” Hose adds, bored, knowing the punchline.

“I need to get Hosehead laid here though.”

“I told you what I want. A menage a trois with a couple of non-hookers, a beautiful thai girl and a gorgeous norwegian. When you can arrange that…”

“Wasn’t that the name of a wrestler?”

“What?”

“Gorgeous Norwegian? Wasn’t that the name of a wrestler?”

“Huh?”

The crowd gets goofy pretty quickly. Some the marketing people get up to dance  first and a couple of them acquit themselves nicely and then they use this to dare some of my people. The sappers, who have such a clear self concept of their role and are therefore much less inhibited get up and sappers usually have sapper customers who drink pretty well and some of them get up and it gets momentum of its own. With a glance, I let a couple of the marketing people know that they’ve done well.  A lot of people are dancing and then we have some pretty drunk people up there, who make fools of themselves, and that’s even more fun.

They start to chant Jack, Jack, Jack. I just shake my head at them. Some of the people that SpEd talked to are a little disappointed after the Paint it Black story, but, another little rule I have is that if something unintentional works really well the first time, it probably won’t the second time. Nothing is magical. I’m a hard headed realist. Syph watches me for a few seconds then grabs Hose and takes him outside, presumably to get a drink in the lobby bar.  I mean I could have been a big hit, but when the a large section of the crowd works for you, that’s not much of an accomplishment.

Thomas walks up with the guy from Florida, an independent distributor, the owner of the place, an older guy. He’s a really old, ugly ass Cuban. He seems pretty dumb but, from what I understand, a godzillionaire. He owns this business that runs feeders for schools, senior homes and prisons. He apparently has political connections second to none, which he has parlayed into an empire.  Why I have to pay to get him laid, I don’t know. Thomas is clearly trying to disassociate himself from the whole thing. He never had any of these kinds of customers when he was with Coke and I think he feels it is somehow beneath him.

“Thomas, are you getting up and doing a song? Maybe like James Brown or something.” I have to yell, it’s getting too loud.

“No. You know Mr. Garza.”

“Of course. Good to see you again.”

He just smiles and shakes my hand. He seems to have grasped that there’s no point in talking. “Shall we just go? Tom, are you coming with us?”

“No. I’ll just see you both tomorrow.” I laugh a little bit so he can see it; for some reason he has this attitude like he has to be like Caesar’s wife.

 

5/19 Fri. 11:30  : deliver garza to hotel nippo-see mary

I cab  my guy over to the Hotel Nippo, assuming that he wants to talk business or exchange pleasantries or something, but he’s either a man of few words or he’s concentrating on getting it up. I get about ten words in a mile cab ride. In the bar, Mary recognizes me and says hello. Sitting behind her, almost hidden from sight, is the tiniest little oriental girl you could imagine. She can’t be more than about 4’ 10’ and just as cute and as delicately beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen. Her name is Mai and she is the ‘little gift’. We have a drink, the old guy is transformed, rambling on about things that no one can quite decipher, he’s so happy and me, wanting out of there as soon possible, Mary handles it like, well, a pro.

The timing of this is eerie. After thinking about those Asian  girls at the karaoke bar, all I was hoping and planning for was a little oral turpitude. I don’t use hookers for myself at all; as I said, too much certainty, too down market.  On those few occasions when I’ve had access to them for nothing or  so, I’ve usually just have them go down on me. But my little friend Mai is such a turn on, so little and fresh and demure.  I think of James Bond. She’s like something in a movie…

The handsome man and the young woman he’s just met are only a couple of blocks away from the hotel and walk in fresh spring air. They have a pleasant conversation, she’s in college and she’s been living in this country for six years. Whether it’s part of the act or not, she’s  deferential, answers only the questions asked, speaks only when spoken to and in a barely audible voice.

But when they return to the room, she is in control, gently and slowly removing his clothes as she kisses and massages him, acting the perfect geisha, completely attentive, stopping to freshen his drink.

She eventually takes her clothes off and he is astonished. She has no breasts really, buds really emphasized with smallish nipples and almost no hair. One would think she was  child. He  knows, as does the audience, that she is a woman but  there’s no point in altering the fantasy. She is so delicate, exquisite that she seems to be something fine and immaculate regardless of what she does for a living. She’s too tiny for hips and graceful in having no fat and little muscle.

She puts  a condom on me and it almost gets a little too weird as she climbs on top and goes into this routine where she acts as if she’s being hurt by my theoretically huge member. I know enough about anatomy, both female and male, to know that I’ll never make a speculum of myself. It’s too elaborate, and all it does is prevent me from spilling too soon. It’s still very good even if I can’t access the movie buzz anymore.

“Stay and have a drink.”  I say and I’m thinking that maybe we have another go, and then midway in  the detumescence, things reverse and the feeling comes back stronger that ever. On my side, under sheet, it’s like early James Bond, the Connery stuff, of course. She’s getting dressed slowly and  she says she has to go. It feels perfectly unreal as I try with a barely concealed greed to talk her into it.

“I promise to take as long as you like.”  Which is accurate, given my tendency. She says thanks but that she has to go, pulls her dress on and says bye and heads to the door and I’m thinking that the scene lacks only a soundtrack with Stan Getz.

So she’s gone and the cad, the jaded bastard, sits on the side of the bed. He is not going to head back to the hospitality thing but he is not going to sit around. He is  a man of action. The leading man gets dressed back in his suit . He knows a jazz place around the corner from the hotel. The name is Angry’s, so he gets a cigar and head over there. He walks in the door and it’s a great place. It is a cool movie. A five  piece  combo, drum, bass, piano  sax and a trumpet, a nice configuration. They play things something by Bill Evans, Caravan, then something knows but can’t remember, something from the late 50’s. There is no stool at the bar but there is a space and he leans in. There are also no women worth talking to. He orders a double scotch. He used to be serious about jazz. It was so important once. Now he doesn’t have to approach it critically. He just lets it work on him. It bothers him for a moment that he can’t name  the song.

              Jazz, or just the right jazz, can be a very powerful support movie ambience.  Dixieland won’t do it, nor will the excess of Monk. The image, the conceit, the artificial world is hard to get to and even harder to maintain; tonight the signal is stable, perfect. Without visible effort, the room disconnects from the present. His head is swimming and it’s not from drink. The room is a meditation on a time and a place and a mood and while the room is not thick with smoke, thin blue cirrus clouds of fine tobaccos sway through air. The cigar even tastes good. And then he know what the tune is. Or almost. Maybe something from Paul Desmond, he thinks. Yep, it’s  Everybody’s Jumpin’.  Of course he gets it right. But he’s not really listening. He’s just hearing. It’s all context.

               The  people around him, their dress, their movements even the character of their faces are from a Village jazz club, circa 1956. It’s the Stan Getz crowd, right down to the goatees. The visuals are so tenacious that it goes beyond merely a sensation; It’s frictionless. He’s conforming to the ambience and he feels giddy almost delirious. He looks a lot like Roger Thornhill again, but slumming a little. Sensations come as a variety of satisfactions.  He is what he is enjoying.  The songs aren’t long or short. They don’t start or stop. The distinctions are unimportant. The setting is  strung to the instruments. It’s all impulsive, synaptic, capricious.

What I need is a pair of glasses that make everything black and white. It would be brilliant. It must be doable and it would help capture this so much more easily. And I bet there’s more like me out there, I could make a million. Whole cohorts of movie buffs, kids living out their Bout de Souffle fantasies.

A set ends. The world is at the character’s behest. A warm feeling of puissance and security washes over him again and again. He stays for another hour, digging the music, flirting playfully with a blonde woman, who is there with her young, intimidated boyfriend. He enjoys a slow and perfect nightcap. It’s La Dolce Vita.  Wait’ll he finds that Sinatra. Oceans 11 or not, he’s going kick his ass.


Saturday

 

At first, I can’t tell if I’m awake.

Then I can’t tell if I’m either groggy or really relaxed and refreshed. I feel fluid. But I feel good, high, and I realize the narcotic is the movie sensation. It’s already with me. I can’t remember waking up with the feeling. I haven’t even opened my eyes yet.

The suite is a semiotic message for affluence. The room is beautiful and bright and smells good. The audience of his potency, fortune, irrefutable class and such. It’s a good file making. The music of the night  before was loud and the buzzing in his scarred ear brings pleasant memories. The melodies come back;  for some reason the soundtrack is summertime by Lionel Hampton, it will supply motifs. Even the private joke of the girl last night has a vaguely romantic tinge to it, which has it’s own irony because she was a pro. But it’s just weird enough that he smiles. So he’s glad I did it! He has to get up now, but he doesn’t mind doing so. Everything he does today will either be pleasure, amusement or assertion.            

There is small leather portfolio on the night stand.. He opens it up and turns habitually to the day. He glances back and forth, first at screen and then at the book in his hand. He then  lifts his head in contemplation and smiles sardonically and, after a moment of hesitation, throws it in the waste basket. It has the word ‘Day-timer’ imprinted on the cover and a  small silver name plate on the bottom that says ‘Jack Crawford’

I warm up the laptop. I can’t believe it as the days activities pop up. This is a work of art. I have almost nothing on my agenda. The fact is all my people are here and aren’t transmitting anything to me has something to do with it. But so much of that is static anyway. This agenda is what I have been working towards for three years.  I have everything completely under control.

5-20 Sat. reminder: check on car rental

8:10  : leave for show

8:15 call: call aubrey at monde du sandwich in re dinner on tuesday

8:30 to-do: pep talk for troops before show- double 2nd quarter bonus

9:00  : show

9:30 call: call wife

7:30  : dinner at cud, chunky

Two calls, three to-do. I am approaching satori. I email the daily list  to the front desk with a request to print it for me.

The main character orders a little room service, showers, gets dressed. The food arrives as he tucks his shirt in his pants, a compact use of a single long shot. It is the same cute little hispanic representative of the service industry as the day before. He signs for it as he gives her a charming smile. She’s obviously too intimidated to respond. There’s a flashing light on his phone. It is a message from his sister asking if he can meet her for breakfast tomorrow. He calls back and leaves her a message. “Hey it’s jack. Why don’t I meet you in the lobby at say, 7:30. I know you are an early riser. If I don’t hear from you I assume it is a yes. Or we can just trade phone messages. If we work at it, we can avoid actually ever talking to one another at all.”

It all feels very graceful and controlled. The handsome man opens a lovely breakfast presentation. He flips through yesterday’s USA Today  checking for anything in the pertinent while he has a croissant. Everything feels easy and elegant. One can almost hear a projector whirring.

After he finishes, he picks up his briefcase and then places it on the desk. He grabs his keycard and  heads out. He looks at himself in  mirror across from the elevator. He stands straighter, reducing his tendency to lean forward. He wants to look less anxious. He goes down and checks with the concierge to make sure a car will be ready tomorrow. He’s on the phone but acknowledges my presence with an apologetic wince. This is the way things should be: respect, tractability, obsequiousness.  Instead he goes over and gets the printed copy of days list from the front deck. He folds it twice and puts it into his inner jacket pocket.

 He looks over his shoulder at the lobby, at nothing in particular, and then feels an urge to turn back and look again. He takes notice of a little nervous man sitting on one of the couches, probably homeless judging by his shabby jacket, watching him but trying to look like he’s not. He knows he’s looking at him because he catches him a couple times. He decides to actually look at him, being unafraid, thinking maybe it is someone he knows. But the man he doesn’t look like someone he’d know, or admit to knowing.

Even without my glasses, I am sure I don’t know him . Who knows? But he snaps me out of the scene I was in. He’s all stiff and self-conscious, trying to act nonchalant but coming off like some kind of street character. He’s retarded or loony, I guess.

The concierge hangs up and, after I tell him who I am and what I want, he tells me what I want to hear.

I walk to the front door and the dickhead gets up. When I step outside, the cab pulls up, he stands inside near the edge of the door, where I theoretically can’t see him, and watches as we pull away.

5-20 Sat.  . 8:30 get to show-pep talk

 

I walk in and they’re all very busy. They must have seen me coming. No Syph. They’re preparing the food and the booth looks great. Actually what we call a booth is a display in a 80-foot by 40-foot square open on all sides to some of the most valuable frontage in the show. Not in the penthouse suites with the beer and soda companies but the next section over. It costs us almost a $100,000 for rental and set up, but it does come equipped with meeting rooms, telephones and sinks.

“Anybody sell anything yet?”

“Show doesn’t open till 9, Jack.”

“Worst excuse in the world.”

“All right. Zone Directors managers finish doing the prep on the food. I want to say a few words to the sales people.”

Bilge pipes up, to the other zone directors, but loud enough for me to hear, “Uh oh, he’s going direct. He’s cutting us out, guys.”  And laughs. But how right he is. I’m going to tell the zone directors I’m increasing bonuses for the districts. What I won’t tell them is the funding for such is going to come from their eliminated salaries.

“No, Bilge, just you.” I really am going to enjoy dumping this little vole. “Come on. Gather round. Right about now, just before these shows open, some asshole stands up to give you a pep talk and tells you to have some fun. Well, I don’t want you to have any fun. And if any of you think this is fun, standing in the booth, on your feet for eight to ten hours five days in a row, hoping customers will come by, hoping you can sell somebody something, even though they are distracted and hungover, hoping nobody quits on you while you are here, long dinners with assholes you pretend to like… well if that’s your idea of fun then you are retarded.” Some of them laugh. “It isn’t fun. It’s work. It’s your job. I didn’t hire you people because you are so fucking diverting or thoughtful, but because you can sell something. In fact, while I can’t remember specifics, all of you must have sold something at some point or I would have gotten rid of you. This is simple. Save the heavy duty screwing around for Monday, or better Tuesday. Don’t spend a lot of time bullshitting with your brokers. Don’t just have conversations; get commitments.” This feels like a performance which is, of course, what it is. “You know what you have to do. Do it and you’ll have bonus, job security, an improved career path, the esteem of your friends, family and colleagues, self actualization, whatever else it is you seek.. Now, in order to help you through this show I am doubling the quarterly bonuses for the next quarter which starts July 1. Anything you can generate during the show should be reflected during that period. So whatever you’d make just times it by two.” This gets some people smiling. “And one more thing, no matter how hungover you are, I don’t want anybody throwing up on the samples. We’re not charging anything for the samples but we still have to follow the Board of Health rules. That’s all.”

You’d be amazed how much sales people enjoy being not bullshitted.

They already pretend to  act like they like me more than the zone directors, so as long as they can maintain that particular fiction, this is going to be easy. And it makes me feel like Cary Grant again, but not in North by Northwest but in some other movie I can’t think of the name, where he works on a newspaper and gets everything he wants through a combination of bullshit and bluster. And I get the signal.

The camera pans back to encompass  the entire scene.  Looking transcendent and perfectly in control.

Some announcement comes on and says that the show is open. There isn’t a lot of traffic for the  first hour or so is kind of funny. Lots of people standing around in anticipation. A very beautiful woman, petite and dark arrives and sets he purse and briefcase inside the booth. She looks at our protagonist Jack but is careful not to catch his eye. He looks over at her a couple of time but he knows she is looking at him.  She takes a position at the other end of the display form Jack. We know the woman is filled with conflict. Is it anger at the hero? Sadness from a failing affair? Is it betrayal, guilt for  interviewing with a competitor?

My people look good. They’re not quite as conservative as I might want  but they’re all right. All suits, of course, and none of this four button bullshit. No polo shirts.  I hate this trend towards polo shirts at the shows, almost as much as I hate the trend to casual days in the office. I mean dressing right is just respect for your customer. Problem is, people dress like the people they want to be. A few years ago, some asshole vice presidents looked around and saw the guys they wanted to be, the guys who were making the big money, were the entrepreneurs, the start up guys, who had it pegged and walked around in resort clothes. They were doing it to rub the corporate guys noses in it, but imitation is the most pathetic form of resentment. So we end up with salesmen who look like the assistant golf pro and the clerical staff is dressed for the waiting room at the bus station. Why should we pretend we’re not corporate? Who are we trying to fool?

Up the aisle comes a blonde with some floopy bobs. She is tall, thin, her suit is cut well. I smile. She smiles back. Then she comes a few steps closer. The punch line.  Hook nose, beady eyes, Da-daist makeup. I spin on my heel. I need to get contacts.

I wander over to a group of the younger guys who are milling about waiting for some action. I listen in.

“Bob is at 180% bonus.”

“No shit! How’d you do it?”

“He got lucky.” Says one of his peers.

I interject. “Luck is a temporary thing, my friends; next year, it’s in the budget. So where did you weasels and weaselettes go last night?” I ask this as if I’m merely amused by their activities, but I actually pay attention. I don’t trust the ones who can’t drink, never go out. I mean, what do they do if their customers want to go out? I’m most impressed by the guys who go out with the big hitters and live tell about it. It’s important to stay with the boys and keep our head about ourself.

Blob, one of the major gin mill pigs, speaks up, “I took them over to Lush Street and basically, it’s about done. Not much left. Restaurants, few clubs. We drank at the Lodge but it was just food people and other tourist types. Tried a few more places that were all kids. Around one we went to this punker bar called the Exit. Then it got fun. It was pretty wild, lots of people who were tattooed all over and nose rings lip rings, people with pierced eyebones for Christ sakes and we started having a few shots of god knows what, some sort of house specialty that I think included Nyquil. Lots of broads who thought we were pretty funny. And as long as we kept buying them drinks they hung around. Vandy picked one up and we haven’t seen him yet today.”

“Probably still tied to his bed.”

“More like too glooped to glop.”

“Scuz thought he had a really cool looking blond, but it turns out she was an albino.”

“She was not.”

“Well then she was wearing pink contact lenses,” kicks in Trench,, a newer guy. It turns out he’s somehow related to the CEO. I think I’ll try to spend a little time with him this week to find out how close the connection is and what he can do for me.

“Then we went out to breakfast and tried to dine and dash at this place and Spank was so fucked up that he went out the wrong door, the fire door and they caught him.”

“I wasn’t that drunk. I was just tired.” Spank doesn’t look so good.

“Tired of drinking.”

“Alcohol fatigue.” The sharks smell blood.

“Tired of wobbling.”

“And stumbling back and forth to the john.”

“Tired of having girls turn him down because he can’t coherently ask them to dance.” Everyone but Spank is having a good laugh.

He fights back, targeting Skeve, a sapper. “Yeah, tired from hitting my numbers, but you wouldn’t know about that.”

Skeve won’t take this “Real tough making your growth number when you have a base that’s about zero.”

“Well you’ll be there pretty soon the rate you’re going.”  I’m impressed by Spank’s tenacity if not his social skills. I wander away.

They all take their turns slopping the pigs, but right now it’s the younger people. I want the senior people working tomorrow when Cloy and le fromage grande is here. Why we would want our best people spending their time sluicing chum to the circling, fleshy high school cafeteria workers is beyond me, but these guys think it is great. Consequently so do I.

The crowds keep coming. We feed them bbq chicken with the same brix as molasses. Small biscuits and chicken fines in a gravy schmutz, fish nuggets which by weight are composed bread, frying oil, tvp and fish. I arrange so the marketing people who are less attractive than the models, build the sandwiches and put them on a tray so that the attractive girls, the booth help, can hand them to the clients. This is not how the marketing people envisioned it. They thought they were going to interacting with the customers and telling them about the values of  the product. Fuck that. A  hot girl will make so much more of an impression to a dumbass consumer.

The key chains and erasers keep going. The hogs keep grasping at them and taking more than one.

“No no no, put it back one per customer”

“Oh can I please have one for my friend?”

“No.”

Something happens with free shit. People get crazy. A pen that they wouldn’t bend over for if it was laying on the floor at home, they will scale over their grandmother like she was Kilimanjaro if it is free at a show. Which makes it just appropriate for fucking with people. One of the things I like to do is put it on a table just out of reach and make them ask. Some have this childish look, they don’t know whether or even how to ask. I think these people have some sort of pride or some kind of self-regard. But there are others who apparently think that gathering shit is a competitive sport.  Sometimes I just say no. Sometime I ask for $2 and sometimes they start fishing around.

At 10:00, I call the wife from the booth phone. Of course she’s not in.  She’s at her tennis lesson. Though the message I leave feigns ignorance, I know her schedule exactly. This way I don’t have to talk to her. She has nothing to say.

A feature of our tribe culture is jokes. I use jokes a lot and they follow my cue. Jokes are entertaining but for sales that’s only the beginning. Laughter is basically human glue. Tell a good joke and you build a bond.  Furthermore, jokes can be used to build identity, separating me and you from ‘them’ And this is the bigger payoff. If I can find a group that we can both oppose, I can point out their faults, their failures and our superiority.  Then we are in the same tribe. The key to a sales call and a sales relationship is identity. If the buyer identifies me as a guy on his side, his brother, the rest is just details

Of course there are potential problems with jokes. Sometimes it is hard to find the right ‘them.’ Telling jokes well isn’t easy. There are techniques such as personalizing them,  adding local details, learning voices and accents, etc. But you can practice and remember jokes. Humor is harder. Some people aren’t funny. I can do humor most of my idiot people can’t.

The chatter starts again, then stops and I look over. One of the blondes from the beer companies is walking by. She’s a lovely thing, all hair and eyes and tits and the boys are favorably impressed. She’s almost past before one of the guys, Tony is able to croak out, “Hello and add weakly “darling”. This is done to establish that he at least had the balls to talk to her rather than any serious attempt at picking her up. She merely smiles at him.

“She’s awesome.” One of the younger kids whispers reverentially. The group regroups.

“Been there.”

“Old news.”

“In and out.”

“My buddy says he knows some of those girls and he’s going to ask them to come out and have a drink with us.”

“They can’t during the show. They are reserved for entertaining clients.”

“Are you saying that they’re hookers?”

“I’ve heard that.”

“Bullshit.”

“They are not.”

“That’s what I hear.”

“I thought most of them were models.”

“They ain’t models. They’re not tall enough and they ain’t skinny enough. You ever see models up close? They’re weird looking. Really skinny and tall.”

“With big tits.”

“Those are high fashion models. There’s other kinds of models.”

“Yeah like the ones at lingerie shows.”

“Those girls are two weeks from dancing with a pole.”

“You mean like Rostenkowski?”

“I heard Jack’s wife was a model.”

“Is she weird looking Jack?” Steve laughs.

Some of the newer people are tense about including me as a target. I let their nervousness work for me, looking off in the distance, expressionless, waiting two, three, four, and responding thoughtfully, “It depends what position I put her in.” This gets the laugh I thought it would and only partially because I’m the boss.

“How come we never see her, Jack?”

“Yeah, you never bring her around.”

“He brings her to the parties with the big hitters. I saw the pictures from the executive party. She’s beautiful.”

They really do want to know and actually I’m not sure. I think it’s maybe because when these guys are around I want to have some fun.

“Sorry. It’s just that she takes hours to sober up and you guys would undo all my work in about ten minutes.”  They like it.

This all feels very good, talking to my people who both like and fear me. Their focusing on me makes  me feel very comfortable, I deserve to be the center of attention.

I want to change the subject and I know that the best way to do so is to make fun of someone. I notice that Tony, a guinea that always wore a greased back pompadour thing has all of a sudden gone with a modified crewcut which looks just as stupid and extreme. “So Tony, glad to see you got a haircut. However next time might you get a surgeon to take  a little off the top,  I mean some cranium, boy. You got one enormous sphere there.”

I don’t think this is all that funny, but I guess they have apparently have already been riding him about his head and think this is great. They are laughing so hard they are stumbling into the aisles. One of the problem with being surrounded sycophants is that they laugh at everything, which I am concerned will take the edge of my finely hone sense of humor.

“Hey don’t kill any paying customers.”

Part of the international contingent is looking at our products. One of the sappers says. “Hey, Lee go and see what those Japs are saying about the chicken display.”

“ I wouldn’t know. I’m Chinese.”

“It’s the same fucking thing. Hey, you know how they name Chinese kids. After the kid is born, they turn over the silverware tray, bing bong ding…”

“Yeah, but chinks use chopsticks.”

“Aw shut up.”

Di job, a weasel, puts in, “I heard a funny joke.”

“We’ll be the judge of that.”

“So there’s this Oriental guy and this Jewish guy sitting at a bar and they’ve been drinking for a while and the Jewish guy turns around and smacks the Oriental guy as hard as he can…”

“How hard can he hit him if he’s a Jew?”

“…and the oriental guy ends up off the floor and he says, ‘What did you do that for?’ The Jew says, ‘That’s  for Pearl Harbor’ ‘Pearl Harbor? I’m Chinese!’ And the Jewish guy says, ‘Chinese, Japanese it’s the same thing’  and so they go back to drinking and A little while later the Chinese guy hits the Jewish  guy as hard as he can and the Jewish guy says ‘What did you do that for?’ ‘For the Titanic’ He says ‘For the Titanic? The Titanic was sunk by an Iceberg’ ‘Iceberg, Goldberg, It’s the same thing?”

This doesn’t get any huge laughs. Like most women she doesn’t really know how to tell a joke, but the real reason it isn’t that funny is that it isn’t mean enough.

“Hey Jack, just because you got married and produced an offspring doesn’t mean we don’t think you’re queer. We older guys are still on to you.” That was directed at me by Gnarl, who’s been with me for a long time. Some of the newer people again look at me to see how I react. Actually I think there was an undercurrent of suspicion at one point because I had no steady relationships and therefore. I only married my wife so people wouldn’t think I was gay.

“Well if that’s the case Gnarl you won’t mind me taking your daughter to Vegas some time.” They laugh gratuitously. “Now has anybody seen Lendme.”

A consensus shrug arises from the troops. Lendme Johnson is my football guy, a former member of the Bears I was ready to fire until the kancer kids came in. They love him too, as he played for North Carolina or State or Tech or whatever. I even tried to get rid of him by explaining the part of his compensation that required me to pimp for him. I thought it would shock them but this seemed to think it was to be expected. I don’t know whether it was because he was an ex-athlete or a smoke or a combination of the two. So I‘m still stuck with a guy who does get people to stop by the booth but doesn’t really know after five years what it is exactly that we sell.

But you know, at this juncture, he seems strangely apropos, like a logical part of our film too. It’s like he’s some kind of stooge to annoy me so that I have a chance to display some human emotions of frustration and anger. I’m beginning to wonder if this movie feeling is going to become uncontrollable.

One of the junior people  is asking Blob about the hero. He walks away in embarrassment or feigning indifference. But he doesn’t go so far away that he can’t hear some of it. He looks out at the show, it’s like a voice over.

“Crawford? I don’t know – I think he’s a wasp….. some old money… a brother who’s a lawyer, sister who is a professor… from here but he went to private schools… University of Chicago….MBA, parents are dead, rich wife…. Stock in the company.” Jack is very satisfied with this account.

It’s a beautiful day inside the show. It’s even sunny outside and with the bright lights of the show and the enthusiasm of the sales people and the fact their hustle is making me incrementally richer and more successful every minute, it’s hard not to feel a sticky cheerfulness cleaving to me. Customers come in and leave. Others herd and ruminate in the aisles. I keep an eye out for brokers and media people and with a gesture have them removed. There’s one big murmur rising  to the metal rafters.   I really don’t mind this show.

The show has a cadence to it once it gets rolling. The staff steers people in and out. The chatter subsides. The sales people are attentive, between anxious and paranoid, looking at faces and reading badges. Not everybody is a customer. Most aren’t. There are three types of people. The big ones you know, the big ones you don’t know and the rest of the stiffs. As a salesman you have to take care of your existing customers but always looking for new accounts. You don’t want to get tied up with a stiff, somebody who can’t or won’t buy, when somebody important comes by.

It’s how well you manage that dynamic which will determine how the show goes. You don’t want to be talking to the fucker who does the buying for some nursing home while one of your colleagues is working on the R&D guy from a restaurant chain in your backyard.  Above and beyond merely missing them, you don’t want somebody else taking your accounts. If you know the guy, you can just step in when the other conversation is finished. But while sales responsibility is geographically based, account poaching does occasionally occur. The rep in the territory can call bullshit at any time before the sale, provided he finds out about a poaching. But occasionally someone brings one in and makes bonus on a sale in someone else’s area. The poachee catches a lot of shit.   I actually considered outlawing this, but actually I think it helps keep them edgier and hungrier.  It’s about my favorite part of the actual show.

Basically the banter goes on with an ever shifting cast.

“Nice beast you were dancing with last night at the hospitality party.”

“Yeah that was Crisco. Fat in the can”

“She was a customer.”

“Doesn’t make it right.”

“If I had a dime for every time I heard that excuse…”

Of course we have our own serving girls. Two girls, one who has worked our booth for several years, a tall blond with very nice legs, whose name escapes me.  I did her  once several NRAs ago, but her face doesn’t do anything for me. And a new girl, a very young and innocent looking thing, with darkish blond hair. She seems quite shy and wary of me. Someone has probably told her I’m in charge.

I introduce myself “Hi. I’m Jack Crawford.”

“Hi.” She seems apprehensive.

“And your name is?”

“Charon.” She has strikingly  blue eyes and delicate features.

“Charon.” I pronounce because it doesn’t seem likely. She doesn’t correct me, so I guess I’ve got it right. “I like it. It sticks.” No response. “That’s a pun. On the river Styx.”

“Oh.” She has this gaze that seems to dissolve about six inches from her face.

“Well if you need anything Charon, you just let me know and I’ll make somebody get it for you.” That was kind of a joke, too but I don’t bother to point it out.

“Oh. Thanks.” The innocent and stupid thing is kind of a turn on, but this may be too much work. I check on the troops and walk into the middle of a conversation..

“Did you know that Mexicans have over 50 word in their vocabulary just for beans?”

Whorehead says languidly to his tormentor, “Fuck you.”

“Do they?”

“No, I just made that up.”

“Hey that’s a lot like a joke except jokes are funny.” Whorehead recovers.

“Hey look! It’s Vandy. Lookin’ a little green there pal. Lay down on the floor and we’ll play a little eight ball on you.”

“Boy, you been put away wet.”

Vanderkellen is wandering in around 10:15. Worse he’s got a big bandage on his cheek. He also looks like he’s been drinking embalming fluid. He’s stocky with dirty blond hair that always looks a little messy. However, today he looks like he slept on his head and he is fitted into his suit like a swollen tick. He’s certainly the biggest fuck up I employ, but his customers love him and I just think he’s hilarious.  “Hi boss.” He says to me only.

“You’re not early, Vandy.”

“Oh, I told Bilge. I had a breakfast meeting this morning.”

“How’d it go?”

“Um, Not so good.” He’s anxious.

“Um, why not? Who was it?”

“The wholesaler in Hunts Point.”

“I thought they loved you.”

He pulls me to the edge of the booth. He actually looks a little nervous, which is not like him.  “They don’t anymore.” He mumbles to himself, “Fucking electric razor.” Before he continues with me. “ I don’t want to make excuses. I was out last night, we went to this punk bar called the Exit. And I got a little fucked up. I met this girl, a leather, biker, punky thing, you know I’m not sure what to call them anymore and you know I get her back to the hotel. Now we’re fooling around and I’ve got a hard on but I’m too fucked up. I can’t come. I mean she wasn’t really that bad looking.  But she’s under me doing all the work and she likes to be held tight and I got a hold on her with my head next to hers, my nose jammed up against her ear so hard these swastika earring are jamming into my cheek, really hurting me but she was holding on so tight and I’m so lubed that I can’t break free and she’s having orgasm after orgasm and finally I just give up and fall asleep.”

I should be concerned about where this is going. But the way he looks and the way he is telling the story is cinematic.

“Apparently she just fucks or actually masturbates herself with my dick to sleep, just passes out herself and I wake up still in the same position about three and a half hours later and I’ve got to go, I have this meeting with my customer at another hotel. I get her out of there, shower at the fastest possible rate, towel and comb my hair as I get dressed; and these guys are orthodox so smell isn’t a real issue and throw my suit on and go, taking the electric razor with me. I shave in the cab, mostly by feel and I get to the hotel just in time and I hop out and run in. Now I had told you these guys and I were getting along great at the last food show and he was all excited about the progress we were making and he needed me to talk to his boss and we were going to get like six more slots for center of the plate. We sit down and I’m thinking we can close the deal but my guy has this strange look of horror on his face and his boss is just kind of an asshole. I think at first he’s just bargaining but then after three minutes of fucking around, the boss stands up abruptly and says he has no interest in doing business with me. I can’t understand what happened. I find a washroom to take a piss and when I’m done I look in the mirror and there in my right cheek bone is this impression of the swastika from her earring.” He unpeels the bandage and there is the lovely indentation that looks like the swastika was acid-etched right into his skin.

I don’t know whether to laugh or get angry. “ I haven’t told Bilge yet. He’s going to be pissed.”

“First off, don’t worry about Bilge, worry about me. Then I want you to know that I’d fire just about anybody else for fucking this up.  I want to hear what you are going to do to deal with this.”

“I can’t tell the truth. They’re orthodox and they know I’m married. And the truth, as goofy as it is, is more believable then any lie I can think up.”

“Well, we could annex the Sudetenland.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Look they’ve got competitors. You go in there and make an abject apology, say it was a prank by some friends, offer to make a contribution in their name, with your money, to the JDL or whoever is important these days. But at the same time, start working on plan B. Contact other people in the market. You know your end users right?”
“Yeah the big ones.”

“Figure out a strategy. You got the weekend. Talk to me tomorrow about what you want to do. And put your bandage back on.” I love this guy. A guy this fucking loose needs a bigger part in my life.

Late in the day, I’m feeling not so fresh and I’m trying to get out of there when I remember that Glom was trying to set something up with Little Seizures, a big hunk of business which I don’t think we’ll get but is huge. He had told me he has an in there.

“Glom. Any word on Seizures?”

He looks sheepish. “My guy said he was going to set up dinner with the VP of Purchasing, but I haven’t heard from him.”

I give it a second and then my flattest, “ Uh huh”

He scrambles. “No, they were in budget meetings all week. They have a July fiscal.”

“Uh huh.”

“No he promised this would happen. He’s just been in the meetings and I can’t get a hold of him.”

“Uh huh.”  Some of the people over hear this and laugh. I walk away and go talk to a customer.

A moment later, Syph is talking to someone, a woman; I can’t see who, though the distended parabola that is her ass defines the silhouette. But the bitch of it is, I kind of recognize the kelly green, tight, 50’s chanel look. It can’t be, but as I walk to the phone and thereby approach them, I realize it is Maggot Fusilli from Mickey Disease. She looks my way and I smile at her while I pretend I’m on the phone. Her rear was always substantial but now, my goodness. She always had a hard look to her, too much make up, the wrong colors, overdone hair, tight clothes.

We put together a test program for chicken chunks. She was a bitch to work with, nothing was ever cheap enough, one of those grinders who makes sure that even if you get the business you don’t make any money on it. And she liked me. I don’t even know how the rest of them deal with her. Yeah I fucked her. I think it was in Des Moines. I had had a little to drink but not enough. Her ass was smaller then but not small enough. It was funny we were humping a good long while and  I couldn’t get right. But then I thought about how this was a vice president of Mickey Disease and I ‘m fucking them, the whole company, fucking all the bitches who wouldn’t take my call, fucking the people who dominate the industry, fucking the vice president right down to the little girls who work the counter, fucking… and boom, just like that.

We never did get the business.

I decide to leave the booth for a while and shamble through the show. The detail fades almost immediately. I’ve been to these events so many times that if I was blind I wouldn’t be able to feel  these exhibits. But that’s okay because I know they see me.

There’s a man who stands out from the swirl of the crowd. He’s tall, the perfect height really, with a perfect suit – perfectly apportioned, perfectly expensive. Perfect shirt, perfect tie. Everything perfect. As the shot lengthens, we notice that he does not exude the directionality or purpose of the other attendees because he is above it all. It is obvious the show is about him – the success, the producer, the enabler – one of the few that make the industry happen. He pays little notice of the displays but he is attentive. He scans faces, deliberately. He nods to a man talking to someone else who smiles back for approval. He looks, really just a glance at a young woman walking by but that is sport. He notices another man at  a table that he seems to recognize, so he looks up for a booth address, seeming to make note to come back. It is obvious that he trades in leveraged relationships. The rest is backdrop. He moves calmly across the show floor like a well fed shark.

 

5/20 Sat. 7:00  : dinner at Club Chunky

              After digging on the mise en scene for a while,  I check the booth once more from a distance and then head to the hotel to ditch my briefcase, freshen up and change my shirt. I think these are young California guys I’m having dinner with, but fuck them. It’s still business and I’m wearing a suit.  It’s another weird address, way west on a street I never heard of, that I give to the towel head in the cab. There’s a certain comfort to how poorly I know my old hometown

              The place is nice, like a prosperous Wisconsin supper club circa 1940. Plugs into my retro production values. Very clean line and decoration, muted colors, indirectly lit. It’s too bad I have to meet these guys; there are girls here with real skills. Somewhat artsy, but reasonable. And for a hip place, not all kids. Although the little faggots with the ponytails are pretty thoroughly entrenched, I think this is a crowd that would respect a jaded, world experienced, almost unlimited expense account kind of guy. It gives a good mise en scene; not the Oak Room in the Plaza but the feel is okay.

I get there first, or so I’m informed by the Maitre d’. I sit at the bar. The guy is making some awesome looking Martinis, large and icy and he puts so much gusto into the preparation that I’m tempted to take the plunge.  Even if I worked myself up to it, this is not the time. I don’t know what a martini that size would do to me. It might take the edge off, but then again it might make me positively obtuse. I stay with the old reliable.

Glenfiddich on the rocks, says the man in the suit to the bartender. He looks to his left and then to his right, where he catches the eye of an attractive redhead. He smiles and she smiles back. He sips his drink, contemplating his next move.

Mike, one of my national account guys, comes in with the two pigeons.

“Hi Jack. Jack Crawford I’d like to introduce you to Sanjay and Chef Mrmrmrm.” He tails off so badly I can’t understand what he says.

“Hello Sanjay.” And I shake his hand. “Hi. Chef…” I’m looking for him to fill in the blank but he just says hello in a remote way.

We’re seated. I jump right in.

“Thanks for coming to dinner with us. To be honest with you when Mike told me that someone wanted to open a chain of Indian restaurants with a mostly vegetarian cuisine, I thought it would never work. But when he said they wanted to buy our chicken I thought it was a great idea.” Mike seems a little tense, like maybe I took the joke too far. The Indian guy smiles slightly, the chef just looks at me.

We get seated. I don’t know if I am supposed to close my bar tab but fuck that, let them find me.

I’m not sure whoever that let all these dot head doctors immigrate in should have thought about what the second generation was going to be like. He looks and talks like a char-broiled Wally Cleaver,  a spoiled little fucking rich kid from USC. He has no idea the he moves through this world basically at the largesse of people like me and that one of these days we might change his mind. Actually I like him better than the other asshole, the chef, who like most chefs, is so arrogant as to not even bother trying to assert his superiority; even when he’s talking to you he’s fighting off the important distractions in his world. I know he is flavor of the month because I saw some article on him in the trades. You know, the latest guy to invent eating.

And he’s gay. Well I don’t know that for sure, but he’s wearing an AIDS pin and he’s precise and fastidious and Mike tells me they donate money to AIDS research. Don’t know why I am supposed to care about a bunch of guys who got a disease from sticking it in each other’s asses.  Not that I haven’t stuck it up the sundry girl’s ass.  But it’s usually a drunken accident.

Sanjay speaks “We’ve had a few people tease us about trying to bring Indian Cuisine to the heartland, but you know 20 years ago, no one ever heard of Thai food. Now there’s a Thai restaurant in every small to medium size town in America. Dozens in cities. Now imagine if one company had come in and done Thai food the right way, with consistency, quality control and cleanliness. It would even be bigger than it is today. Indian Cuisine is an even better bet. It is much broader, has many more analogues of western dishes, has a larger natural ethnic base and has more things for quick carry out. This, plus the growth of vegetarian eating especially among young people means Bombay Bob’s is a guaranteed success.”

“So we are going to put chicken on the menu but it has to be done the right way. We want a processor who can not only raise a free range chicken, but it has to be fed the right diet, handled cleanly and humanely when they are alive, but also we want the animal to be killed in a reasonably painless and humane fashion.”

“Hell, we don’t even treat our employees that well.” I interject. Sanjay chuckles. The chef is reading the menu. “Well I understand what you’re getting at and I think the overall marketplace is heading in that direction. We have talked about establishing a pilot program for this approach. However, not only are the costs vastly different, the volumes you are talking about are not such that would normally constitute a change in our processes.”

“We understand that. We aren’t as concerned about having the product delivered at a low cost right away as much as developing the processes that will allow for the right conditions and lower costs later on. Let’s order.”

I’m don’t have to eat something  nothing fancy or complicated. Usually I get a steak but I can eat other stuff if I’m professionally obligated. However tonight, I don’t know why, we’re about to order and I decide I want the veal. I want the veal badly. As you might guess, I don’t have any moral qualms about killing a baby cow; I’d go out and torture the little fucker first, if it makes it taste better. But I don’t think that the vegan is going to go for it. Bad form if I do. And the  Hindu, old soul, cow thing is going to pre-empt me as well. I am so tired of the fucking sacrifices I have to make for my company. So the waiter comes and I try to stall. My guy gets penne something. Cookie orders some pasta deal as long as there’s no cheeses added to the marinara sauce. Sanjay is not ready so I get some kind of eggplant fucking gig.

I’m distracted first by a slinky redheaded but then by this chef dufus. I know enough about food not to get bullshitted. I mean I like food, it’s my second favorite kind of meal. I know the difference between tofu and fugu not to mention couscous and a burnoose, but I don’t think that marinara generally has cheese, so what the fuck is he talking about? I get pasta, While I’m thinking about this, Sanjay orders.  I stare bitterly at his veal throughout dinner.

By the end of the meal, I’ve given them some good stroking and made them laugh a few times. Customers generally find my jokes hilarious although I couldn’t go with a lot of jokes because of sensitivities.  Gay guy, dark guy.  Didn’t even feel comfortable with blonde jokes, cause gay.  Eventually I got to some observations about the homeless in SF and they appreciated those.  This story.

“Last time I was in San Francisco a street person asked  me to spare some change?” When I told him no he said.  “Well I hope you sleep soundly knowing I’m out on the street.” I said “Hey, well thanks a lot. That’s  very nice of you.”

Chef laughs. “Yeah they are over-running San Francisco these days. You want to feel sorry for them but there’s just so many of them and they’re relentless. Everybody hates them.”

“When I started dating my wife I was homeless.” I pause and they stop silent. “Well not exactly. She just told me I was a bum fuck.”

Sanjay agrees, “They are deadbeats and all the shelters and soup kitchens just make it easy for them to live in the streets.”

I don’t disagree with him. I think we should get the business. We’ll do a pilot program. Good PR. Not that this is going to be huge volume but rather it’s an insurance policy in case this thing does break big. Capacity wise, we could just acquire a smaller producer. I don’t see it, but stranger things have happened and they have some corporate money, who I don’t know, and seem better organized than a lot of the big idea boys out there.

We decide to walk to someplace else in the neighborhood, because Sanjay says it’s ‘cool’. I’m actually a little surprised. I don’t think I’ve ever been over here before. It’s a quiet little street in a nice little neighborhood. Sort of a down market Lincoln Park, smaller houses, very green with a canopy of trees covering the street.

“To be honest with you,” I volunteer “ I grew up here but I never heard of this neighborhood.”

Sanjay says, “There’s a music scene here. They talk about it all the time in Rolling Stone.” If that’s the case, how could I have missed it?

We enter a place a couple blocks up,  that seems to have resisted the upscaling of the area. It’s like a neighborhood bar, but then again it seems kind of artsy but it doesn’t pretend to be either, which is good. The bartender is an alcohol professional who trots out a 15 year old highland malt I’ve never even heard of. This is a beautiful thing.

It’s fairly crowded, but in the pre-rubbing-up-against stage so it’s okay. We’re standing and I’m lacking the eyesight to stare at the junior misses, the hammers in the back of the bar, I just I know they’re hammers, but nothing I make out for certain. The other three are having a conversation about the virtues of a Pimm’s cup. The bartender knows something about it, but by the look on his face he thinks these guys are jag offs. I’ve never actually been near anyone who ordered a Pimm’s cup and these boneheads are discussing the virtues of No. 1 versus No. 2 or something.

And then I turn and standing not two heads from me is Consuelo. My ex-almost fiancé,  she doesn’t see me and for a picosecond I question reality. She doesn’t seem possible. She’s too long in the grave of the past to be more than an apparition. She’s facing ninety degrees away from me, smiling in her way, perpetually bemused, mirthful, sardonic, disarming. Her skin always seemed  darker than it was, always looking a little tanned, while her hair was too light for her complexion, not like it was dyed but light brown mixed in with black. And the nose didn’t jibe either, too fine and straight and maybe just a little too long. But it worked because her eyes are large; she described them as a mish-mosh of brown and green, but more flecked really. Her mouth was too big, too, too many teeth, though beautiful and straight showing them constantly smiling, smiling too much. So much I got used to it. Beauty is a funny thing; pretty as she is, she’s not even close to any of the types I prefer. That more than the sum of the parts thing, I suppose.

I don’t know how long I stare at her, waiting for the dissolve. She looks at me. She’s not disarming, she’s disorienting. She smiles. Ten years ago my knees might have buckled. Twelve years ago she was all I cared about.  And then she laughs, bending slightly forward, just as she used to do when she found something really funny.

“Well, hello!” I say and kiss her on the cheek. This seems somewhat awkward, maybe I didn’t really do that, back then. But then she hugs me tightly.

“How are you?” Her voice sounds like a mimic, ridiculing my sentiment. I always have had trouble recalling her face; I knew all the parts so well I could describe them to you and of course I have pictures. But at this moment it is like something has come into focus

“I’m great. I thought I’d run into you here.”

She looks confused. “How did you know I’d moved back?”

“Several people told me you hang out here.”

She looks at me and then grins, “No one told you that.” She laughs, leaning forward again

“I had no idea.”

“You haven’t changed a bit.”

“You have no idea.”

She smiled a cat-like smile, all eyes and lips, with a couple wrinkles, which made her look more sincere and maybe intense and less cute. She’s still tall, beautiful bronze skin, not really that dark, no amputations and she seems in good shape although seemingly more, well, solid than before. She used to be built like a diver and now she’s built like a swimmer.

“Hey, you want to see something funny,” She says and turns to the bartender for a couple of the house specials. We’re waiting for them to be assembled when she turns to me and says, “You’re here with friends?’

“No. The opposite. Those guys there.” They’re out of earshot. “A couple of prospective clients and one of my minions. I’d rather talk to you.”

She sizes them up and me, in my suit and smiles,  “So I heard you’re a big cheese in the food business.”

“Oh, the biggest.” I can’t help but feel she’s a little dubious and I feel the need to translate to her that I have done very well, but I can’t come up with a graceful way of doing so.  I’m way off balance, “And you?”

“I run  a not for profit, a homeless advocacy group.”

I can’t say anything; everything that I start would end in a joke or an insult.  I settle on “That’s interesting,” a weak weaseling at best.

There’s an awkward moment of silence. She brightens, “So you’re not living in town, are you?”

“No, I’m out east. New Jersey.”

“Married?”

There’s no point in lying about it “Yeah. You?”

“No. Any, kids?” Strangely, this seems harder for her to ask than to whether I was married.

“Yes, a daughter, nine months old.” I think to say something humorous about it but she’s thrown me completely off my game.

“That’s great. Thanks, Pete.” She say and hands me a shot. They are neon blue and smoking. “Here’s to you.” She seems genuinely happy to see me and a flirtatious look lingers over the shot glass. I knock it back. It is raw in a chemical way and high in alcohol, which causes it to wash back up into my mouth. The sensation is appalling, the mouth feel of floor polish and a bouquet of smelling salts. It has a distant and unpleasant familiarity. Against several impulses, among them a sense of dread, I choke it down.

“What did I just ingest?”

“Sterno and propylene glycol.” Now she’s fucking with me. “No, it’s a martini shot, but with blue gin and dry ice.  Isn’t that a great idea?”

“That figures. You’d grow up to be a woman who drinks martinis. No it wasn’t a great idea. It was awful.” She is laughing at the faces I make. I catch my breath.  “Other than that, it’s nice to see you. You look beautiful.”
I think this throws her a little. I was not at all charming when she knew me. I took myself very seriously. Again I get a kind of intensity from her eyes. “Thank you.” And she breaks the spell by looking around. “My friends have already left.”

“I’m in town for a few more days. Can we get together for lunch or something? I’m really busy but for you,” I give her the salesman tone, “ I’d move some things around.”

“It’s a busy week for me too.” She knits her brow,  thinking. She seems sincere; she’s not hand-jobbing me.

“Figure it out. You can call me on my cell phone”

“Oh I don’t have a pen Where are you staying?” I tell her and she adds. “Hell, even if we could get together for a drink that would be great. I actually have some things I would like to talk with you about. If you wouldn’t mind.”

“That’s strange. What?”

“Letters.”

“Like the alphabet?” But as I say something clicks in the back of my mind.

She laughs, “It’s not a big deal. My father died and when we went through his stuff and there were all these letters from you.”

The mention of the letters is jarring but I stay  focused on the important new “I am so sorry. He was…”

“Thank you but he had been estranged from the family for a long time.” She seems to be waiting for me to say something. I don’t even know where to start about him.

Somebody outside yells “’Suelo!”

“So I have to go.”

“Doesn’t that mean floor? That’s a great drinking name.”

“I will call.  There’s a lot there.” I receive something just slightly more than a polite kiss.

“You can’t stick around? You could be an honorary customer.”.

She gives me a funny look that I can’t interpret, like she’s put off or confused by me. “Sorry.  It’s so good to see you Jack.”

I watch her leave and she does look back and smile. I want to start after her. I’m excited by seeing her, even above and beyond the swelling. I used to think of her from time to time, a short pleasant daydream of how life would have been if we’d married. I realize my life would have been a lot less fun. I’m no idiot. But I did want to  marry her and she was like a first love for me. But now that the idea of her has grown as alien as the rest of the past.

“Who was that?” The chef boy interrupts my woolgathering.

“An old friend.”

“She’s pretty.” He says in that disinterested apprehension of the beauty of women that queers project. “Let’s go hear some music.”

 

We walk back the direction we came, past the restaurant and it seems pretty quiet until we come to a busy street. We turn left. There’s all sorts of traffic, car and pedestrian. And I guess this is supposed to be what a city is like. There’s all kinds. Old polacks, you can tell by the clothing, smokes and wetbacks, from panhandlers and white kids trying to look like the homeless, at least to we upmarket types, old people and kids, frat boys and the inked and punctured people, post punks  or rappers or actual  real punks, you tell me, a level of integration I’m generally not familiar

e with.  I don’t get a lot of this re-gentrification; I mean the early stuff used to be like white ethnic neighborhoods and university areas. But now basically any place, no matter how bad it is and who lives there, is subject to these goofy rehabbing fuckers. I mean the whole point of having a job and making dough is so you don’t have to live near the lowlifes. It’s bullshit. Regentrification is a giant speculative bubble. Somebody is going to wake up one day and say ‘okay living in the city really does suck. I’m going golfing’. And then the bottom’ll fall out.

I guess I shouldn’t doesn’t surprise me at all that Consuelo would like this place.

We go up the street a couple of more blocks, come to a busy intersection and there’s a traffic jam. The buildings have certain historic element and there’s a shabby El station straight ahead. It’s a commercial intersection of three and four story brick buildings still intact. Of course, you can understand why the urban charm folks drifted over hear. It’s old. The street, Damen, is at a standstill and intersects with North Avenue and some other busy angle street. One of the first places we passed was a small bar attached to a large beer garden.  I suggest we go there. I’m thinking the crowd actually looked a little older, like, employed, and at a glance there appeared to be talent. What’s his name, my guy, says okay but the other two disagree saying it looked like kind of a dull.

They shagger me down another street. A little further along we come to a jazz club. In theory a jazz club, but the stuff is loud with electronic rhythms. I hate the stuff at first. First tune is  like somebody jammed Charlie Parker into a drum machine. Somebody calls it acid jazz. We get a table. Mike brings me a drinks, I don’t have to tell him what. It’s loud so I don’t have to talk

There is only one man in the bar who really knows, the rest are poseurs. He identifies the Chet Baker riff from the younger trumpeter and gives him a nod

I finally take my leave in a cab about 12:30. It’s late but I have him drop me at the Lozenge, a little place on the Diversion strip, a long time favorite of conventioneers who don’t know where to go or when to go home. I see some people who seen to know me but who I don’t.  And then, as scripted, I see my friend Boeufaroni.

Boeufy is easy to find in a crowded bar. Actually he was born to be in a bar, as a bouncer or some other kind of fixture. He’s about 6 foot 6 and 280 pounds.  A lineman at Ohio State and bigger, though considerably softer now than he was then. It’s good to see him and he’s a good friend.

“Hey you made it!” I yell. The fucker hugs me and re-locates my spleen.

“Ain’t no river high enough, Crawdaddy.”

“I heard about your hard luck with the company.”

“Hey, what can you do? It was a gamble, Sometime you just have to  reach for the brass balls. Let’s have a shot.”

“No, no Boeufy, I don’t do that anymore.”

“You mean you usually don’t do that anymore. This is me. This is the NRA.” He grabs me around the neck and starts twisting me around. He does this when he drinks and it’s a two-fold problem. He has no idea how strong he is and no one is going to step in and stop him.

“All right, all right, make it a whiskey, you guinea bastard.” He drags me over and through about two dozen people to the back of the bar where he gets drinks. There are girls he knows back here.

He yells for the shots.

“How’d you break out? I thought there was a travel ban.” I ask, looking around, wishing again that I had my glasses.

“Told’em I had to go. They said they would take it out of my end of year bonus. I laughed. Like I’m ever going to see it.”

“Good place to look for a job.”

“That’s why I’m here.” Boeufy motions to two girls “Hey Laura, Beth, this is my buddy Jack.”  I say hello; they look vaguely familiar but not worth the effort of remembering. We drink.  Irish Whiskey if I had to guess and it’s not so bad. “So there’s trouble in little paradise.”

“Yeah. Fuck. It’s not good. I better make some connections at the show here. I don’t know when the paychecks are going to stop. What about you guys, Jack?  Are you hiring?”

“No, buddy. We’re heading in the opposite direction. I’ve got to cut people.” He looks worried. His wife just had twins. “I mean it’s possible I’ll need somebody in a few months, but I can’t promise you anything. I’d love to bring you on. You know I’ll give you a reference.”

“Thanks.”

“I can talk to a few people at the show. See who’s looking for people. I’m sure I’ll get bothered by some recruiters.”

“Yeah. Thanks. Well…fuck. It was a mistake. I thought I was going to be rich. Already counting the money. Like ducks in a barrel.”

“You’ll be fine.”

“It’s too bad this didn’t happen when I was single. I’d love to have some time off. Now I’ve got to worry about bills. Remember when we used to be down here a lot?”

Nostalgic bastard, I think “You want to go across to Bitch’s?”

We cross the street to another bar and check things out. It’s loud. He goes to get drinks and I’m left to assess the terrain, which isn’t so hot.  I’m thinking about the movie thing and how this is just not the right milieu. He takes a long time getting back with the drinks. If it were just about anybody else I’d cut out on him. I look for anyone from the business that I know, not that I’m looking for a friend but rather for fear someone will see me standing here like a nitwit. Finally he gets back, with the same girls from across the street in tow.

We talk for a while, me inflating Boeufy’s reputation and after a while and after two shots, I somehow get involved in a conversation with some girls by the bar. I end up talking to a  chesty Greek girl for a while and actually do another shot and another with her. I’m beginning to get a little equivocal. Her friends are a littler cuter but not much and this one is wobbly, like the lame wildebeest at the back of the stampede. We’re about to go back to her hotel. I tell her I have a roommate who’s asleep right now in my room who can’t be disturbed. I don’t want to have to remove her later, but in her drunken haze she misreads my lie and thinks it’s my wife. An argument ensues.

I don’t know why I’m bothering. This is the kind of fat, dirty blond that the smokes usually take off your hands at the end of the evening. I feel like I need to do something though. Maybe it’s seeing Consuelo. It made me feel kind of weak.

I win the argument but at the end of it, I decide that it’s a possibility she will throw up on me, perhaps directly on me, if I go back with her. So I tell her I’m leaving and go out for a cab to ditch her. She follows me out and apologizes. I relent and we grab a cab back to her room at the Mangled ott. She decides to get one more in the lobby bar and look for her friends and orders another couple vodka rocks with a twist but she can’t stand up and I carry both drinks and 85% of her back to the room.

I’m intrigued generally by the size of her breasts, not that I focus on that feature that often. In fact, little axiom of mine is the larger the breasts, the more variable. Imperfections scales. A slight tendency or flaw for a small breast  extrapolates on a linear path away from aesthetic acceptability towards medical oddity as they become larger. Call it Crawford’s law.

But for some reason, they seem very important on this girl. Maybe because she doesn’t have that much else going for her. She’s got her dress off and then her slip. I’m sitting on the edge of the bed receiving some high proof, sloppy kisses from her, she’s standing because she’s so short.  It’s about right. But her bra comes off and her tits are kind of bleak, really not too firm and mostly all over the place. But they are entertaining in a fun house kind of way and guess it can’t be too bad because the little feller is ready to go. It almost peters out though because out of steel belted pantyhose comes flowing out a whole lot more unrestrained  flesh. The overall the effect is like some kind of gelatinous lava flow. I almost lose it and head for the door but she pulls me on top of her and I figure, well, while I’m here. I get my shorts off and start going to town and things are progressing okay when her eyes roll back into her head.  I know what’s coming next. I dive off the side of the bed and she plumes about 24 inches into the air. I get my clothes out with a modicum of damage while she’s in the bathroom heaving and choking and moaning. I get dressed and she comes out of the bathroom  and flops on the bed. I head for the door, at the last minute going back and turning her onto her side so she doesn’t hendrix. It’s the kind of guy I am.

Her hotel is right across the street from mine, so I just go back to the room. I can’t say the evening was a complete success but I’m happy I didn’t get any on my suit. I  am disappointed I couldn’t spend much time in movie mode.  Tomorrow is another day. There are no phone messages, which makes me want to log on. Plus I want to visit and just look at that near perfect agenda.  It seems unlikely that there’s input. I’m decide I’m pretty looped, I really don’t remember crossing the street, but that’s fine. I flick on the machine and while I wait for it to warm up, I decide that one more scotch wouldn’t hurt and it would get the taste of the other junk out of my mouth. I get up to go to the minibar and somehow I get my foot tangled in the power cord.  The computer follows me across the room like a puppy, bouncing along behind.

I prop it back up on the desk and turn it on again. One thing the little dink told me was to make sure to backup files to the network on a regular basis. I decide to back up my file in case of problems. I get the program suite and before I go to the organizer.  I sign on, typing my password  THORNHILL and get into the system. I hesitate for a moment and remember the way to do this and after a moment to make sure I’m not doing this backwards, back up my files from the C drive onto the network. This seems right so I reduce my potential for further fuck-ups and go to bed.

 

 

Sunday


 

 

The alarm is discrepant. I’ve just gone to bed. But I open my eyes to see that it is indeed six thirty. I’m not sure exactly when I went to bed and there’s no reason to pinpoint it now. The principal motif from the night before is that of the geyser of liquor erupting from the fat girl. I’m feeling some vertigo and false sinusitis. The hangover is a high and light one, confined to the to the front of the head, not penetrating the meat of the brain or the body. It seems the mixing of liquors did not do any serious damage. The shots were of a high quality, mostly Irish whisky, which I think is fairly analogous to the single malt scotch.  My shoulder hurts a little, maybe from carrying that fat trollop up to the room.

The only aberration was the concoction I had with Consuelo.  But it isn’t the jolt of the drink there. Again, the gestaltenschtup of the past. I find the confirmation of her existence a pleasant and  unsettling fact. And at the simplest level and all other things being equal, there’s probably a sexual angle to this.

I take some ibuprofen out of the shaving kit and swallow it without water. This trick works fine normally, but with a dehydrated throat it’s a disaster. One tablet sticks to the back of my throat and feels like a urinal cake. The other won’t go all the way down my esophagus and so I gag on it and shoot it across the bathroom floor. I grab another tablet and after washing the first down with a drink of coke, take the other and sluice the whole mini-bar size bottle.

Feeling temporarily vertebrate, I call down for room service and order: four eggs sunnyside up, an extra side of white toast, tabasco to put on the hash browns, a side of bacon, two sides of sausage, a bloody mary and a pot of coffee. The point of ordering this way is to cover several of the more reliable theories regarding hangover cures. Protein deficiency and therefore protein craving is a popular hypothesis. Another, though I can’t imagine the biological justification for it, is that the body craves fat. According to Hose, grease is necessary, although this is based on merely trial and error and he has no pretense of scientific underpinning. Another friend has it that a nitrosamine fix, as found in processed meat like hamburger, sausage and bacon, mellows out the nitrosamine binge of the night before. However, these chemicals are found only in domestic beer and not, I believe, in other liquors. I’ve had it suggested to me that sunnyside up eggs are loaded with salmonella and therefore, to fight the invasion of bacteria, forcing the immune system  into overdrive. In ‘My Man Godfrey’ a movie from the 1930’s starring William Powell, it is suggested that a counter irritant, such as the strong bloody mary or something else spicy and hot, is the key. My own prejudice, as a results oriented, hard headed realist, is that the trick to curing a hangover is to get as many different drink media, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, carbonated and not, clear and viscous, into your stomach as you can and have some heavy food to help keep it down. This is why the access to the mini bar is crucial.

I turn the computer on, take a piss and come back to the daily screen. I feel all right, ready to go at it.

 

5/21 Sun 7:15 to-do: pick up rental from front desk

7:30  : meet sister at the plumber house for coffee

9:00  : pick up ceo and Cloy and wife at lobby

                  reminder: get department of commerce paperwork from hegel

9:00  : pick up ceo and Cloy and wife at lobby

                  reminder: get department of commerce paperwork from hegel

9:00  : pick up ceo and Cloy and wife at lobby

                  reminder: get department of commerce paperwork from hegel

9:00  : pick up ceo and Cloy and wife at lobby

                  reminder: get department of commerce paperwork from hegel

9:00  : pick up ceo and Cloy and wife at lobby

                  reminder: get department of commerce paperwork from hegel

10:00 to-do:(forw’d’d  from 5/20) call aubrey at monde du sandwich                                           in re dinner on tues

2:00 to-do: call wife

6:00  : dinner at snicks- dearborn st.

8:00  : basketball game (madison street, dummy)

10:30 to-do: call sleve jacketass at siezures pizza

                            ####278&&

11:00  : meet mary at hard attack cafe, ontario st

I can’t say that  repeating over and over again has ever happened before and it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. It’s probably just one of those funky quirky things computers do for no good reason.  I restart it but the same thing comes up. It’s early on Sunday. I will call Chunk later. I am sure it will be fine. I type in:

5/21 Sun   11:30: get girl from the booth (Charon?) out for a drink. Some place of power; Giberish?                        

Only something as lovely as this  final item will get the taste of last night out of my mouth. That thing about seizure’s pizza doesn’t belong but I think it’s just a mis-entry. The other thing, with the numbers, I don’t even know what the fuck that’s about. I check the garbage can but it has been emptied and the day-timer is gone.

I send the messed up daily calendar down to the lobby to print.

 

5/21 Sun 7:15 to-do: pick up rental car from front desk

The kid from the car agency, a pimply pollack looking kid, fills out some forms and takes an imprint of my credit card. The kid gives me the keys and I’m on my way. I notice in the rearview the same Z lot character from the other day has stepped out of the lobby and is watching me pull away.

I turn north on Michigan Avenue, trying to remember the way to get over to State Street, but bothered by the static caused by this weirdo in the lobby. It’s possible he is just a local homeless guy, crazy as they go, and I have somehow invaded his territory. I will ask the hotel about it later. Still, I’m feeling a little paranoid anyway and it’s important to understand why. He might be a really spying on me. A bad private detective?  Syph? She was really mad  but she doesn’t really know what I am up to. Secondly, Everything was too quiet the last couple of days; no voice mail, no E-mail, no phone calls. Finally, I just feel good, healthy, alive. Maybe all that portends trouble. Of course this has no rational basis.

I remember that I have to get onto Dearborn to approach the hotel because I think they turned State Street into a no-traffic zone.  Or is it? Would my wife hire a detective? You wouldn’t think we’ve been married long enough for her to think to do that.  I can’t think of anyone who would want to follow or hurt me. Well actually I can, but none of them would have the yarbles to do it.

 

5/21 sun 7:30  : meet sister at the plumber house hotel for coffee

So I pull up to the front of the hotel and give the doorman a ten to keep the car near, telling him I’ll be out in a couple of minutes, ‘tops’. I go up to meet my sister. When she sees me, my sister strides across the lobby like someone who is owed a lot of money. But the she’s always sported that attitude, like the world exists to support her theories on it.

“Hi Jack.”

“Hello, Jane. You look lovely.”

“You’re full of shit.”

“It’s my job. Where can we get some joe?”

“Right over there is good.” It’s just tables and chairs in the rather elaborate lobby. It’s hardly the sentimental get together, but it’s okay. That is tendency neither of us possesses.

We sit down and smile at each other. She looks like an adult I knew some time ago, a friendly adult, but she was never a kid and only barely a sister. She’s eleven years older than I am and even as a teenager she was unusually serious. She started at the University of Chicago at age 16, so I really only remember her as being involved in very mature pursuits. At one point, when I was hanging around at the U of C, we carried on a little correspondence, but again it was more with a mentor than a sister.

”Listen, let me just say one more time how sorry I am that I couldn’t go to your wedding. That trip had been long planned and paid for in advance. I couldn’t get the money back.” She really doesn’t say this like an apology. She is so superior that I think she is merely beign courteous to further demonstrate her superiority.

“I understand. It came up quickly. It was from left field.  Besides we hadn’t talked in a few years.”

“Was it that long? Well if it was it was your fault.”

This ticks me off.  She used to verbally cuff us around when we were younger and I’m not going to take it now.

“Why is that?”

“Because I’m older and time moves a lot faster for me. Therefore it was a longer interval for you.”  And she smiles.

She got me pretty good. “Well played.”

“So how’s your daughter? Daughter, right?”

“Daughter, Cole Veronica. She’s doing very well. A little colicky, but frankly that’s Sylvia’s problem more than mine. When the going gets tough, it’s time for me to be going.”

“That’s an enlightened attitude.” She may  not be kidding this time.  I don’t often deal with intelligent people this ready to be an antagonist.

“Well, I think it’s reasonable. I have a job, she doesn’t. She has a full time nanny and part-time house cleaner. I’m not that interested in the diaper stuff, whereas she is entirely into the mother routine. I mean it’s nice to be a father, but at this point it’s mostly effluvia.” I’m close to explaining or apologizing and I shouldn’t be doing either. She will ever sit in judgment of me but it’s up to me whether I pay attention to it.

“So bringing home a paycheck allows to abdicate all responsibility for raising a child.” She says this with a smile on her face.

“In a way it’s really none of your business.”

“I think you brought it up. And I suppose that on some level you’re right.” She has always been aggressively matter of fact. “But then again we are family and maybe that means there are a lot fewer boundaries than maybe if we were strangers.”

“We’re not that far off.”  Which is a good dig at her. A waitress comes over and we order coffee.

She laughs “I admit that I’ve never been a big part of your life but I’m not going to apologize now. It wouldn’t have any point.  I’m a lot older than you are and while that should mean less and less as time goes on, it did have an impact on whether we would have been close. That said, I thought and hoped that your view of the world…”

“Weltenschaung. ” And I smile. It is a word she used to use with me. She gets it.

“Your weltenschaung would be a little less parochial than say your older brother or, god forbid, your father.”

“What are you kidding? There’s welt in my weltenschaung, baby.’ She laughs, “I’ve been all around the world. I’ve lived all over the country, I associate with all kinds of people. I’m allowed in the opera. I don’t live within a five mile radius of where I grew up. I am, I dare say, highly resourced and will get even more so in the near future.” Along with my wife’s money.

“Uh huh.” She smirks, but I’m not sure at which part. After  “Are you going down to Beverly?”

“Yeah. Tomorrow. Paul’s got some papers or something for me to sign. I guess I’ll have to trust him. He is a law professional.” This isn’t quite a sneer, but in the neighborhood.

“You really ought to let the sibling rivalry thing go.”

“There’s no rivalry. We just don’t agree on anything. Besides how can there be a rivalry? I’ve always beaten him in every aspect of life and I continue to do so.”

“You are something.”

“And you? When are you heading down?”

“Today. It has been a long time. It will be interesting to see how it has all changed.”

“The distinguishing characteristic according to Joad  is that the residents are  a lot darker in hue.”

“People don’t like change.

The coffee is good. “I used to make an argument that prejudice was just based in nostalgia.  But I’m not sure I remember how that went. And I’m sure I’m not willing to defend it.”  I laugh at something I’d forgotten I’d dreamed up. “

She smiles. “Who else do you talk to down there?”

“Absolutely no one. I just occasionally hear things from other people.”

“Do you ever talk to that girl? What was her name?”

“Consuelo. Funny you should ask. I just saw her last night for the first time in something like fifteen years. She lives here now.”

“Not on the South Side?”

“No, I don’t think… No, someplace called Wicker Park. By the Expressway and like, North Avenue.”

“Mom’s old neighborhood.”

“What? Couldn’t be. It’s a rehab neighborhood. Looks like it was um, black and hispanic.”

“No, That’s where Mom grew up. That’s where Grandma Pulaski lived until she died. But you don’t really remember her mother do you?”

“No.”

“Where did she go?”

“I assume to the cemetery.”

“No, Not your grandmother. Your friend Consuelo. When she left.”

“You know, I don’t know. Her family said Chile but I had heard California. I didn’t ask her when I saw her.”

“Did you ever find out why?”

“Her father. He was really hung up on money. In a way I can almost see his point. She was a hopeless idealist and I was sociology major. He thought it was about social work but the end result would have been about the same. And in retrospect he did me a favor. I went and got a job and it has worked out just fine. But at the time it was horrible.” I feel a twinge of the old pain. I must be fatigued. “I mean I couldn’t communicate with her at all. Mom was dead, Paul and I fought all the time and Dad was intolerable.

“A real romantic would have stalked her.”

“Perhaps. I had stalker written all over me back then. Her family wouldn’t tell me where she had gone. When I saw he she brought up letters I had written,.. Jesus who knows…” This kind of recollection gives me a sense of referring to someone else, not me. “Oh God, I hope there wasn’t  poetry involved. I was sending them to her family.  I was kind of nuts.”

She gives me a funny look. “It was too bad. I only met her once but I was impressed. However at the time I remember thinking ‘Oh, now he’s in love and he’ll want to go out and get a job.’ And I was right. You gave up on school not long after that.”

This interpretation pisses me off. “I finished my degree. She had nothing to do with that. I still wanted to go to grad school and actually Consuelo was all for it. But her father got in the way. It just didn’t make sense anyway. But I couldn’t  stay at home. And he said he wouldn’t sign for loans even though  undergrad cost him practically nothing. So I had to work.”

“I never knew that.”

I’m a little surprised she would say that. Of this I am certain. “Sure you did.”

“No, I really didn’t. I knew he wasn’t wild about you being a sociology major or whatever. I remember having conversations about it. I counseled you to instead turn to economics.”

“Yeah, you sent me Friedman’s ‘Free to Choose’ and some others. The free market is philosophy at the University of Chicago. Your words.”

“A hoary turn of phrase, but a cliché begins with a reality.  But I didn’t know he wouldn’t help you go…”  She sighs and shrugs and turns up her palms up.

“Hey I have no regrets so you shouldn’t either. Life is good.” She values intellectuals and doesn’t understand hard charging business types like me.

“I’ve come to like ‘Free to Chose.’ Didn’t at the time but I get it now.  At least it was well written, unlike “Atlas Shrugged’.”

“You didn’t like Rand?” She chuckles

“37 page speeches? You can keep that. I get and appreciate the producer thing, as a maker, not a the taker. But no. If you are going to be a writer, you should be able to write.“

“As far as Friedman goes, well, it’s a clever little construct, much more radical than it pretends to be and nowhere near as historically accurate.”

“It may be a clever little construct but it got him the Nobel Prize.”

“That’s the dirty little secret about Chicago. Yeah, they get their annual Nobel in economics. But the Nobel is not a prize voted on by all the outstanding people in a particular field but rather by some select committee cobbled together by the Swedish Academy. I don’t know if it’s the result of living for years with 95% marginal tax rate, but the Swedes love these medieval monks.” She’s getting a little too far afield and she comes back to me. “You think of me as a libertarian?” Her eyes are twinkling just a little, gearing up for something.

“You were at one point. You told me you were.”

“I’ve evolved. For philosophical reasons as much as economic ones I flirted with becoming an Austrian.”

“I don’t think you can change your ethnicity like that.”

“Your striving for witty things to say is certainly relentless.”

“If you can’t be deep at least be complex”

“In truth, for economists, the ideology is more important than the science.”

“I would think being knowledgeable about economics would necessarily make you a conservative.”  I say this in somewhat superior manner, like I’m talking to one of my minions, confident of the answer.

“You don’t want me getting into a rant about the Chicago boys. First, if you get away from a priori thinking, their science can lead to some pretty absurd places.” She pauses and I try to remember what a priori means. “Secondly some of the things they propose in a free market are far more radical than any social engineer would ever dream of undertaking. So don’t get them confused with the social conservatives. They just use each other. Like I said the ideology is more important than the science. And ultimately so is reality.” She hesitates. I’m thinking about saying something but I don’t think she’s finished. “I suppose there is a significant overlap between the Randians and  Chicago economics. They both share a superficiality.  Both insufficiently consider social order and society.  We are much more interested in Leo Strauss“

I have no idea who that is. “Thatcher said there is no such thing as society.”

She smiles “Ah, Maggie. If wasn’t for all that North Sea oil, the conservative party would have spent a generation out of power. And Reagan. All that debt.  My disappointment with them finally shook me out of my torpor.”

I am surprised by this. “How so?”

“I thought they were going to turn things around  but so much of what they did was just  expanding the opportunities for the plutocracy.” I don’t know where she is going with this so I wait.  “Like most people, I guess, I thought elections were how change was made, how society progressed. Since then my thinking has undergone some changes.  I’ve come to understand elites. Since I moved to the institute, I’m spending more time thinking about Aristotle than Burke or Schumpeter, if you remember them.  They’ve been supportive in ways the academy can’t..” She smiles in a slightly dismissive manner.

Even if I hadn’t drank last night I would be too hungover for this. But I can’t let her get away with it. “ Alright I’ll play. Edmund  Burke. Freaked out by French Revolution. Primary purpose of government policy is to protect stability. True statist conservative. Incrementalist. I remember that. Mostly what I recall regarding Schumpeter is creative destruction.  Happy?  I don’t read any of this anymore.”

She laughs. “Well you should read them again because there’s the text and then there’s the true meaning of the text.  I’ll be more than happy to share with you when I am done. But on the surface they are two sides of the same coin”

“Okay.” I weigh two nothings in my hands. “The status quo versus the liquidationist. I don’t quite see how you get there.”

“They are both about conservative reversion.”

“to?…:

“To a imagined state, a historical concept. They don’t really address who really should be in control of society.”

“So it’s nostalgia.” This is giving me a headache; I feel I’ve acquitted myself well enough. “So how is your personal life?

“Great with the new job. Lucia is great. It was difficult for a few years. Quite the crucible. You know about Rex and I getting divorced. That was after we moved to Berkeley.  Well, what you didn’t hear was that he took ever thing I owned and left for New Zealand. In fact he took more than everything. He left me a big pile of debt. We had just bought the house that year so there was no equity and after selling it I had nothing.  What was worse, the snake had been stealing from me all along. I trusted him with checking accounts and credit cards and as long as he paid the bills every month I figured everything would be all right.”

“So after he left I found 20 grand in carried balances. I was completely well, fucked, to use your favorite word.” She takes a sip of coffee and then so do I. I’m somewhat confounded as she has never shared any indication of struggle. “I almost quit the PhD program,  all I’ve worked on and probably give up my chance at the Ph.D. to work for a mediocre wage because Masters in Econ are a dime a dozen. I also went through a period where I resented Lucia over the fact that it was his demon seed that was constraining me. I went on welfare for a while and then the school offeredme a fellowship to help me finish. But it turned out alright  after all. After my dissertation was accepted The Institute came along and offered a real wage.” She is so matter of fact that  I don’t know if I am supposed to  demonstrate  some empathy for her, I just listen to the story.

“I didn’t ask if had a picture of your daughter was. How old is she? Ten?”

“She’s eleven. She’s wonderful. Very bright, very argumentative, I have no idea where she gets it from.”

“Oh me either. I can’t imagine Lucia at eleven.” I can’t imagine her at any age. I have no idea what she looks like.

We sit silently for a second.   I look at my watch, “I have to go pick up my boss. We’re going over to the show.”

“I need to hear the punch line. Did she ever write you back?”

“Never did. Would go down to 99th street to check the mail because I didn’t trust Dad.  Weekly, then monthly and after a couple of years I stopped and passed out of desperation and onto Lush Street. It sounds a little like a… Bronte novel or something.” There’s a reference I don’t use much.

“I will end up like Henry James, if only for the structure.” She stands up. “Well I’m sure you get out to the Bay once in a while. Call me up. We’ll continue the conversation.” She actually hugs me.

“All right. It’s good to see you.”

“Bye.”

5/21 Sun 9:00  : pick up ceo and cloy and wife at lobby

              I walk back into the lobby at a quarter to nine and they are already waiting in the lobby, looking at their watches like I’m unforgivably late. This is the way old business guys do it; they can’t out think you or outwork you or outlast you so they try to out-early you. If the CEO was here alone, he’d have had me pick him up at 6:30 for breakfast, where I would have discussed the state of the industry and the company while he stared off and pretended to listen and while picking at a breakfast he doesn’t want. The man likes to pretend and give lip service to being interested in all aspects of the business but truth be told, once he’s decided you are passably competent and trustworthy, he’d prefer not to be confused by the facts. But by god he’s up early.

Therefore, I guess that it’s good that Cloy and his wife have come with him. She’s a lovely, alligator purse of a woman, tough, expensive, textured and always handy. I have to kiss her on the cheek, but it’s not as nauseating as you might think because her skin is so tough and cold that it just seems like another garment draping over her skeleton.”

She greets me. “How are you Mrs. Henderson?”

“I’m fine Jack, how are you?”

“I couldn’t be better. I just love this show.”

“You are from Chicago aren’t you?”

“Yes I am.”

“Are you seeing much of your family?”

“More than I care to.” I truth and we both laugh.

“You have a car Jack?” Johnson says, tired already of the niceties.

“Yes sir, It’s right in front.”

As I drive, they engage in banter about the weather and then how pretty the city looks until we get south on Michigan Avenue and then they get back to the weather.  The old man is subdued around Cloy’s wife. He loves a good joke and a good laugh but the kind he likes doesn’t really play well around a Christian lady. I take  them to the main door and know that if I’m quick, and I am, I can park the car and get to the booth before they do. They are really coming to give hand jobs for a couple hours at the booth. The CEO doesn’t bother or scare me all that much. He’s a good old boy and he seems to like me. I run rings around Cloy  all day long.  But I’m not sure about his wife. She’s something, tough as a snake and a charmer without being entertaining and runs him like an appliance. And I’ve heard she has caused grief for people, that she’s willing to meddle in corporate affairs.

They’ll talk about her like she’s some kind of kindly grandmother. It reminds me of the days I lived in Dallas. The more polite they are, the less you trust them. Like hiring  a Christian plumber or a Baptist house painter. They were the ones who going to rip you off.

 

The WASP-y man in dark blue moves with purpose through corridors of the show building and then up the escalators. As he does, he is surrounded by  archetypes. The overweight salesman with the big belly, the rapidly aging woman in the too tight and too pink skirt, the arthritic executive with his ‘niece’, the young guy in the ill-fitting suit and unbuttoned collar, the pants suit woman who hasn’t relented to her true sexual identity. He remembers, though he didn’t really forget, why he feels good about himself. He smiles at his superiority.

I get there at 9:15  and the troops are all lined up. One of the weasels says to me, “Nice suit, boss”

“As far as you know. Listen up, el queso grande is headed in here today. Your behavior around the CEO can do you little good and much harm. It is advisable to do a little ass kissing, especially where Mrs. Henderson is concerned. But don’t over do it and make it look like you’re more interested in putting your nose up his dupa than actually selling something. Besides he’s used to people kissing his ass, bigger, more important people than you who happen to be much better at it than you are.”

“Like you Jack?”

“For starters. So ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’ ‘Good to see you’, ‘you look lovely, ma’am, excuse me, I have to go sell something.’ That is the correct protocol. Anything above and beyond that is bad form.”

Syph, my sulky philly, has hung back on the periphery, not obvious enough to make it look like insubordination but far enough so she doesn’t have to hear very well. She hasn’t looked me in the eye yet. Most of the time she looks pissed, but once or twice I caught her looking a little teary eyed.

They go back to their various stations just as the show opens up.

I grab Hegel. “Ed, I asked you for those Department of Commerce forms.”

He acts somewhat annoyed, though he does his best not to show it. ‘They aren’t due for a month yet. I’ll get them in to you next week.”

Normally I would just break his balls and tell him I wanted them and that’s all. But I think that would tip him off to Tuesdays bloodbath and I don’t want him thinking anything is up. I have to lie “Well I didn’t tell you I wanted them this week for nothing. I happen to have a contact with the export division who is at the show here who will take our forms back with him and make sure we’ll max out on all available funds.”

`             “I’ve always been able to max out on the funds.”

“He’s going to see if there is something we are missing.”

“I worked for the export division at Commerce. If there were any other funds I would…”

“Give me the fucking paperwork by Tuesday morning.” I wish I could lose it, but it’s not my style.  “If you have to stay in the hotel room and finish it tomorrow, that’s fine.”

“I’m not sure I have all of it with me. And it is Sunday…”

“Then do what ever it takes to get it back to me before my guy leaves.”

“Who is he? Maybe I know him.”

I look him straight in the eye but I don’t say a word to him. Rather I turn around and stare off in the direction of the Pepsi booth, wishing I still had the eyesight to see the girls down there. Eventually he walks away. This is a bigger deal than people might think. This is more money than most people realize, about 25 grand for foreign trade shows that we would have spent anyway. I always budget to pay it and then when the government comes through, it’s all gravy.

I walk over to a few of my guys who are standing around and waiting for customers.

“You guys see the fight last night?”
“Yeah what a joke. Imagine those poor suckers who paid $35 for that.”

“Two minutes and ten seconds.”

“That’s like, what, $9000 per hour? No…”
“Try $900.”

“That’s a good hooker.”

“How much did the big white stiff get?’

“Like 5 million.”

“Jesus, I could last a round for 5 million.”

“Don’t be an idiot.”

“I could last three minutes boxing Tyson.”

“You couldn’t last three minutes boxing the clown.”

Another girl working a booth walks by. She’s kind of older and a little tougher than the others.  Steve the sapper smiles at her and says hello. “Do you want something?” Some of the guys laugh.

“No I was just appreciating what a beautiful face you have.”

She’s not at all flattered. “Don’t fucking look at me.”

“Yeah well fuck you too. You don’t like it why don’t you move to Iran and wear a veil. Do us all some good.”

I get on the booth phone and dial up my guy at Monde at his hotel. “Aubrey. Jack Crawford at Tastee. Still trying to confirm for Tuesday night. Please stop by the booth or call me at the Hotel Incontinental.”

It’s an hour later when the CEO, Henderson and the missus come by. They hang back at first, observing the booth and the employees. Most don’t recognize them right off, the place being busy and full of stale pale males exercising their importance. However, after a moment or two, Syph catches on and goes over and says hello and then they come into the booth where everyone can snivel properly. This goes well; no one gets sputum on them or stays to long and I think the troops are impressed on how I don’t go over and kiss ass, but stay on the periphery. It looks even better when the old man comes over to talk to me.

“Jack, would you see if some of the girls would be interested in taking Mrs. Henderson shopping?”

“I could ask.”

“Do a little more than ask.” This must mean that Cloy’s wife is driving him nuts. This is very interesting from a political point of view.

“Diane, could you come here?” I motion over to her and as I do I see Syph. It occurs to me that this is a great opportunity to get her moping countenance out of the booth.  While they chat, I see a guy limp past the booth on the opposite side from where I’m standing and the limp back on by a second later. I’m sure it’s the homeless guy who’s been following me. He’s in the show, which is interesting and it distracts me from a nascent thought. I know something important had, or was about to, occur to me but for some reason it came and went. I don’t know if it is a hangover or jet lag but it seemed important.

“Phyllis could you come here please.” She can’t believe I’m calling her over to me, but she’s smart enough to realize it must be important and business related. We are standing close enough to executive entourage to be heard. “Listen if you two wouldn’t mind, Mrs. Henderson would love to take a trip up Michigan Avenue, see Water Tower Place, catch a lunch and it would give you a little time out of the booth to enjoy yourselves.” This is exactly the kind of thing that Syph hates and if I asked her from ten feet farther away she’d have told me to stick it up my ass. She doesn’t change her expression but the very inertia describes a shock. She can’t believe that I would fuck her again. Wait till Tuesday. Di job is all excited and says she’d love to and Mrs. Henderson gathers up her wrinkles in a broad smile and says yes, that would be a grand idea and so even Syph is obligated to seem enthusiastic at the prospect of an afternoon out with the ladies.

“Nice toilet.”

“What?” Whorehead is next to me, saying something, but I’m ankle deep in thought, trying to remember.

“She really is an attractive woman, Jack. Have you ever thought about knocking off a piece?”

“What?”

“Phyllis. I’d like to get her in the sack. You ever think about trying?”

“Yeah, whatever.” As I watch the women walk away, after the CEO has given me a wink and a smile, I realize what I was it was. I’ve made a potentially egregious error.  I think about all the things that Syph can tell her about the  things I’ve done, who I’ve lied to, what I think about Mrs. Henderson’s husband, not to mention the CEO. And how I’ve slept with and then dumped a young, vulnerable but  valuable employee of the company. It strikes me  how, in her emotional state, she’s capable of doing something like telling the ladies, on the ladies afternoon out. And the more I think about it, the more I’m disturbed.

This is the reason that I’ve asked my friend to interview her; because they are competitors and that interviewing with a competitor is grounds for dismissal. But if she gets to vent before she has been downsized, and the interview process seems to occur after she has been psychologically abused by her boss, then it all becomes a little tenuous. If I had realized this a second earlier, I might have been able to do something to prevent it. Whoever sent that gimp to diddle with me has accomplished the to-do, he’s already fucked me up. My hope now is that Syph is either too professional or too proud to bring these things up in front of the other two. Given a guess, I would say she won’t do it but, I can’t be sure. And as I stand here, I can’t think of anything I can do to prevent her from bleeding out.

There’s surely a lesson to be learned here, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe it is never let moping influence your decisions.

I decide to do something to put it out of my mind. I walk over to talk to Charon.  She is offering toothpicked grilled chicken from a faux silver tray to mute, greedy bottom feeders. I ask her to step back inside the booth.

“How are you doing today?”

“Fine.”

“This is your first show?”

“Yes it is.” That’s technically a sentence, and so, represents progress.

“Do you need anything or do you have any questions?”

“No. Am I doing something wrong?” Two very distinct wrinkles appear between her eyebrows. It’s funny because her skin is so smooth and young.

“No, you are doing just fine. Would you like to put on the chicken suit now?” She looks at me with a slight smirk, with mostly disbelief but a little anxiety until I smile. “No there’s no chicken suit. How do you like doing this?”

“It’s okay. The money is pretty good.” She’s loosening up and I’ve decided she’s just shy.

“It gets a lot better. Did you notice the sample girls at say, Coca Cola? They work full time for them, working shows all year, making very nice money and only working 20 to 25 shows a year, a lot of them only on weekends. Some are students, some are actresses, some are married and do this instead of having a full time job. A few actually have kids. It’s a nice job. Are you in school?”

“Sort of.”

“Well we are expanding our presence at these shows and eventually we might be hiring a permanent staff of promotional people. Would you be interested?”

“Yes I think I might.”

“That’s great. I’ll make sure that the marketing people get your name and we’ll contact you about getting you involved.”

“That would be nice.” She smiles a beautiful, innocent smile.

“Great. Well I’ve got to make a phone call. We’ll talk later.”

I head over to the booth phone and dial up my wife. I know that she is probably at her mothers for dinner. I haven’t talked to her for a couple of days and I can probably handle it. And she hasn’t called me so she is showing signs of training. But the machine kicks on and I leave a brief message.

It’s three o’clock and I look up and there’s Hosehead looking confused, standing across from our booth.

“Hey Doc, what are you, dopey or sleepy? What are you doing?”

“Um, nothing.” Then after a second, gathers his thought and adds, “You want to go get a beer?”

It’s okay to disappear for a moment. The big boys are gone. I’m not a big fan of beer, let alone the beer booths.  They are crowded and get more so the longer the show goes on. But I need some help to clean up the debris of this hangover. The beer tastes kind of good.

“New girl in the booth?” Hose knows my tendencies.

“You betcha Bob.  What do you think?”

“Young. Hot. But young. I didn’t see Phyllis there.”

“No. I may have just made a tactical error. I don’t know. I just sent her off on a shopping expedition with my bosses wife. Now Mrs. Henderson, whatever her fucking name is, I can never remember but I just call her Mrs. Henderson and she’s from the south so she thinks I’m being polite, Mrs. Henderson has been known to meddle in corporate affairs, no pun intended. I don’t know what kind of emotional state Syph is in, but if she gets all blabbery, I don’t know what she might say to that old harridan. You know, come to think about it, maybe you can shed some light on her stability. How did the interviews go?”

He seems like he is having trouble keeping focused. “Interviews. She also sat down with my boss on Friday.”

“And how was she?”

“In the interview?”

“No. In bed.” He laughs somewhat sheepishly at my annoyance. “Yes the interview. Are you particularly stupid today or what?”

“Yeah. Sorry.  I haven’t had a lot of sleep. She seemed fine to me. She’s a good interview.”

“Maybe she’s over it then.”

“Maybe.” He adds, then “So we’re still on for tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Seven.”

“Well, I’m going to go. I’ll see you tomorrow.” And he walks out still obviously distracted.

I go back to the booth where I grab Trench. “Hey weasel boy, I’m going to go out for dinner and a few drinks with a couple giants in the industry tomorrow night. Why don’t you make plans to come along?”
He looks  pleased, but not overwhelmed. “Sure that would be fun. What time?”
“Seven.”

“Okay. Oh, that’s my customer,” and he walks over to talk to some one looking at our display.”  He seems too cool to the idea of his boss’s boss inviting him to dinner. It should have occurred to me  before that he may be a potential competitor rather than a means of access.

Just before it’s time to go, I wander over to Charon.

“Hi Charon. Tired?”

She gives me a nice smile “Not too bad. I have a question.”

“Uh huh.”

“These chicken patties are raw?” She‘s a little confused. I bet she spends a lot of time there.

“Before you cook them.”

“But how come they have grill marks on them?” She points to the stripes on our pre-scored breast pieces.

“Because our customers like them that way.”

“But they haven’t been grilled?” This is so cute.

“No, they’re called pre-scored. It’s a patented process. This was our customers can cook them anyway they want and they look just like they came off a grill.”

“But isn’t that cheating?”

“No. How do you mean?”

“When your customer buys it, he thinks it’s been grilled. But it could have been cooked in a microwave.”

It’s really hard not to be condescending at this point. “No. Our customers like this product. They asked for it.”

She’s confused again. “People like to eat chicken that looks grilled but isn’t?”

“Oh, I understand where the problem is. When I say my customer, I’m talking about multi-unit foodservice operators and distributors. I’m not talking about the goofus that actually eats the product.” This doesn’t appear to make her any more comfortable with the concept. But I think I can break her down. “ I have a meeting tonight, but I was wondering if you’d like to meet for a nightcap.”

“Well, I don’t know… I have a class this evening.”

It’s a weak out. “Sunday evening?”

“It’s an improv class.”

“Improv. Very interesting. Well, I’m sure it doesn’t last too late. Why don’t we meet later, say 11:30 or so?”

“I’ll have to see…”

“Do you know where Gibbon’s is? Rush Street just before it runs into State. Meet me over there. We’ll have some laughs.”

“All right. But I can’t promise…”

“You can tell me all about the improv stuff. I have to go. I’ll see you later.”

There’s a few basic rules to what women find attractive to men, but most of it is about power. The trick is how you project it. Clothes and grooming, yeah but, attitude is more important. What you are doing is the only thing worth doing at that moment in the world. You don’t give a shit about what anyone else thinks. You deserve everything you have and if you don’t get something it’s not worth having. You ask for things out of mere courtesy – you deserve everything.

I go. I hate the damn walk across the lot to the car and then the bastards divert me southbound out of the lot and onto 31st street.  I’m getting on the expressway when I see the new ball park and not the old  Comiskey. I cut across a couple lanes and head south on the  Dan Ryan, . I do so with  minimum of incident, as in this part of town one recognizes traffic suggestions rather than laws. Nothing I do will stand out as particularly interesting. I cruise past the projects, and wondering what portion of those things represent my tax dollars. I find myself with a little unstructured time,  so I take the 39th street exit we used to use.

Across the expressway a couple of smokes are already up and practicing not having jobs. This intersection by the top of the exit ramp almost looks like a movie set.  A square squat building of cinder block sits ahead, on the corner of 39th  and the road that runs along the expressway. It has one door and one window which is covered with iron mesh. Across the street on my right is several  blocks of two story projects, public housing building on a square block lot. The lot is mostly dirt with squarish splotches of scrubby grass. It could be here or LA, Memphis or Durban. But after a stop sign you pass an industrial building and then under a broad viaduct and come out on the other side in an all white neighborhood.

This is like the Battle of the Bulge, your Arden forest, if you will, in your battle for the south side. Surrounded on two sides by smokes and two sides by the Mexicans, Canaryville and Bridgeport are a weird island of white in a part of the city that is decreasingly so. They have in fact become the ghetto, at least in the strictest terms, if I remember from that one fucking sociology  class I took freshman year. They are the last bulwark against a total takeover of the southside. There’s about as much hope here as there was for the Germans in 1944. I mean they always had the Daleys, father and son who lived in Bridgeport and were like some kind of talisman or big sack of garlic against the invasion. But now I understand that the Mayor has moved to some new development south of the loop. So it’s happening later than a lot of people thought, but the other shoe has dropped. The south side is gone.

I pass down Pershing Road, past the old plain trucker’s diner that sits on the corner, and then past the blond bungalows. I feel a shortness of breath, the old choke of anticipation that used to accompany the trips to the ball park. My father always took this route, the back way in, cutting behind traffic and going through the temporary roadblocks by flashing his badge. I thought this was great when I was a kid going to the front of the line, getting the special treatment that cops conspire to give themselves. Later on I decide this was arrogant and an abuse of power and I even came to find it embarrassing. Funny the rotation of things. I appreciate it now and realize that the only abuse of power is not exploiting it. Book material, that.

I turn at thirty seventh street, like he always did, and go under the viaduct. I’m struck by all the open space. With the exception of the new park and the school which is straight ahead, there is nothing but parking lots. Everything has been torn down. Like most things on the margin of memory, I don’t have any facts, I don’t what has been changed, I just know that it doesn’t look right, or really that everything looks wrong.  This is what makes memory so tricky. It all becomes sense and not facts.

But I have to turn around . The parking lots even cut off the street. Shields, the street is called Shields and the name meant the ballpark. Because the grid pattern is rigid, and because they almost all run straight north/south or east/west, the streets keep their names throughout the city; Shields is an exception. It runs only near the park. I can’t get through to it and turn around.

I pop out again on 35th street. There’s a big hole on the horizon ahead and to the left. I pull up along the curb, across from the new park. There’s nothing there. I feel stupid, but I get out of the car. I feel stupid being alone and walking towards where the stadium was, because there’s probably some idiot just like me out here every other day, moping around, over-reacting to under-stimulation.

My father had only sisters and we never saw my mom’s family very often, basically because they hated my father and he had no use for them. The ball park was my uncle. Hokey,  smelled of cigars and was vaguely unhygienic, which is how I imagined uncles.  It was sturdy, proudly eccentric, arrogantly traditional, rife with liquor. It was perfect for a boy bothered by his fathers demands and his mothers civility.

And there is, right where  I half-expected it, a home plate where the old one lay, with foul lines extending out across the new asphalt of the parking lot. It’s a pathetic, goofy tribute. As if this is supposed to evoke anything.

I don’t follow the team anymore, not much baseball at all. I don’t think I remember all that much about what went on the field in those days.  I suppose there was the whole wonderment of a child thing, before I hated my father. The moment of discovery when you climbed out of the catacombs into the brightness of day to the blurred confetti of color, the enormous crowd as your eyes adjusted and the fact that real ball players were actually just few feet away from you. You could see their faces, spitting, grinning, looks of determination or stoicism.

Then standing here I wish I could just enter the park again. The best thing about the park was the aura. Not a vague idea but actually a kind of halo of dank humidity on even the hottest days, the clouds of sweaty hot dog steam, the emanation of  cheap cigars from eighty years orbiting through the concourse, resilient as the rings of Saturn. I have been to Gothic Cathedrals. It was like that with big arched openings and the ramps built  to accommodate the upper deck seats that  cut up light and gave the place the same kind of slowly moving drama.

All right, I achieved nostalgic asshole status. I feel like one of those middle-aged jerkoff writers from New York or Boston who seemed to have fucked up their childhoods to such an extent that they spend countless hours trying apotheosize the game they couldn’t play.

I just thought the light coming through the smoke and dust was fascinating when I was a kid and made the place different from any other place I went to. The acoustics in the concourse seemed to have some remarkable properties. When kids turned over empty paper cups and stomped on them, the resonation circled the park. I’ve been to lots of big places , parks and stadia and the like, and I’ve never heard a sound like that. Actually I did hear something close once a semi-automatic spraying a street in Tompkins Square in New York. It was pretty funny, everyone else who was with me coming out of the restaurant diving on the ground, while I stood there like a moron, transfixed in my moment of reverie.

And I guess another reason for a boy or adolescent to love the place was the sense of age, dirt and vice forgotten, an adult world hinted at that was poorer, more tenuous. It was  a place that reflected my parents past, the less respectable days, the depression, that shit, when they were people from the back of the yards and not from Little Flower parish or Beverly. Plus we were told it was dangerous:  after the sixties, the smokes could start rioting at any moment.

But more than the games I went to as a kid, what I really do remember is one summer. My mom was in the hospital, and I’m sure I sensed on the way out, and they had a pretty good team. No, not a good team but a bunch of good hitters with godawful pitching and defense. But they’d just bludgeon people and they never gave up, really hustled, and the improbable would usually happen and they would come from behind to win and the drama rendered us ecstatic. It was just fun and just like memory it seems like I went to 100 games that summer and they won all of them. I know better. They don’t play a hundred games at home and the team finished a little better than .500. The team, the White Sox have few glaring successes during their long murky history. But at the time it was fucking roller derby and I was seventeen and no one cared if I bought  beer and I didn’t care about a lot of things. So was seamless was my passage into adulthood.

But most of all it was that summer, when I was 17 first figured out how to meet and talk to girls. I was pretty stiff in high school, pun possible, and too reserved or introspective but mostly just scared shitless of girls. But there I seemed to belong more they did and that feeling, plus the beer I procured for these sixteen and fifteen year olds, I guess occasionally younger, just seemed to make it easier to talk to them. And I was pretty good at riding the pitchers in the centerfield bullpen and I guess that made me cool. Little of it was original but to the girls it must have seemed pretty cool to bait the ball players. And I didn’t really give a fuck, my mom was  very ill, which I guess had it’s own kind of cool, too. Even when I didn’t meet anybody it was preferable to home after a while with my stupid little brother reading and my father saying little that wasn’t derisive or less than 80 decibels. It was someplace that wasn’t boring and that I knew the place better than anybody, where to get things like the best polish or Mexican food, a shot or a mixed drink, which beer vendors would sell to you. It was a tight predictable little world.

I stand here in the middle of an empty fucking parking lot like a complete yahoo. I’m just not  a baseball fan, I hate all that crap with salaries and strikes and the players are such assholes. You would think that security would have a sniper taking out about pining goofs standing out here, before they aneurysm.

One other time does come to mind, a Memorial Day doubleheader with Consuelo, a few of years later. It was freezing and rainy like Memorial Days always were in this cow town, like the last swipe of a dying beast and then it’s June 1st and 93 degrees and 109 percent humidity. God, I’m glad I don’t live in this climate anymore. But we went to the game, Consuelo and me and some of my friends and some of hers.

We were standing in the concourse. A couple thousand were still milling about but for the most part the crowd had gone home, chased away by the driving rain and the 40 degree temperature. Consuelo had three friends there, one of whom had brought along a  boy friend she kept on a short tether. Two of my buddies were there and there was much discussion as to what to do. Of course nobody got along and nobody would decide what to do, to stay or leave, the game being delayed, so the group dynamics began to get complicated. One friend of mine, Tom, was a huge baseball fan and wanted to stay because the game wasn’t yet called and  because we still had access to the food and beer and he was in no hurry.  My other friend Mike wanted to stay too, but seemed much less adamant and would have gone across the street to McCuddy’s, the bar where it was warm and the beer was much cheaper, an idea that I favored.   They were all under age and their IDs were of dubious quality, but we reassured them that wouldn’t have a problem at McCuddy’s. Two of the girls, including the one with the eunuch, wanted to go immediately back home,  but the other one was digging Tom and wanted to be where he was. All this was complicated by the couple who had taken the train but had  been assured that there would be a ride home  for them. There was only one vehicle and that was Tom’s father’s Pinto. Finally, Mike was trying to convince the girl who liked Tom to take off somewhere and while, as I said she was interested in Tom, I don’t think she wanted to shut any doors.

All the time, through the various arguments and positions, Consuelo remained quiet. She was not reserved in the least and always had something to say. I didn’t know what she wanted and while I would avoid saying so, I just wanted to do what she wanted. We’d been dating for a few months, we’d just begun to have sex, for her the first time and for me, well it was vastly different from anything previously. I was smit, smat, smut with her. It even went to the extent that I had to be conscious about not looking at her, trying to be independent, trying to not give it away. I was about exasperated with all of them when I finally look over at her. She’s barely suppressing a laugh. I started to laugh myself. I asked her “What’s so funny?” She grabbed  a blanket out of her friend’s arms and pulled me away, up the ramp and into the rain.

It was raining so hard it was bright, the drops refracting the dull field lights and the smoky gray of the sky. The ushers, everyone had gone inside so as we ran up the stairs of the grandstand to the shelter of the upper deck over hang, the ballpark seemed small and private. I was breathing hard as I ran up and as we neared the top and got out of the rain,  I again could inhale without slightly drowning. We went to some seats and unfurled the blanket. It wasn’t exactly cozy, but we were out of the rain, warm under the blanket and finally alone.

We sat there for a few moments not saying anything. Consuelo pulled tight against me, her head and hand on my chest. As I said, I was really just getting to know her, but so taken by her that many things she did fascinated. She was just different from anybody I knew. She wasn’t Irish, Italian or even Polish. She went to a the U Lab school, not a catholic school. Born in Chile and had traveled through Europe. She was pretty and bright and I was moody and intimidated. But I knew art and a little jazz and I acted like the things that I knew about were the most important things in the world. It was a way of staying even. That I was springing forth from ignorant fucks like my father probably made me in a way virtuous, even romantic. She had lived in the neighborhood for only a couple of years, so she was different in a lot of small ways and the trick for me was to decipher what was unique in her and what was redundant only in the locals. She was strong willed and independent, unlike the other girls I’d known, but then she would become, as in this position, demure, vulnerable. It kept me off balance.

“Your friends sure are different.” She said and I agreed although, again I was just happy to be with her. After a moment I added, “I bet they’re all pissed off.”

“Your friend is pretty special.”

“Which one?”

“Tom.”

“What did he do now?”

“The jokes. The Kike, Hebe, Hymie stuff. You know my mother is Jewish?”

“No.” I really feel bad and honestly I hadn’t noticed him saying those things. I thought about it for a second and I remembered that her mother was devoutly Catholic. “No, she isn’t!”

“No but he doesn’t know that. For all he knows I’m Mexican and he had a few of those.  He is kind of disgusting. Niggers kikes spics, whatever.”

“He just started a new job at the Merc and he’s been…”

“He’s got a brand new group of people to hate.”

I laughed but it seemed to bother her.

“What is it with those jokes? They’re so awful. And not even funny. They’re just racist.

I sat there staring out at the curtains of rain that seemed more substantial, real than the field or the structure. I felt a flush of warm blood in my ears. I felt a little  angry, she was insulting my friends at least and perhaps my family and perhaps me. It was like she was going to make me choose between her and my friends. If there were a choice to make, it would be easy. I’d choose her. My friends, especially these two, were idiots. Problem was they were my idiots and maybe I was the same kind of idiot that they were. And the prospect of having to choose was vaguely terrifying. You do end up making these choices in life, for wives and jobs and social status and pretty much throw your friends over every time. And they thought I was a little weird anyway. But to a nineteen year old it seems inconceivable. Finally, I had no idea how to respond. But I learned something small and valuable that day: relate something personal while you stall, obfuscating until you come up with an answer. More book fodder.

“I have done some thinking about it, believe it or not. You know, until I was 10 or 11, I thought nigger was a word that only kids used. My mother wouldn’t allow it to be used in the house, not by my father, not by guests, not by relatives. I guess the only time I ever heard it was with some of my father’s family, but we thought they were maniacs anyway.”

She laughed and we were quiet again.

“There’s more than a few things going. I don’t think you can call them exactly racist.  If you ask them, they say they are not. I mean there are racists, philosophical, ideological racists. The call themselves realists. But I don’t think it’s that different from the rest of the world. They might admit prejudice, but  most of them intend to be open minded and fair. But I will say it usually just easier to go along with the crowd .” It was a good start and I felt some of the pressure off and momentum building.

“It’s just concentrated on the South side. There’s more conflict.  There’s been a lot of neighborhood change. People lives are complicated. They need things to simplify things because they don’t the time to deal with tricky issues, let alone make some sort of liberal leap of faith. Stereotypes are just ways of putting people in categories. They can tell you why Blacks or Mexicans or Puerto Ricans or whoever are bad, difficult, lazy, you fill in the blank and they can relate things that have happened to them or people they know to reinforce this. Have you ever read a horoscope?”

“Of course.”

“Did you ever notice how seemingly accurate they are?”

“That’s because they’re so general.”

“Only partially. They play a trick on your mind. They give a definition or outline of reality and you find observations to fit the facts into it.”

She gave it a moment of thought, a shrug and let it go.  “All right.”

“It starts when people are very young. Stereotype are like horoscopes. Information, events, confrontations are processed in the context of the stereotype. While they feel they are being rational, realistic, they’re just giving in to the stereotype. People need to put things in categories just to keep things simple. It’s okay to have a few exceptions as long as there’s a rule. But if there’s no rules life becomes too complicated and confusing. As far as they’re concerned, they aren’t being racists, just realists.” I’m rambling, but the words are coming easily. Part of me wants to explain or defend but the other part of me wants to impress her. She hasn’t moved, still laying against my chest.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m getting out. I don’t want to live my life as us versus them.” And then I stopped because I sounded emotional and stupid

“It’s not like Hitler; it’s not even like Elijah Mohammed and his white devils. It may actually make it easier in some circumstances to have a meaningful relationship with individuals of that group, by making them an exception, one of the good ones, if you will. It’s prejudice, but it’s not institutional or even political. It’s just…functional prejudice.”

“It’s an interesting point.  You should write it down. Make it into an essay.”  I don’t remember if I ever did. Maybe in the letters I did  to write her after she blew town, sending them to her family, in a febrile attempt to get her back.. Thinking about it now, it doesn’t seem stupid but there is some kind of disconnect over the years that I don’t understand.

“Well, it may be sociology, but it ain’t news.” I joked. Serious intellectuals we were. We talked about this and  other things.  She didn’t move and it felt like something erotic.

“What about your father.”

“He’s indefensible.”

“What’s he like?”

“I don’t know. He just seems even worse since my mother died. Mean, hateful.”

She was quiet for a moment and then asks

“What was your mom like?” This is a question no one dared asked  me. Maybe it was a matter of timing, she was just a couple years dead and most of the people I knew never brought it up. It’s one of those things. You wish people would ask, just to show they cared, but you also didn’t want to talk about it.

“Well, she wasn’t small.” I laugh and looks up at me. “She died of a heart condition and being too big, too fat, didn’t help I’m sure. But she used to say to me ‘don’t be small’. This meant don’t be petty, but also to aim for big things, achieve, dream, try to be special or different, don’t settle, don’t be a conformist, make something of yourself. Like my sister did, going to the U. of C. early and grad school, working on a Ph.D. Even my borther with his football obsession. I was so worried I’d let her down, because I didn’t do well enough in high school, and that I didn’t get admitted to U. of C. But by the end it didn’t seem to bother her.”

“Are you still going to try to talk your father into letting you transfer in?”

“In order to talk somebody into something you have to actually be talking and we’re not. He won’t pay the extra and he won’t even sign for the loans. In fact, when he told me, he said he didn’t want me to major in philosophy, I  told him I would change to Econ. I thought that would be the end of it. It felt like a concession. Then he comes back a month later and says he’s still not paying.”

“That’s terrible.”

“Yeah, especially when you consider the money that came mostly from my mom. That’s the difference between them. She’d want me to pursue what I was interested in.” We sat there quietly. I wondered if our friends have left. “I was beginning to really get into econ. It was actually my sister that recommended it.”

“That’s kind of a leap.”

“Well she said that economics pretty much is philosophy in Hyde Park and that my father wouldn’t know the difference. However, I not sure I can handle the math. At this point I don’t know. I’m tempted to change to marketing, move out and get an apartment, but that would mean I’d have to give up on transferring.”

“There must be other options. What about going part time and saving?”

“That school isnt exactly set up for part timers. The  costs are the same for six hours versus full load. It’d be almost impossible to save for it. And I’d have to stay at home. And I can’t stand living there.”

“Is Northwestern any cheaper?” She was heading there but her father was taking care of the bill without the same static I was getting.

“No.”

I rambled on for a while, embarrassingly, back on the subject of my mother talking about her kindness to people, laughed about how fat she was, about how I missed her and at one point, I almost cried and stopped and it took all my will to prevent more than a couple of tears from coming out and she looked up and kissed me. For someone who was brought up with a father who hated that kind of behavior, that she could deal with a few tears made me feel closer to her than anyone since my mother died.

She listened and asked questions but she didn’t take so fucking seriously like everyone else. She made jokes. She pointed out, and made fun of, my ability to find every side of every issue, something  my Mother did. I talked about getting out, wanting to travel, where we wanted to go. We sat under the overhang of the first base side upper deck, watching the rain, making fun of each other’s friends, laughing about how mad they were going to be at us, shivering under the blanket, holding hands like 8th graders. I decided I‘d let myself love her that day and to do anything to keep her. But I didn’t have enough of something because  she left just a few months after that.

5/21 Sun 6:00  : dinner at snicks, dearborn st, basketball game

I’m meeting one of my guys and a big distributor for dinner before the Bulls game. I went out to dinner with this guy and his wife and Saliva, I think it was before we got married, when I was trying to close this deal and here it is almost two years since I’ve seen him. Now he’s decided that he’s my best fucking buddy and I have to go to dinner with him. They have chosen a seafood restaurant. Why I would fly a thousand miles away from the ocean to eat at a seafood restaurant is beyond me. Remember I come from a fish distributor. I know what goes on. I’ll have to make up a general rule for my people. I do know that this place is very nice and expensive, which is probably why this tool wants to go there. I go inside and it’s a big dark place but I see Bobbitt and the distributor, Gin Bourbon, almost immediately.

“Hi guys!” I shout as I walk up, “Hi Jim,” and I shake Bourbon’s hand enthusiastically. Of course I’m not sincere, but I don’t think that I could be sincerely enthusiastic even if I wanted to. After so many years of faking it, if something great really happened to me I would still have to pretend to be excited.

“Hey Jack!” Bourbon says and then grabs me and gives me a hug, which catches me completely off guard. I look over at Bobbitt and he’s got his weak smile on his face and I know exactly why. He thought he was in complete control of this account and now his boss seems to have relationship with his customer that is much deeper than his own. It’s amazing what the occasional escort can do. And that’s why I do it.

“Charley, how you doing?” I say after Bourbon releases me.

“I’m doing great boss. What can I get you to drink?”

“You know.” And we laugh in that special overseer/slave way and he turns to talk to the waiter.

“So how are things, big guy?”

“Better than I ever expected and certainly better than I deserve. What about you?”

“Everything is just great. Y’all are doing a great job for us.”

“I checked the numbers just before I left. I mean I talk to the guys every week and they tell me it’s going good but you know how it is, it’s much better to see it in black and white.”

“We’re up fifteen percent.”

“That’s just the beginning.  My guys know this program means a lot to me. It was a tough sell to close. You drove a hard bargain.”  This bit of ass kissing is contrary to the facts. He was piece of cake to sell and then he just didn’t have the balls to make the actual change and tell the other guy he was out.

“No, you’re doing great. Hey did you bring your wife?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Why the fuck do you think not, you idiot? The same reason you didn’t bring your wife. “She didn’t want to leave the baby.”

“Oh that’s right. You had a little one. What did you have?” And then as if I didn’t understand the question “Boy or Girl?”

“A Girl. Cole. Nine months.” They have me trained and I reach for the pictures.

“She’s pretty.” He blanches.  It’s a particularly ugly picture of a child that looks like Popeye on her good days. Bobbitt turns after a conversation with the waiter. “There he is.” Bourbon says, as if I’d lost my salesman under the table.

“I ordered another round.” He offers and shuts up as if wanting us to get back to what we were talking about.

“It’s too bad she couldn’t come. I really like her. My wife loved her. We had such a nice time that night in Garden District. My wife still talks about it.”

“We had a great time too. I love New Orleans.” I hate New Orleans. There’s not a single place in that stinking town to get away from the riffraff. I  rank cities by the ability to separate yourself from the unwashed.  That one zeroes out every time

“Well,” I offer “How is my boy Charley doing here?”

“Just fine. He’s like another son to me.” He waits for me to ask about Tom and I consider asking him about it but I’ll save it for later. Bobbitt reports to Tom and Bourbon doesn’t like Tom. He never really told me why, it might be just that he’s a smoke, but I want to find out in case there’s some issue with his dismissal, we can build up some reasons. I admit that putting a brother in charge other redneck belt was probably not the fairest thing I could have done, but I decided to challenge Tom. Which is the corporate way of saying fuck with him.

“Great. Hey, how are your boys?”

“They are both headaches. Hell, they aren’t even considerate enough to give me the same headaches. I don’t understand these kids. They don’t care about anything, don’t want anything. They don’t care about their future. I guess it’s the me generation.”

“No that was before. It’s Generation X…” Bobbitt interjects.

“I don’t know. I thought this was the me generation. I wish they could be a little greedy. They’re not even that.”

I’ve been on the consoling end of this conversation dozens of times before. “Well, when everything is provided for you, you don’t have to worry about things.”

“Generation X doesn’t believe there is a future, so they don’t worry about it.” Bobbitt’s still plugging.

“It’s not just your kids. It’s whole segments of the society.”

“Well, I for one am tired of it. People expect something for nothing. If they can’t get it from the government they get it from suing people, especially companies. They don’t take care of their kids, they don’t look after their neighborhoods, they don’t work.”

“What I want to be is part of the them generation, as in what is wrong with them, we’re going to get them to behave, we’re not going to give them anymore breaks.”

I’m playing the us and them game. I did this when I was putting the deal together and now we are only 3 guys in the world talking sense.

“Or should it be the they generation as in, why can’t they be more like us? Like, what are they doing? What do they want?”

I know Bobbitt harbors some liberal politics, but it is a customer so he joins in. Funny how that works. “No, them works better. As in what’s wrong with them. I’ve had it with them. Let’s put them back in the closet.

“Why can’t they be more like us?” Bourbon  misfires.

“You mean, we’re going to make them act more like us.”

I don’t know why I have to do this. The dinner conversation goes on like 200 others I’ve already had. This guy happens to me more predictable than most, which is a type of accomplishment. The ceiling here is too low and the room is too dark. It’s below street level and all of a sudden I’m feeling a little claustrophobic. Maybe it’s just fear manifesting itself. Or maybe I just want this meal to be over, and this day to be over so I can take some action.

5/21 Sun 8:00  : basketball game (madison street, dummy)

Bourbon is all worked up in the skybox at the game. “These must have cost you a small fortune. This is a semi-final game.”

“Well you are very important to us.” I tell him, although I got access to this for free from a friend who owed me some favors. We’re sharing the space with some young financial types and their girlfriends. They are only nominally interested in the game and none of the women are worth a damn My only regret is that I ended up taking this pud rather than somebody I was trying to sell.

“You see that? That was awesome. You see that guy. He’s one of ours. From Arkansas.”

Bobbitt gets up and hits the john.

Bourbon  pulls a little closer “ I’m glad Charlie’s gone. Look don’t get me wrong. I love that kid. But it’s the other guy. Thomas.” He’s more quiet and slow like he’s trying to chose the right words. “Frankly I don’t like the guy. He’s always on me about other companies being in my stores. I know we have an agreement but I can’t watch every store personally.” Tom is actually following my instructions. This program only works for us if we have all the business. In other words, the margins only kick in after 95% compliance. “And I thing he’s arrogant, like he’s better than I am, with his MBA and his marketing bullshit. Statistical analysis. Market trends. He’s something else.” And he shakes his head.

“Don’t you worry about it. I’ll get him off your back. But I want 100% compliance with the program.”

“But it ‘s so hard to keep them all in line.”

“100%. That’s my price and I’ll make him go away.”

He looks at me and he is such a pussy that he has no choice but to eat it and like it. And he does. “All right. It’s a deal. But he doesn’t call on me any more.”

“Done.”

“I just don’t like…that type of guy… Ah hell. It reminds me of a joke. What do you call a black man with an MBA from Yale, a Ph.D.  from MIT and a law degree from Harvard…”

I know the answer, but I don’t use the word. Consequences. I shrug and let him have his glory. “A nigger.”

We’re still laughing when Bobbitt gets back.

The game progresses. “Look at that! Man that was great. He is the greatest, the best player in the game and he makes 30 million a year and he’s still out there getting floor burns.”  Eventually he starts in on the contribution thing. I have a suspicion that every buyer in his company is given an informal goal to hit with contributions. He’s involved with this PAC that is theoretically about reducing industry regulation, but, like most PACs it’s really is just about funneling money to the Republicans for election campaigns.

Bourbon goes to piss. Used to be I’d worried that rats would carry him off but this is the new  stadium. I turn to Bobbitt. “ You didn’t promise him anything on this PAC thing did you?”

“Noo.” He says emphatically.

“We ain’t giving him dime one. We’ve spent enough on these fuckers already. Republicans or not.” He just sits there like a mope and I feel like venting a little.

“I mean they are doing they’re job for me, the Republicans. I think they understand the way things should be, which is with a few exceptions, the way they used to be. And I’m an optimist, I think we8’re getting there. I mean it’s hard to really keep the natural leaders out. The cream will rise to the top. I believe most days that the people with the right tools to do the job will get the job. The storm is passing. I’m getting my country back. But at other times, they’ve been pissing me off lately. I’m a productive member of this society. I create wealth and I pay lots of taxes. Where’s my payoff?” I’m waiting for Bobbitt to respond but he doesn’t. We sit there silently for a minute, watching the game run itself out. I like the kid and there’s no point in going on and on. I need him to love me for a couple of more years.

Bourbon gets back and immediately gets back on the campaign thing.

“You got to be a Republican, right Jack?”

“Oh I was just telling Charley how the Republicans are pissing me off.” This is good way to deflate his pitch. “They were supposed to go to Washington and throw the system out and they are getting all tied up in these policy issues. What programs to cut, what ones to scale back, reforming systems. It’s like they’ve become part of the bureaucracy.”

He’s no salesman, for he immediately concedes the point.  And that’s a lesson, one for the book. Be very careful and sparing with your concessions. “Yeah, I know. I mean why can’t they come out and say it simply. It’s our money and we don’t have to give it to a bunch of people who don’t deserve it, who have no discipline. Or for things we don’t believe in. Defense. We’ll pay for defense. Just tell these people they’re not getting any more money. It’s my money and I don’t want to give it to them. For any reason. No Social Security, no Medicaid, no Medicare, no college loans. No nothing.” The dumbshit leaves himself with no position to fall back on and the issues dies right there, to my delight.

But I’m venting for Bobbitt’s benefit. “I don’t give a shit about fucking policies. The free market is better equipped to provide most things.  There are no social issues. Shut up. Do your job and do your homework. You want respect? Work harder. Keep your nose clean, make your payments on time. America takes care of them that takes care of themselves.”

The Bulls just destroy. I was a fan once and it’s too bad I didn’t keep up with them, keep some sort of allegiance to the team. They always win. The crowd  starts filing out. As we get closer to leaving, the girl has still not been discussed and Bourbon’s begin to get a little edgy. Bobbitt for his part is a little distracted wondering if there’s some kind of problem and not knowing how to ask. We get the coats and as we’re getting up to leave Bourbon  says in a voice edged with  nastiness, “ So there’s just the three of us?”

I don’t say anything for a second. As I start to watch the crowd file out I think to myself that I’d actually  pay more taxes just to get  most of these assholes like Bourbon away from me. No, I really wouldn’t. Which pisses me off again. Where’s my tax cut?

“Charley, I’m going to ride him back in my car. So I’ll tell you what, we’ll see you tomorrow.” Bobbitt looks confused, disappointed and nervous, but I give a king of reassuring gesture, the palms down, relax one and I add, “I’ll talk with you tomorrow.”

5/21 Sun 11:00  : meet mary at hard attack cafe, ontario st

We head over to the Hard Attack Cafe, my own private version of hell, so we can meet the pro. I explain to Bourbon on the way that… “Charley doesn’t need to be involved with this sort of thing, he’s just a kid and plus, I think it’s better if we just keep this between the two of us,” The subtext being that he ought to be ashamed of himself. Not that I care, and actually delivering them gives me a little something on them but it would save me some money if these guys had a little shame.

I’m half hoping that my friend has sent something over for me, something to cleanse the pallet after last night’s, uh, fuck it. I’m not in a metaphor mood. But I’m not surprised that only Mary meets me. These people don’t throw in a lot of bonuses. Besides I have a back up plan already.

 

5/21 sun. 11:30pm  : meet charon from the booth at Gibbon’s  

I’ve chosen a great place full of cigars and martinis, even though I won’t indulge in either, I love the scene they set and like real guys, or at least what real guys look like when they are loaded with cash and broads who appreciate those kinds of real guys and the money they have. The only thing I can’t say I’m too wild about is the same fucking Motown tunes  that they play over and over again. Yes it’s great music, but it’s so It’s nostalgia driven, it’s about an era and while I like the era, would it make any sense to pipe in Deep Purple or Foghat? That’s what I listened to in my wasted youth and at least I know it sucks.

I’m ten minutes late and I go to grab a drink before I even look for her. I’m so glad to be away from that asshole from Arkansas that I need to celebrate. I order from a beautiful bartender, all fat and forearms, Babe Ruth nose, shaving burn and apron. I look around and I’m certainly one of the youngest people in the joint and she’ll probably be bummed out, but I’m powerful and maybe a place like this will kind of impress her.

I have been here before and kind of forgotten about it. It speaks to the subconscious that I would chose this place to meet a 21 year old girl. The context is magnificent. It is a bow to tradition. Though I’m not feeling it at this moment, there’s a chance, for the first time all day, I feel like I might tune into my movie.

It will also be nice to get a little action, especially after last night’s weirdness. I have a theory that bad sex makes you hornier for more. As opposed to say, good sex. It would be hard to prove though. Who wants to admit to bad sex?

My drink arrives and she walks in and I almost don’t recognize her. She’s wearing a black turtleneck, her hair pulled back and little or no make up. It certainly is different in this crowd of trowelled up women.

“Hello, how are you, darling?” I kiss a cheek that isn’t offered to me, but I attribute this to a lack of sophistication.

“Hi.”

“I’m glad you came. Would you like to sit down?”

“Yes.”

Near us there’s a high bar table and she slides right up on like a kid.

“You were able to find the place without difficulty?”

“Well, I wanted to take the subway but I wasn’t sure and so I took a cab and it ended up being 8 dollars. I don’t know if the cabby screwed me or what. I’ve only been here 4 months.”

“I’ll get you home without paying.”

“Promise?” She says, I think she’s being coy. I think this will go smoothly.

“Yep.” The cocktail waitress arrives, “Would you like something to drink?”

“No. Thanks.”

“You sure?”

“Yes. I don’t want a drink.” The waitress rolls her eyes and moves away.

“So where did you come from?”

“Cincinnati.”

“And to study acting.”

“Well I came here to study at the Second City for improv and comedy. I figure that I’m not quite pretty enough to be a star, I can work in comedy.”

“If your talent approaches your beauty, you needn’t worry about being funny.”

I’m feeling good, the cinematic buzz is almost in place. After a moment looking out the window, she says, “So you aren’t wearing your wedding ring.” This is not a good sign, to be asking this early. But you have to listen. She said your wedding ring; this means she either knows I’m married or has good reason to suspect it. Seeing how she’s been with my people for the last two days, there’s no sense lying about the fact. The only way to proceed is to cop to being married and work around it. It’s too bad this stuff can’t go into the book.

“No I’m not. I don’t wear one.”

“You are married though.”

I give her one nod of my head and say “Yes…” and wait for a contraction like but or and from her to lead me into an explanation but she doesn’t say anything for a moment. She looks me in the eyes, apparently thinking that they might reveal something and then asks, “Well what would she think about you meeting me here?”

“Having a drink, getting to know you?”

“Meeting a young woman late at night.”

“She would probably be fairly ambivalent.”

“Ambivalent.” She is surprised by the choice of words.

“Ambivalent.  Just like I am about being here.” I think I’ve got her off balance enough to proceed.  “You see my wife and I were separated and about to proceed with a divorce…” Proceed is a great word if you are trying for ambiguity. It can mean anywhere along the process, “…when she became pregnant. Well I had all sorts of problems with the idea of giving up the child and, because I’m Catholic, an abortion was out of the question, so we decided to put off the divorce until afterwards and now…” I make a troubled look and take a sip of my drink, “I don’t want to give up custody of the little girl and she doesn’t either. We’re in a kind of limbo while we figure this out. I love the kid and I‘m stuck with the mother.”  This is a lot more exposition than I care to indulge.

“ I see.”

“Rationally. I would like to work it out with her. She’s a very nice person. But you see we both married late and were very set in our ways and neither of us wants to change.”

She thinks about is and says, “So you’re going to split up?”

“It’s inevitable.”

She looks around the room. Then after a moment she thinks of something to say. “So do think your wife has affairs?”

I try not to lose my temper. I smile. “First, I don’t call anything I do an affair. The word affair has connotations of betrayal. I’m not betraying anyone. Secondly, my wife’s emotional life is so distant from me that if she is involved with somebody, that’s her business and not mine.” I like the way I finished that. “Now are we done with this?”

“Almost.” The problem is that I believe her. So I continue to play along against my best instincts. I laugh. “Do you still have sex?” She asks

I laugh again. “No.”

“Can I’ve two dollars?”

I reach into my pocket and get two singles out and put them on the table. “If you want cigarettes, they’re more than two dollars.”

“No, I think I remembered where to catch the train. My acting class assignment this week was to find someone lying and see how uncomfortable I could make them. Thanks. You’re quite good. But I didn’t believe any of it. No, I believe you have a wife and daughter. Nothing more.” She starts to leave. “By the way, this place sucks.”

I am not really as mad as am shocked and amused. It’s kind of funny. Really.

I think of catching a set of jazz at Angry’s, trying to recapture the score from the other night. I think of wandering into one of the old reliable gin mills and fishing for some overserved trollop. But I decide to cut my losses and go back to the hotel.

I see my little weird shadow standing across the street when I arrive back at the hotel. I don’t even bother with my computer. It’s Sunday night and in all likelihood there’s interesting nothing on it.

 

Monday

 

I’m awake up before the alarm. It’s the price you pay for not drinking enough.  It’s probably a good thing to have a light night in the middle of the show here, but truth be told there are several small details from yesterday that are bothering me. I thought everything in the world was on track; now it looks like I’ll have to make a little effort. There’s no blinking light on my phone when I wake up, which means Consuelo didn’t call. I turn on the computer.  I type in: 8:10 to-do: call demo service and have charon fired. Then I check out the rest of the day.

5/22 Mon 8:15 to-do: (fwd’d from 5/20 5/21 5/22 5/23 )  call aubrey at                                                                        mo in re dier on tues.

8:40  : leave for sh…..

9:00  : arrive

    follow up: department of commerce forms from hegel

                      follow up: where the fuck is lendme?

12:30 to-do: (fwd’d from 5/23):  wif.

1:30  : leave

2:30  : 15151515    )))))))10999 s. western

7:00  : &&&&&&&&&&&&&boys

              This is fucked up. There is something wrong with this program to be sure. I immediately dial up Chunk’s number.  I get his recorder. “This is Jack. My computer is going wacky on me. Give me a call immediately.” I do have Email or so it says.

                             ***** rec.d  e-m from: Roy h. jack, you’re on your own with this  restructuring. you’re playing cowboy again and i’m not going to clean up any messes. get back to me about firing thomas l.    basically you can’t do it. they want to keep him in the organization. come up with different scenario.

 

Fuck, this I don’t need.  That shit didn’t say a word to me yesterday about this and right now he’s back in New York setting me up for a fall. I scare him and if things get fucked up he can knock me down a couple rungs. But to do so with a personnel issue, I can’t believe it.  This strategy only makes sense if all of them go at once. It makes me think the finger prints on it may not be just his.

*****forward to Sandroid: s., see attached,  hold packet and                                            paperwork on thomas l.

                           *****e mail send to b. johnson:sir: just got word from Roy not to fire         thomas lewis. we’re not fring him, we’re downsizing and eliminating the position. while i hate to go over roy’s head, i think you need to understand that the whole move is based upon the elimination of this layer of management and if we don’t do them all, we open ourselves to all sorts of legal problems, i.e. a woman and a guy over 45, who are also being let go. please let me know your thoughts.

 

I’m running a little late when the hotel brings up the rental. “Sir” says the car jockey, “You had better look at this.” I come around to the driver’s side and the window has been smashed in.

“I found this by the car.” The kid says to me and hands me a note that says ‘your dead cocksucker’. The kid has even more respect for me, like I’m some kind of underworld figure. He doesn’t know if he’s supposed to ask me but finally says. “What does it mean? Is it supposed to be you’re a dead cocksucker?”

“I don’t know. The people who want to kill me use better grammar than that. We better call the rental company.”

I call from the concierge desk and explain the story or at least what I know of it and then I add, “I will be getting a new rental car soon. When will it get here?”

“Um, an hour or so?”

“Not before an hour?” I sound disappointed but that’s only somewhat problematic and is reasonably good service. “Well okay. Deliver it to the concierge here and I’ll pick it up from him when I get back from breakfast.”

              As I eat a breakfast I don’t particularly want. I wonder what to think about the window. Does the note go with it? Is it meant for me? Could it be from the dope who’s been following me? Not if he’s a private detective. Is this something I should be afraid about? It’s not really all that confrontational, breaking someone’s window in a parking garage. Especially a rental car. Of course, then again, whoever did that may not know it’s a rental. All this speculation is giving me a headache.

My sentiment of invincibility took a beating yesterday, and this morning too. Sentiment is really the right word. I’ve gotten a little too dreamy about the whole thing. I am where I am because of hard-headed realism, clear thinking, insight, discipline. This is all probably good for me. There may even be a point that could be made for humility. Yeah, I’m certain of that. I’m certain of a lot. I’ve got to get down to writing that book.

 

5/22 Mon. 9:00  : Arrive at show

It’s 9:45 when I cruise into the show. I hate fuwalking in late for the show if no other reason than I want all these weasels to be here on time when I’m not here. I have a reason, but… The floor of the show is busy. It has a good hum to it, every thing is in rhythm. The booth is fairly busy, many of the guys talking to what I hope are customers.

“Good Morning.”  I say for everybody.

“Nice tie Jack.”

“Thank you. And I see you’re wearing a tie, too.” I set my stuff down and look at the booth. It looks great, clean well stocked with sales information, and the sample people are slopping the hogs. I see Syph and she’s positively radiant, like she does after sex. This is not a good sign. I look casually around and find Di job. I give her a smile. I get a pursed smile and then she turns away. She’s a committed ass-suck, so this is definitely not a beautiful thing.  It means Syph was probably spilling her guts at lunch yesterday. I can imagine a good cry. For me, when this shit hits the fan.

Skeevie, the regional from Denver saunters over to me and asks if I can make some time for him this morning.

“How about now?” Some of the regionals I make myself accessible to, the pluggers, the guys who don’t complain a lot. There are a few whiny types that want to talk all the time and I make them take everything through the zone directors. I suspect that those types of people will not last long in the new regime. But Skeevie isn’t one of those. He’s a sapper, but a fairly young one.

We step across the aisle and stand by another display where we can keep an eye on things in the booth but are out of earshot.

“Now what can I do for you, Skeevie?”

              “Thanks, Jack. I been doing some thinking about where I am going and what I am doing.” My buddy, the dick or whatever he is, with the limp is across the way and down the aisle a bit, checking me out. He’s getting bolder. “I guess you think of me as one of the sappers, but you know I’m not sure…”

“There’s no shame in being a sapper.”

“Yeah I know, but I think I want to do more. I guess I want to ask you about some of the opportunities that you would think would be available to me.”

He’s a sapper and a sapper for a good reason. He’s not particularly creative or smooth or even that aggressive. He’s steady, consistent, his customers like him. Still I’d hate to lose him.

I look him in the eye and he’s full of uncertainty “The corporate world is such that it changes all the time and your job may change, you may get more opportunity or more territory. I just gave you a chance to make some more bonus.” I don’t want to clue him in too much about the impending change but I want to get him off this idea that he’s going to be a corporate climber. Also, I could use him to take over more territory. I’m thinking of restructuring and reducing the actual amount of regions and regional managers. I’m not sure it’s a good idea but I’ll wait until I’m certain that I’m moving up and I won’t have to deal with the consequences for very long. From my perspective, it’s just additional cost reduction.

“Well, you know, I want to know what you felt about me as someone who might have a chance for increased responsibility, to move up.” He doesn’t want to sound pushy, so he adds. “Eventually.”

“I’d be lying to you if I told you that I didn’t think of you as a sapper.  But there are ways for the sappers to increase their responsibility, territory, bonus…”

“But you don’t think of me as a weasel, as a guy could someday be a zone director?” It sounds to me like maybe a guy whose wife has been riding him a little. I know they have had two babies in the last few years.

“Don’t think of being a zone director as your goal. There’s more than one way to skin a cat…”

“But it would be the next logical step for me. I want you to start thinking of me as a weasel.”

I look up at the shadow is gone. It distracts me for a moment. I am tired of this conversation. “Yeah, Well, Okay. But you’ll have to start changing you before I start changing what I think of you. You have to be more aggressive. You have to shake up a lot of your more solid territories and get them growing again. This means taking risks. You need to get new channels, that may get you into trouble with your existing customers. That’s also risky but you have to manage it. You have to start dressing sharper, spending more money on your suits and shirts and ties. You’ll have to start going to school and don’t even talk to me about paying for it until you have four or five classes under your belt and a better than B average. And I want you to start reading some management books on the side Buy  books and read them and live them.. And one more thing;  work on your manners and body language. If you want to be superior you’re are going to have to come across as superior.” I’m firing off and he doesn’t know whether to thank me or run.

“Okay Jack. Okay.” And he musters a smile. I hope he’s careful, because doing this could easily fuck up his career.

I’m just getting my export forms, my $25 thousand worth of paperwork from Special Ed, when I notice that Lendme has finally showed up. Of course all the older guys are all rubbing his balls.

“Lenny, where the fuck have you been?” He looks at me with an expression that says he’s not understanding  the nuance of the question and is not at all used to being talked to this way. Sort of like reading a Penthouse forum letter  to the queen. But I’m pissed. He managed to find the hotel room and the hooker last night but he can’t find his way over to the booth until Monday. This isn’t the first time he’s pulled this shit and I’m tired of it. Plus this should impress the troops, Jack standing up to the big football player.

“What?”

“It’s Monday, Lenny. The show started on Saturday. I want to know where you’ve been.”
“I was told the show started on Monday.”

“Who told you…” I’m interrupted by this skinny middle aged guy who comes running up. “Lenny? Lenny Robertson?  Can I have your autograph? You were my favorite player. Look, honey. Lenny Robertson. Come on, I told you all about him. The name is Bill. To Bill. Put it on there. Thanks. Huh, Lenny Robertson.”

“So who told you that we started on Monday?”

“Lenny Robertson. Gimme an autograph, Please. You’re my biggest fan. Bobby! look over here Lenny Robertson.”  Five or six other guys run over. I roll my eyes as I walk away and the several sappers and weasels have a snick at my expense.

I’m standing here watching for somebody who could actually buy something. I’m pissed off. The Lenny thing is more a joke than anything and I’ll get him in the long run. But I’m angry that the layoffs aren’t going to be handled properly. And the problems that may be caused by Syph’s little excursion with Cloy’s wife are digging at me a little. And the gumshoe or whatever the fuck he is. And the broken car window. Finally, I have to go put up with my little bastard brother. It really is a fucking conspiracy. Somebody puts a hand on my shoulder.

“You got time for a West Side Jew who’s gone Texan?”

“Hello Ben.” I hate this little scum bag. I shake his hand or rather the rings that his bony fingers are stuck in.

“How’s the Chicago boy doing in New York? You President yet?”

“As far as you’re concerned I am. Hey, Skeeve. Where’s Skeevie? Come here.”

Skeeve’s territory includes West Texas.  Ben has that market and is one of our oldest brokers. It’s not a growth market, but Skeeve’s a little too deferential to Ben.

“We haven’t had you down in a couple of years…” I’m not interested in his small talk.

“How’s Ben’s area doing?”

“Up about 1%.” Skeeve knows that this really isn’t a good answer.

Ben on the other hand can see where this is going. “It’s tough down there right now…”

“And how are your other markets doing?”

“Overall? Up about 4%.”

“You got 90 days, Ben. If your numbers aren’t up in 90 days, you’re gone. In fact, Skeeve, if his numbers aren’t up in 45 days, I want you to start interviewing in the market.”

“Now wait just a minute…”

“We’ve been waiting too long already, Ben. You’ve been taking checks and doing nothing for years. Now you are going to show us if you still got anything left.” I feign a look at my watch. “Wow, look at the time. Discussion’s over. Got to make a call.”  Ben is shocked but Skeeve is worse. He doesn’t know what to do or to say. To me or to his broker. But part of being a weasel is to do what ever it takes to grow the business.  Myself, I feel better.

I call my wife thinking, I’d catch her at home around lunch time but the voice mail picks up. “Hi, it’s me. Checking in. Gimme a call if you get a chance.” This is stupid. I keep missing her and yet she hasn’t called back.  It has almost got me thinking something is up. I guess this weird geeky appendage skulking around has got me a little spooked.

I come back from the john and the guys start with arms and legs jokes, which seem to have replaced blonde jokes as the thing that delights them most.

“What do you call a guy with no arms or legs in your pool?”

“Bob”
“What do you call a guy with no arms or legs on your doorstep?”

“Matt”

“No arms and no legs on the wall?”

“Art”

“Girl, no arms, no legs on your end table?”

“Tiffany”

“What do you call a guy with no arms or legs in a pile of leaves?:

“Russell”

“You guys don’t have anything new?
“What do you call a guy with no arms or legs in a pile of leaves 6 months later –  Pete.”

“Better”

“A girl with no arms and no legs behind your garage?”

“Allie”

“Girl with One leg..”

“Eileen”

“Chinese..”

“Irene”

“No arms, legs amputated at the shin?”

“Neil.”

“Guy with no arms no legs, run over by a truck hanging on your wall”

“Modern Art”

“Mexican girl with no legs…”

I’ve heard enough. “Alright get back to work.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Go fucking sell something.”
I call Vanderkellen and Tony with the bony head over. I’m least likely to get candy assed responses from these two.

“How has the response been to the new tilapia entree?”

Vandy speaks up. “Well, not really strong. It’s not easy. You try to tell them what it is and all you can come up with is it’s like catfish, but it’s not catfish. It’s better, but all they hear is catfish and they’re thinking bottom feeder.”

Tony kicks in, “ Well, you got to tell them it’s farm raised.”

“It’s still catfish. It’s still a bottom feeder.”

“It’s not catfish, it’s tilapia. And if it’s farm raised, it’s not like they’re dining on shit.”

“Even the best farm raised catfish is getting under two bucks per pound. We’re asking three fifty.”

“It’s not catfish. It doesn’t even look, like catfish.” Tony is losing his temper over Vandy’s obtuseness.

“Technically it is catfish. And that makes it a bottom feeder.”

Tony is almost yelling, “It’s not catfish. And it’s farm raised.”

Vandy is not going to be intimidated and gets louder, too. “Look people hear catfish and they think bottom feeder.  And it’s not like those fish farms can stop the fish from eating their own shit.”

I finally intercede,  “Okay boys. Keep it down, I just needed some opinions.”

Vandy doesn’t seem all that excited really, “He’s entitled to his own opinion.”

Tony walks away muttering, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, too, as long as you leave it up your ass with the rest of your head.”

And next week they start reporting directly to me.

I need to talk to Glom about Seizures Pizza, but right now he’s with a customer. I catch his eye and make a motion to see me. I hate having to make mental notes. That’s what my organizer is for.

“so how are things in Seattle?”

“Good”

“Your numbers kind of suck” He looks sheepish. Like he thought I wouldn’t know. “Its my job to know”

“I got a lot of really good thing going on

“Like what?”

He starts talking but one of the Coke girl walks by.  She looks at the team and immediately trains on me, like she has some kind of homing device for money and power.. She has piles of auburn hair and blue eyes, but she is pretty tanned or dark skinned,  whichever contrasting against a big mouth full of very white teeth. She has a big chest and a narrow waist and fairly wide hips that she was throwing around like a weapon. She smiles. At me.

“Boss! Nice!” one of the boys noticed that she picked me out.

“Hang a ribbon on her – best in show.”

“Jesus Id give her best in hemisphere.”

I notice   Chimp talking to a couple of guys in suits. I head over.

“H’lo”

“Hey Jack I want you to meet my broker for Minnesota”

“Oh we know Jack.”

“Hi Bob.”

“Greg, its Greg and you know my brother Steve.

“Yeah it’s nice to see you again Bob.” And everyone laughs. But I regret coming over and am forced to engage in small talk with a broker

“How are you doing Jack?”

“The usual. Just kicking ass.”

They wait for the reciprocal question about their business but I don’t feel any obligation.

“We’re having a great year, we picked up Heinz.”

“You couldn’t get Tyson?”

He smiles nervously at first. He probably has talked with my competitor. If they call, he takes the call. “Of course not Jack. We don’t need Tyson. We have you guys.”

“But if they called…”

They both laugh. ”We are very happy where we are.”

Beefy stops by the booth at about one. Again, my first impulse is to stay away from the beer booth. By Monday afternoon, it’s a bunch of busboys drinking beer after free beer, misty eyed at the bounty of America. But he’s thirsty and I’m disgusted so we go over and grab a drink. Some Peter Max imitator is painting a picture of a rock star at the Miller Beer booth and it’s loud, but Beefy likes some micro-brewery rip-off thing they are serving there.

“What did you do last night, Jack?”

“It’s a long and disappointing story that I won’t bore you with. You?” I had the night off, but he looks no worse for wear. He is younger, sleeps in every day and must weigh 300 pounds so he does certain design advantages for prolonged saturnalia.

“I had fun. I went to happy hour off with that girl Beth, but then I decided it wasn’t worth my while. She’s my broker in Florida. And it would just fuck things up.”

“Where in Florida?”

“St. Petersburg.”

“Are they any good? We just lost our broker down there.”

“Resigned from the line?”

“No. Resigned from this vale of tears.” He gives me his best puppy at the magic show look. “One of the principals died and apparently they went out of business.”

“Oh, you had Gulf Coast Institutional?”

“Turns out Betty whatever her new name was was an old friend of mine. She was from Chicago.”

“I didn’t know her. I know her husband. Bob Cobb.”

“Easy to spell. Did he really go off the deep end?”

“Apparently. That’s what I heard. But you know I just saw him a  minute ago when I was heading  to your booth.”

I tell  him the story but stop after the cancer and leave out the funny stuff with the doctor. I’m in  no mood for self deprecation.

“Jesus, that’s weird.” He finishes his beer and goes to get another. He comes back. “That’s so weird. Life’s a bitch, then c’est la vie.” We don’t say anything for a moment. I look at the beautiful girls serving the beer and feel somewhat reinforced by the fact whereas I was once intimidated by them, I am now the kind of guy who might be able to pick one up, if I were so inclined. Beefy interrupts. “What was I saying? Oh, I went to a happy hour for some meat company with those girls. Oh you know who I ran into? Your guy Thomas.”

This brings me back to the present situation. “Really?”

“Yeah he’s a good guy. We were hanging out in this bar on Snake Street. He was telling us how you were out his redneck customer, had to take him to dinner and the ball game because the guy hated him, so he was forced to hang out, drink beer and go to dinner with his friends.”

“Well, he’s got it about right.”

“I thought he was only kidding, though. He thinks you’re the greatest, nothing but respect for you.”

“He fucking works for me.”

“No, you can’t bullshit a bullshitter. He was sincere. Told me that he learned more in a year and a half working for you than he did in seven years in marketing. Says you know the business better than anybody.”

“Interesting.”

“Yeah he’s a real good guy. I probably would have hung out with him, in fact I was tempted but I had told my brothers that I would go down to the southside, watch the ball game and catch a few beers with them.”

“Really? Western avenue? Well, did you say hello to Jim for me?” His brother Jim and I were in the same grade. But he was a big shot, an athlete, not as good or as big as his brother but, because I didn’t pay ball, he always  looked on me as a basically inferior species. I always tell Beef to say hello just because I want to remind him I’ve done a lot better than he has, selling insurance and still living down there. “Really. Where’d you go?”

“Several places. Just hung out with my brothers. Ran into some guys I know. The bars were fairly crowded for the basketball game.  It was a lot of fucking fun.”

“I don’t know man. I hate going down. It depresses me.”

“What? The smokes? They really don’t bother me. They don’t go to the same places I do.”

“I don’t think it’s the smokes as much as the whites who still live there.”

“Why?”

“There’s just nothing happening there. All you can do is go to the bar.”

He has no idea what I’m talking about. “I always have fun. It’s no big deal. Yeah there’s  more smokes than ever but what can you do? I’m just down there for a few brewskis.”

“Really.” I’m bored now  “Who says you can’t go home again.”

“I didn’t go home. I just went to some bars near the house.”

I’m almost back to the booth when I hear two people call my name. I look around but I can’t see anybody and I’m just about to our booth when my guy Glom catches up with me “Excuse me, Jack. I left you a message at the hotel about dinner tomorrow night…”” I stop hearing him as I notice an increasingly familiar face coming toward me, one of those faces from deep in the past that you know but have trouble with because of both time and age. It’s a guy I should remember walking with a notably unattractive woman.

“Jack, It’s Ira Greenburg.”

“Why hello, Ira.” This is a guy I had one class and a couple dozen beers with twenty years ago. I wouldn’t remember him at all but he always annoyed me.

“This is my wife Sophie.”

“How do you do?”

“Fine thank you.”

“How have you been Jack? It has been a very long time.”

“Yes it has. I haven’t seen you since you were at the university.”

Ira gets a funny look on his face. “I guess that’s right. Are you here for the convention.” At least I know he’s not in the business. Nobody calls it a convention.

“Yes. I’m Vice… Director of Sales for the Tastee Foods.”

“I don’t know them.”

“We’re the Food Division of Palladin.” I get the feeling that my guy Glom would like to tug on my sleeve.

“The tobacco company?”

“Yeah. What brings you here.”

“We’re looking at a beverage company. I run a venture capital fund.”

“MBA finance?”

“PhD actually.”

“Chicago?”

“Stanford for that part.”

“That’s great. When we were at Chicago…”

He chuckles as he interrupts, “We? Jack had some classes there.  You were going to UIC or Daley College or something.”

I turn to Glom and say “You have to Email me about any plans you‘ve made. You know I don’t want voice mails. Ira, excuse me, I have a business to run. Nice to meet you Sally.”

I stop back by the booth for a minute and leave a note for Aubrey at Monde du Sandwich, but nothing else is happening. I’m disgusted, more broadly than deeply, but disgusted so I blast out a few minutes early.

5/22 Mon 1:30  : Leave for south side

I get back in the car and cross over the expressway to see if Theresa’s, a blues bar near the projects, is gone. It is. Or I can’t find it. I decide take a drive past the Checkerboard Lounge on 43rd and see if it’s still there. As mentioned, I’m not too wild these days about Blues music, but once upon a time, with some of my friends from the University, I liked to go to these incredible ghetto dives, I think because it gave slumming a brave, reckless edge. It was cool to be the only white people in the crowd and actually the music really was very good. The guitarist who had some sort of ownership in the club, was spectacular and seemed to have an understanding of more complicated jazz stuff that allowed him to transcend the natural limitations of the blues. At least this is the kind of full of shit way I described it at the time  We were there one night when the Rolling Stones dropped in and  though I was so crapulent as to retain only one or two filmy images, I bragged about it for years.

I guess the other thing is that I impressed dates, notably,  Consuelo taking her here. It was very important for her to have different experiences and this was one of the best.  It was overwhelming to the senses, hearing lost to the music, hazy smoke and bad lighting turning every thing into a distorted shadow and thank heavens for olfactory fatigue, with the moldering bathroom and the rib joint next door. Dancing, sitting or standing one sensation, touch, the feel,  the pulse of the beat, the music overwhelmed all other faculties as you hopped or swayed or swooned. And with beer, so reduced, holding  on, holding each other up, dug in and clinging like the callow lovers we were.

The thought of this place, being with her, with new friends, with a forming sense of who I might be was, I must admit it, brings back happy memories. I stopped going to the blues club after a while. I lost my taste for it. I didn’t want to run into people. It seemed not only inferior to the intricacy and versatility of jazz, but also felt like a bad joke. I never quite got the set up. It was okay to do some aesthetic slumming when you were affiliated the University of Chicago but at the state school it began to seem too inevitable.

I head up 43rd and between making lights and keeping an eye out for drawn weapons, I’m almost past it before I notice the storefront. The sign is still there but how can you tell if such a place is still open in the daytime? Almost everything around it has been torn down. I would slow the car but there are gansta types walking all over the place and this is not a good idea. It’s past noon and the more disreputable characters are getting out of bed.

I turn right and head south up Cottage Grove.

It’s still early and I figure I’ll charge a couple more windmills before I go to see my brother. I plan to never going down here again and it is sort of life affirming to see how stupid and clueless I once was. I fly past old retail stores that may have been fashionable 70 years ago, many open lots, the occasional high rise project and glimpse through the lots, mansions, literal mansions on deserted streets, windowless and crumbling, with big yards overgrown with the first weeds of the season. Someday I suppose someone will come here and think to rehabilitate these things but I think that’ll happen , in Boeufy’s words, when pigs freeze over.

The park starts on my right as I continue up Cottage. It’s a beautiful park that you don’t dare go into due to the neighborhoods surrounding it. The only book my father ever admitted reading was Studs Lonigan. The character was an Irish kid from a little after the turn of the century, an proletarian sort who lived in fear of his neighborhood being overrun by smokes. Several key events in the book take place in the park here, including his attempted date rape of the girl he loves. It’s the only thing this park means to me, but it is lovely especially in the spring. It’s really too bad that people don’t get to use it. The area has been black for decades and the worst of it is right here. Lonigan was right.

I’m not sure if it was my sister’s indoctrination or the wishes of my ailing mothers that drove me, but at one point attending the University of Chicago, was the most important goal in my life. I worked my ass off the last year of high school to repair the damage the alienated years did to my gpa. I gave new nuance to the term standardized test, taking them over and over again till I got the scores I needed. I was filling in the answers without having to read the questions by the end, but I did get admitted. It was decided I’d start at the state school for freshman year, to save money but also to show my Father I was serious. She was already very sick and she died before I finished my first year.

I lived at home, with my father and younger brother during that period. It was not a happy home as you might guess, but my father did nothing to make it any easier on his kids. He mostly slept and ate, he didn’t talk much and he seemed to work a lot of hours although he bitched and bitched about the money we were spending on the tuition. As much as I fought with my younger brother, I felt sorry for him, having to be in that house all the time, in high school and having no place else to go. Me, I spent my time in Regenstein, the library or hanging in the Gargoyle or in coffee shops from early morning to late at night, rather than at the other school. I’d go down on weekends. It was fortifying to manage my own time all the time at age eighteen, nineteen. There were plays and concerts, classical and jazz, for cheap with a school ID. While I liked the drinking, I didn’t care all that much about the parties I was missing back in the neighborhood. I knew all the girls and they were in two categories: Those that I had given up on and those who had given up on me.   I didn’t care about going to places alone. I didn’t care that the Englewood line traveled through some dangerous neighborhoods, I sort of liked it and I think my non chalance probably kept me out of harm’s way. I’m sure that the smokes thought of me as crazy.

I’m ruminating over this as I turn on 55th street and head east. The neighborhood is one of those constants, one of those few dependable things that never change. Hyde Park is much like the school, dour, serious, a little self-important. With the spring it actually seems softer. I don’t really remember any trees. But that was fine, that was part of it and I was part of it. It didn’t feel like I was in Chicago, let alone on the southside. It seemed like it had to be surrounded by ghetto, to be a separate place. The diurnal considerations of the middle class would detract from the life of the mind. A wide black moat kept the lumpen bourgeoisie away.

I was almost breathless with excitement my first class there.  It really was the western canon, introduction to the classical world. They like to make you feel somewhat less competent because you hadn’t studied Latin and Greek. I had actually taken Latin courses in high school; I just hadn’t studied.  It made me feel as if those serious minds of the past were talking directly to me and that I was an undiscovered or unrecognized genius, that I could bring new apprehension to what they were saying.

I turn south on Woodlawn Ave. and realize that I’ve almost never driven a car down here. A car back then wasn’t an option and I haven’t been back to visit. I turn my head as I pass through the intersection at 57th street to check to see if Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap is still there. It is and I almost hit a parked car.

As I approach the first grey, stone buildings, I remember mostly being alone, even lonely, fortified because I belonged, but in an institutional way than personal way. Even before my mother died I was sullen, mopey kid. I really had no friends for the first year and a half and I recall being somewhat miserable, but indulging my misery and being in the right place to do so. The other students were easy people to disdain, serious, studious, socially retarded, for the most part even more passive than me. I remember being cold and wet a good percentage of the time, walking from the El and across the campus, wandering amid the squinches and lintels. Not only don’t I remember any trees, I don’t remember any space between the buildings. I do remember mud. In my mind it remains a monolith. It was how I defined myself but in truth, it was generally bleak.

I met Consuelo going home on the El train. Again with  fucking Consuelo. I even used know the date, for Christ’s sake. It was already dark on a late January afternoon. I had spent it the library, I was engrossed in thought and she sat next to me, I think for safety. I had seen her several times on the train before and thought she was beautiful, but I had pieced together that she was going to the Lab School, a private secondary and elementary school. She didn’t look particularly young, but there was no sense in getting excited about a girl who may have turned out to be thirteen or something. She was almost eighteen, but not knowing that and treating her like a kid to talk to you rather than a girl to meet made it easy  to just chat with her that first time. I have no recollection what we talked about, just that she was confident and mature but I determined by the time we transferred to the Western bus  that as long as she was over nine I was going to ask her out. She was new to the neighborhood and that, too, was reassuring; going to the Lab school she probably had a limited social life, linked as they were to the high schools. And she was bored too. She quickly became my partner in exile.

I come to the Plaisance. I played rugby late in my second year on the fields of  mud between the lanes of the boulevard. It was a club thing, an intramural league and the guys in the league acted as if they were bravely confronting some atavistic tendencies in playing such a rough sport, but it wasn’t shit compared to the football games I survived with my brother. I was one of the best, maybe the best player in the league and that gave me a micro-notoriety which helped me catch on with a kind of group, the same dilettantes that ran down to the blues bars. I developed some friends and remember heated discussions fueled by beer at Jimmy’s, hashing over logical positivism or the banality of evil, fighting with that fucking… prick, Ira, rugby clothes plastered in mud.

I turn right and head through the park, but I’m done here. There’s not enough here to be worth my while. That makes me feel like I can overcome the past without getting all wracked with sentiment and emotion. I feel better, for all the recent troubles, happier to be who I am now rather than who I was then. And god knows what kind of scrotum I could have ended up being if I had stayed an academic.

After two years of complaining about the cost the old man pulled the plug and said he wouldn’t pay for the University of Chicago after all and I could finish at Illinois at Chicago. I remember being dumbfounded when he told me, like it was a joke with no punch line. I tried my best to talk him into letting me stay but he was obstinate and mean. I even offered to quit and work for a year so I could stay but he said no, my brother would be starting school soon and he didn’t want the two of us in school at the same time for more than one year. I finished in four and a half because I started working for the fish house. Instead of majoring in philosophy, I ended up with a degree in marketing. Although it ended up serving me well and god knows where I would have ended up if I continued on course as a philosophy major, it was the last straw with my father. He knew how much it meant to me to be there; I suspected it was an act of revenge against my mother’s memory, the final dissipation of her ridiculous values and opinions.

I pass the large sculpture where the Plaisance enters the park, Lorado Taft’s something about time. I remember thinking that this was an important piece of art but truth be told I don’t think I ever ran in to another work of his and, as I go by, it is striking in its lack of any meaning.

5/22 Mon 2:30  : Meet with brother- 10999 s. western

I get back off the expressway at 87th street. I tool past the old house, the brown 30’s bungalow on Throop. It’s still there, grass needs cutting and there’s some ornate burglar bars on the front door. Figures. Smokes. I cut through down 91st to cross the Rock Island tracks into Beverly. But they’ve got it blocked off with a concrete embankment and it is immediately apparent that it’s there to prevent the shades from getting through.  I find this amusing and wonder what they are going to do out the ones that are already there. Actually, I end up driving half a mile south to 95th street before I can turn west.  I go past the tracks and turn into North Beverly.

              It seems smaller and rattier, less kept up, less grand. For all of my bitching about the neighborhood,  I used to dream about having a house here. I called them mansions, before I knew what mansions were.  I used to ride through and want to own one and now I could, probably any of them, but I have no use for the place. It’s changed. Full of smokes. It hasn’t stopped my brother from buying a house here. It was a stupid thing to do, a liberal thing to do, a bad investment and he’s going to lose his ass.

I go past Consuelo’s old house, a large, brick and stone pile on Longwood. I pull in the driveway for just a second before backing out.  It’s well kept and there’s some sign from the local historical society on the front lawn. I don’t know if her parents still live here.  It’s a very big house in the nice section of Beverly whereas I lived in the decidedly more modest Evergreen.

             

I spent a Christmas Eve here with her family. I found myself nervous going up the drive, like the slight incline was something I had never encountered before. I didn’t know where I would put my Fathers car, then felt somehow foolish that I was driving to her house though she was only a mile away. But I would have felt foolish walking too. Bottom line was while I just felt foolish.

Her mother and  sisters and they welcomed and accepted me. Her mother was beautiful and spoke with a beautiful  accent, was French and Spanish,  went to school in various countries but effusive, hugging and chatty and making me wish that I could live here. Her father was worked in the Chilean consulate but also the university. The house was clean and full of beautiful comforting things. But her mother sIt was very different from home. I wanted so desperately to have that kind of life.. The assurance that manners and social graces brought, the access that came with money, the belonging-ness of fashion and fine clothes. I remember her mother drank a martini and it looked like a scepter.  To me it seemed like the upper class.

Maybe that Christmas day started me thinking. Even my sister, much more clever than me, was always broke as she pursued her career. There is an inferiority to poverty: maybe she did not feel that and so these intellectual pursuits were reasonable and solid. But for me they were dooming me to continued self conscious,  vulnerability.

We first met in Mexico City. We were both in the program for displaced campesinos.”

I remember seeing her  the first time. I heard her speaking Spanish so I didn’t know where she was from.

They are all happy but he is reserved. I try to figure out if he is always this way or if it is because I was there. But I am too nervous to gather more evidence. I sat there on the couch, the back of my hand pressed for a while against hers.  I want to hold her hand but he is so intimidating I don’t dare. At last she slides her hand up and over mine and our palms touched. Her skin was cool, not warm and it was little dry but I felt a weight inside me fall, a rushing change of my own sense of center.  I remember thinking we had had sex three times but that was simply the most intimate thing we had between us, the most exposed and covered I had felt at once.

We were all seated when Victor  came in. They after all had a real dining room, not a tbale in the kitchen like our bungalow. He came over to shake my hand. The chair resisted y so I got kind of half up with the chair continuing to undermine me, pressing against the back by knees. One of the girls laughed my chimpanzee like posture. He was kind or probably didn’t notice

I just wanted that. A family discussing ideas, classical music in the background, her sisters showing off at the piano. A true dining room. A Dining set. Real wood. A room for of books. A living room both beautiful and not covered in plastic, a rug you walked on, not a plastic runner. Actually there were like three living rooms, they called them the sitting room, the reading room and the parlor

And I decided that day that I had to have it because she would not have it any other way. Then when she left I figured when I got her back, she would see how that would come. I thought a lot about things, I was fascinated with homeless people for a while.

I called one day and I had heard she had gone, had to go back to stay with her aunt. This was strange right after starting school. But her aunt was sick and needed Consuelo to stay. In Chile. So I wrote her letters because I couldn’t call. But I dropped them off for her and her Mother said she would write back. I only got one.

Anyway we talked and joked about many things, smart and silly and had a fabulous dinner that lasted three hours. Her Father and I had cigars and a long conversation in his study.   I also remember that when it was time to go, her mother hugged me and kissed me so demonstratively that I got a hard on. I was mortified with the thought that Consuelo would notice the slight lump in my pants.

 

I head up Western Avenue and stop at the light at 95th street. Three smokes cross at the light in front of me, all guys in their twenties, I’d guess. They scowl at me, like somehow I don’t belong there. How dare they.  I was here long before they came along. There’s not a single honky by the shopping plaza, not on the street, not in the parking lot. I wonder if any whites even work there. There have been some changes, old retail buildings gone, new retail buildings up, everything seems busy. I would have guessed it would be more depressed. I guess I do stick out like a sore thumb here.

Janson’s, the hot dog stand is still there and actually the thought of a chili and cheese dog has appeal. Perhaps after the meeting with Palsy.

I don’t go by the house on 99th street.  It’s just some more bricks. I’m done on the past.  I look at the buildings on Western Avenue they seem cheap and mean. I don’t ever talk to my old friends, but in my minds eye I see them aging, more rapidly than me, death, birth, marriage and other rites must evaporate past their hooded gazes like so much heated air. Impotence, the world as something that does things to you. That’s what I got away from and I couldn’t be happier about it.

10920 is a low 2 story brick deal, the commercial equivalent of a bungalow and a parking lot along the side with spaces for five cars. He has a nice little four room law office with a secretary and ferns. She, the secretary, a fat, guinea or beaner, middle aged woman, stands up all excited.

“Hello. You must be Mr. Crawford’s brother.”

“That’s right. Mr. Crawford” and I shake her extended hand. She stands there for a second like I’m supposed to make small talk with her. I don’t and she says, crestfallen, “I’ll see if he’s available at the moment and disappears in back.

“Hello Jack.” Paul says when he comes out. He’s a smaller, slighter version of me. Being small, my father and older brother more or less ignored him, which made for a quieter, safer childhood than my own.

“Hello Paul.” I unintentionally mimic his attempt at a robust greeting.

“How’s your new baby?”

“Great. How are your kids.” I pick up a frame off the desk. “Are these them or are these the ones that came with the frame.”

“No they’re mine.”

“Got any pictures of your daughter?”

“Um, no.”

He frowns in disbelief. “I see.”

“How’s your new house?”

“It’s modest by your standards, but we’re delighted by it.”

“boy, Wood Street huh? Smokes on the block?” I say feigning concern.

He looks pissed off for a second but answers the question. “We have white and black families on the block. Generally lovely people. We’ve become very friendly.”

It’s hard to suppress a smile when he talks this way. “It’s not about racism, Paul. It’s about investments.” He doesn’t say anything but does look me directly in the eye. “Well, I’m sure your property values will hold up just fine.” I wait for something out of him but he just stares at me.

“I saw Joad day before yesterday.”

“Mr. Sunshine?

“He tells me your wife is into the Opus Dei thing. Are you?”

“I am joining the prelature

“Prelature? Gotta love the way the Cathartic Church invents words. I am only vaguely aware of Opus Dei. Is it something the parish signs up for?”

“No, it separate from the parish. It’s its own organization.” He is wary because he is expecting that I am setting him up for something. I am not, I am actually somewhat interested just because it seems kind of bizarre. It’s hard to believe we were close as kids but then again we had common enemies.

“What the purpose, I mean what are you trying to do? I am curious.”

“It’s about a lot of things. Really more about  a way of living than anything.  It’s about good works and prayer and finding holiness in your daily life.”

“I understood they were just trying to undo the Second Vatican reforms?”

“Not necessarily but they do prefer the mass the old way. We’re about perfecting the church.”

He is full of shit or they are and have convinced him. Far as I can tell, these people just want to go backwards. The world is scary and complicated and full of people who don’t agree with them. They are going to hunker down.

“Remember when I studied Liberation theology?”

He laughs, “Yeah, they don’t like that. A little too Communistic for them.”

“So what’s the story?”

“The Parkinson’s has progressed rapidly. He’s not continent and he’s rarely lucid. As you know we had somebody coming in every day but it had gotten to the point where he needed 24-hour monitoring. So I decided he’d be better off in the nursing home.”

“Don’t sound so resigned. If anything, you should have done it months ago.”

“Well, whatever. I’ve got some paperwork here, appointing me as the legal guardian, putting together a will and a living will that perhaps I can get him to sign, if the moment is right, and a quick deed for the house.”

“No, that’s fine. It’s nice of you to take care of him.”

“Someone needed to do it.”

“I wouldn’t.”

He stares at me again. He looks angry at first but I think he gets the idea that I simply can’t care about my father.

“What would you like to get out of the house?”

“I’m not a sentimental person. There’s nothing there that I want.”

“Nothing?”

“No. But you really ought to move it all out, before it gets broken into. Crime these days and all. Neighborhood isn’t what it once was…”

“It’s amazing how you say the same things he used to.” He think he knows me well enough to know that this would be one way to get to me. But it’s ridiculous. He’s a stilted man, bitter at everyone. I mean a lot of cops are bitter, but it’s their own special bitterness. It comes from having people hate you, without even knowing you. But my old man brought it to whole new levels. He hated viscerally, not just smokes but spics, Jews, Arabs, queers, polish in-laws freemasons, dwarves, albinos, the web-toed.

“Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while.” Living in Dallas for those years hasn’t quite rubbed off.  “Even he could be right about some things.”

“It’s funny, all your sneering. You have so little to be bitter about. You have so many things going for you. You know, I always wished I was  clever or quick or creative as you. It’s okay. It’s perfect for me,  I‘m perfect for family law. But you …”

“A giant in the industry.’ I smirk

“A giant fish peddler.” He thinks somehow that he can hurt my feelings this way, as if what you sell is as important as how well you do it.

“You mean a giant fish and chicken peddler.”

“And that’s all?”

“It’s enough.”

“Is it?” For him, apparently, this is the height of rhetoric.

I just smile. “Look, if you want to be pissed off because I enjoy myself, if that’s it, fine. Keep it to yourself.”

He goes all lawyerly on me, which I suppose is a defensive reaction. “ I wonder how much you really do enjoy yourself.  But whether you do so is secondary.  It seems to me that you are completely self-absorbed. I thought getting married and having a kid might change that.”  I laugh which gets him pissed off again. “Do you have any humility? You’re not getting any younger, have you thought about your mortality? I’m sure you’re not a Catholic anymore.”

“Ah fuck, I know where you are going with this and it’s a bore. I think given the state of nutrition, healthcare and medical science, it is perfectly rational to assume that you’re immortal until proven otherwise. Maybe I’ll pull a Mickey Mantle. Swap out organs as needed. I’ll have the money.” He sits there pushing his fingers against one another. I can hear the dust speeding through a ray of sunlight. Actually silence is one of the most effective tools in any negotiation or argument. This is book stuff and the point is to fight against your impulse to break the uncomfortable silence. My own tendency when uncomfortable is to make jokes. He hasn’t succeeded in making me uncomfortable. But I can’t sit here all day. “Another way of looking at it is, while I don’t believe in re-incarnation, I’ll manage to live enough for twenty or thirty lifetimes before I’m done and if that’s not immortality, it’s close enough for me.”

“I wonder if you consider the memory of your mother. Do you think she’d be happy with the way you are, mean, shallow, judgmental.”

He almost gets it with that one, almost gets me pissed off. But you have to remember that it’s only satisfying when it seems to bother you. I smile. “I think she’d be proud of me. I got away from this shithole.”

We sit there for a second. He’s staring out the window and I’m staring at him trying not to grin too broadly. “I’ll just get the papers.”

“Just tell me where to sign. How’s the money situation?”

“There’s none left, if that’s what you mean.” He snorts.

“No. I mean do you need any to take care of his expenses.” Not that I want to do that but it’s a way of letting him know that I’ve got it to give, even for this old bastard.”

Paul misses the nuance and feels stupid. He responds quietly, “No the police pension plus social security plus medicare is enough.” Thank god for the government. I‘m signing every place I see my name. “Don’t you want to know what you’re signing?”
“No Paul. You are a man of integrity and competence. I trust you completely.” I’m sure he takes this as an insult and it really is meant that way

He starts to get up. “Well do you want to go over to the home with me? It’s just up the street.”

“I’ll go over, but let’s take separate cars. I’ve got to get going pretty soon.” He looks at me like I’m sorta kinda of a bastard for not wanting to hang around here. But then he just shrugs and grabs his coat and keys.

Of course I had pictures of my daughter but I just didn’t feel like showing him. I know I’ll have to develop a good relationship with my daughter. It’s just that right now she’s still doing all that puking and shitting and you know you really don’t get anything out of it. Women do and I’m really embarrassed for them when they do. I mean there’s all this theoretical equality, yet they can be reduced to babbling at the drop of some drool. The other thing is, as mentioned, she’s ugly. I know all babies are ugly but this one is tenaciously so. It’s hard to believe she’s her mother’s child. The picture I carry around is a real doozy and I usually like to take it out to see what kind of reaction I get. But he’s got a couple of really pretty kids, so why give him a leg up? Yeah, I suppose I’ll change my tune eventually, but for now I get mileage from the perverseness of a really ugly kid.

And thank heaven for my brother. He’s cut off the morphine drip of memories.

We just go a couple of blocks north on Western. The hot air blasts like a crematorium as we walk in the door. The home, nice euphemism,  doesn’t smell as badly as I expect. They seem to know my brother and let him find his own way to the second floor.

The old man is in some kind of sun room, a big room thirty feet wide with one wall of windows that almost reach the 12 feet to the ceiling. He’s in the room with some other patients, most of whom seem to come and go as they please, involved in activities that aren’t important to me but makes them look busy.

My father, on the other hand, sits in a chair, staring left across the room, not out the window as he has been aimed, looking at nothing, something across the room. The skin of his face is slung forward from the bones. It’s as if his anger has finally torn the tissue that held it in place. The screaming and, worse, the disgust has finally left him with a mask not of his rage, but of the visage of failure we all wore. I feel relief when I see him, realizing that for all of the illnesses before, this one has finally neutralized him.  He doesn’t look up and he doesn’t respond.

              Paul shakes him, “Dad. Dad. Dad.” But at last all he gets is a quick look and then his gaze returns to the point across the room that we can’t find. As I stand there he becomes a memorial to himself, to his life. I’ve always had some difficulty imagining him as a young man, idealistic, kind, foolhardy, but I suppose he must have been. Mom said he was kind once. I wondered what happened to him but maybe she really meant he was kind on a single occasion. He must have told jokes that were not derisive, laughed at no ones expense. I‘ve often wondered why she married him, they were so different by the time I knew who they were. Maybe they weren’t so different once. And maybe she was pretty if big, with a tongue even quicker than his and smart enough to not let him get the upper hand and wise enough not to take him seriously. And maybe he was handsome and cocky and strong and only cynical and not mean, maybe even funny. I guess he was a good dancer. You can build up these little vignettes, if you so choose, they’re touching really. But they really just show you how wrong people can be, how stupid they are.

Finally we start to go and he turns and looks at my brother, bobbing his head three times or so at my brother. Paul responds to this; apparently it is his way to signal his interest in saying something. He puts his ear up to my father’s mouth. In the sunlight I can see spittle fly onto the side of my brothers face as the old man rasps something to my brother. My brother stands up and puts his hand on his shoulder. My father starts coughing, but not deeply. It almost sounds like a laugh. Paul says good-bye and I follow him out of the room. As we go down the hall, as he is wiping the saliva from his face, I ask, “What did he say?”

My brother hesitates for a moment and then seems to give in. “He said ‘Stay away from me you crazy fucking porch monkeys.’ ”

I say good-bye to my brother. I think he’s just as happy to see me go as I am to leave. I guess I’ll talk to him at the funeral.

That thought is with me as I pass the funeral home where my mother was waked.  It prompts me to turn and go by the house. On 100th street. I pass the pizza place and the liquor store where we got older guys to get our beer. There’s no one on the streets, as ever, streets of small brick Georgians and smaller brick modern bungalows, homes smaller and cheaper than the ones in the neighborhoods from where they had all fled.  A couple quick turns and I am on 99th street, past the railroad tracks and I see the house. The first thing evoked when I see it is my embarrassment when four guys took her out the front door on an extra large stretcher board. When I think or dream about my mother she inflates, gaining as much as 200 pounds in the interval.  And that’s kind of how it was, although over the space of ten or so years.  The fact that she slowly killed herself didn’t occur to me, but I’m not sure it’s that simple. That and the schedule she kept, working long hours, all the over time she could get and cleaning a house for essentially four men who never lifted a finger. All so we would have money for the Catholic High School and for College. As such it was a spectacularly middle class suicide.

I don’t have any tremendous memories of the place. We moved here when I was thirteen, my mom died when I was seventeen and I moved away at twenty one. In three years of college I was in and out but I only slept here.  The face brick is a deep red, which is a little different than the other houses, but always seemed typical to me.

The same metal storm door is still there and I do remember one moment that I shared with my mother while going out the door. She had already had her first heart attack and looked a lot older, but was back to working and gaining weight. I was a sophomore or junior in high school, trying to get out the door in the morning, complaining about some little thing. She said a thing that she often said, for she hated pettiness. “Don’t be small.” And she adjusted my winter hat. I don’t know if she did it subconsciously or if she was signaling something to me or if she was just fed up with him, but she turned and looked at my father, for some reason sleeping on the living room couch. Not only was she heavy, she was quite tall, almost six foot and slightly taller than my father. He hated it, hated to be teased about it. She looked back at me and I said, “You mean, don’t be short.”

She was so shocked she could barely laugh. “You know what I mean you little son of a gun.”

She made me feel like I was her favorite then, though she was good with my younger brother too.  I guess she was compensating for my father who kind of gave up on me after he realized I wouldn’t be an athlete like my older brother.

The thing I never figured out is that if he was so unhappy being married to the fat woman, why did he become an even more miserable bastard after she died?

Dispelling the last vestiges of sentiment remaining  I again head past the house on Longwood drive.  I pull across the street and sit for a moment. To the left of the front door, partially visible through a flowering lilac bush, is the window of her Father’s study. I am thinking about the conversation I had with him after the dinner at Christmas.  Seeing her makes me want to resolve this in my mind for some reason.

 

After dinner, her Father asked me into the study, I almost laughed because I thought he was kidding; people only said that crap in the movies. I followed him through the pocket doors  that he slid closed, feeling particularly goonish as I realized how much bigger than I was than him.  I also smiled embarrassingly when he offered me a cigar but was hopeful he took this as a sign of delight and not my general idiocy. I had tried cheap cigars like any other boy but this was different. Certainly smoother but also richer and more intense. I didn’t cough but it went to my head rapidly. Luckily the Calvados was so repellent that I didn’t do much more than bring it to my lips and pretend to drink it.

“So how is school?’

“It’s going pretty well”

“What are you studying?”

“I am declared as political science but I am considering a second major in economics.” It wasn’t a complete lie. I knew he had studied economics and I had a passing interest in it.

“You know they used to be the same thing.”

“I am aware, Adam Smith for instance. I think through the 19th century. They were the same department” What little erudition I demonstrated was undercut by my  inability to form a complete sentence.

“The University of Chicago?”

“Illinois at Chicago. I’ve been trying to transfer in to the U of C next year. Haven’t been able to overcome the finances.” A this point it was more of a wish than a hope.

“If you can, you certainly should.”

“You teach there, right?”

“No, I mostly lecture. I worked on a PhD there in international monetary movement but I don’t really work in that field. I joined the diplomatic corps before I finished my thesis.”  He seemed bored with the story, as if he had told it many times. “Any thoughts I have these days are about domestic economics, the economy of Chile, the people of Chile.”

“Do you want to return to the field?”

“I wouldn’t say that. I had just gotten back from Chicago when President Pinochet took office. I worked on the transition and the reform. I worked the team started the de-nationalization of the mines. We began structuring a new economy around free market principles, Chicago principles.” He paused. “ Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.”

He was woolgathering and I didn’t want to interrupt so after a moment I croak out, “It must have been exciting.”

I looked at his shoe-black hair and thought it was really interesting that  man of his age hadno grey hair, without even considering he would color it.  After a moment he turned and looked at me fixedly. “ I want to talk to you seriously. I have some advice I would like to give you. It is obvious to me that you are an intelligent and enthusiastic young man. My daughter is quite taken with you. She is very bright and we have tremendous hopes for her. It is a comfort that she has chosen to become friends with someone that is so interested in the world and the world of ideas.”

“Thank you.”

“I do feel obligated to tell you that you don’t know what you are talking about in regards to Chile.” I gulped and sipped the noxious drink.  “Allende took the cowards way out, committing suicide so he wouldn’t have to face trial.  If you read some more you will see that what occurred was not a coup but a counter-coup. Allende had already subverted the constitution. The Supreme Court and the Chamber of Deputies had already come to that conclusion.  As far as the so-called Caravan of Death, the crisis required a strong hand to remove violent Marxists who were threatening the republic. “ As he spoke he began to get agitated.

I had read significantly on the topic and had opinions but there was no way I was going to engage him on this. Neither I was I going to agree with him.

Fortunately he spoke again.  “One day I was told to go to the Presidential Palace. This was not unusual as we had many meetings there. Nor was it surprising that I was told that President Pinochet would be attending the meeting as I had been in meetings with the President in attendance before. But this time I was in a much smaller room, not much bigger than this, and told to wait. After a while the President came in with only one soldier. No one else. He knew my name. He said, ‘Victor, you have been of great use to our party and our country. You have helped all of us through a difficult time and I am personally grateful. You are a patriot  and one of the heroes of this revolution.  Now your nation needs you to fill a  new mission.”

Victor stopped to sip his drink. I couldn’t tell if he was emotional or trying to remember correctly. “President Pinochet is a great man. His presence is subtle. He speaks quietly. He moves carefully and thinks carefully. The genius of his leadership is his tranquility and orderliness of his mind. And at this time I could see he considered carefully what he said to me. This made the recognition and praise that much sweeter. Here was a man who valued sincerity over perhaps any other value. I was overwhelmed with joy but also filled with anxiety as I waited to hear what he was going to tell me. The sensation was overwhelming and I felt as I might drift out of my body. I felt such love for the man I would have done  anything.  If the communists had stormed the building I would have shielded his body from bullets.” He paused again

”But what he told me was a grave disappointment. “Victor’ he said, as you know, we still have enemies. Some of them are obvious, violent and loud. Those are the easy ones . There are others that are hidden and quiet. Many if these can be found in our embassies and our consulates. They not only undermine our national interest, they lead the nations of the world to believe that our government is not supported by the Chilean people. This situation cannot continue. We are in the process of finding out which member of our diplomatic staff are not true patriots and removing them from their posts. In some ways this is merely administrative, but there are enough personnel being removed from their posts that we have a deficit of professionals in place to take on their missions. We are looking for the right patriots to represent and serve the country . You have the experience, the upbringing and most importantly, the loyalty to serve the nation in the world.’ So  for 10 years now I have served in the diplomatic role for my country.” I thought he was going to say Pinochet and I think he almost did.

“But I have regrets. I was denied the opportunity to be at ground zero at the revolution.  But my choice of career meant I couldn’t participate in another revolution, the market revolution. I wish to be capitalist, to join the fray, to compete. Like all men of my age, I look back and say, what if..”  He almost sighed, choking it. “And while I am proud of the role I have played, I live off government salary and some family money and stipends from the university… “ He was confessing to me that he felt he wasn’t successful or wealthy enough which was inconceivable to me, just based on surroundings. “It’s not enough. As an economist I am either coach or referee. I want to play in the great game, to be part a capitalism.”

I didn’t even know what to say. I had spent the whole evening thinking about this was  a life any  person could want and he was telling me the money wasn’t good enough.  I took a hit off the cigar.

He filled the silence. “I wish I was your age. President Reagan is creating the conditions  where individuals can go and fulfill their destiny. If I were you, well I would certainly finish your degree, but get out as soon as you can. You have good intentions but they won’t lead to anything.  It doesn’t really help the poor. You are just doing triage. Enrichez-vous. Create wealth and that wealth will enrich everyone… and don’t become an academic. Live in the market. Be a capitalist. This is your dawn, your moment to be alive.”

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. I think we got onto literature and painting. He preferred the old masters, obviously.  But the message to me was clear. He was worried about his daughter, that an idealist wouldn’t be able to take care of her.

5/22 Mon 7:00  : Dinner with the boys

              I get the car valeted and decide to check messages before I even look for the boys on the very crowded bar at the steakhouse. No messages from Saliva or Consuelo, disappointing me in widely different ways. There’s only  a message from Trench saying he can’t make dinner with us but something came up. That seems strange to me, that a young weasel would cancel dinner with his bosses boss. Maybe he doesn’t play his politics well. But that he’s also the grand nephew or something of the CEO  causes this to be one more entry in the paranoia file. Am I becoming a pariah?  I don’t give a fuck. Tonight is going to be the highlight of the show, a good time and I’m not even worried about tomorrow. I’m going out with the boys and I’m going to erase all the static in my head.

I wriggle through the crowd by the bar, taching towards Bouefaroni’s head in the back of the bar. The place is jammed and we don’t have reservations.

“Hello losers.

“Bad idea coming to this place during the show.” Joe says peevishly as hello.

At least Bouefaroni is happy to see me. “We’re looking at an hour wait or more. Oh, this is Melvin. He’s perfect. He never gives me any business, but he’s one of my best excuses for running up enormous tabs.”

I shake Melvin’s hand, but I’m pre-occupied with developing a plan. I watch the managers, the maitre d’ and the hostesses.  I’ve seen this before. Their system is breaking down and they actually are really just making this up as they go along. They’ve all been checking reservations and writing down names and they have no idea who is who.

When they are both away from their station I slip over. I glance quickly at the book and read upside down there’s a party of four at the top of the list under the name Wojiehowicz that’s waiting for a table for over an hour. Always choose an odd or difficult name because it makes it seem less likely you’re lying. I cross my arms and wait for a moment for the hostess to return.

“Yes Sir. Can I…” I cut her off and launch in.

“This is ridiculous. I was told that it would be a 45 minute wait and now it’s going on an hour an a half later.”

“Yes sir. What’s your name?”

The Maitre d’ shows up. “ Is there a problem sir?”

“Yes there’s an enormous problem. I can’t believe you treat your customers this way. I have now waited for double the amount of time I was told I was going to wait.”  Then I slow down, like I’m trying to control myself. “Look I’ve got clients. We could have gotten reservations at another place but I raved about your place.  I sold them on it. Now you are making me to look like an idiot.” I act like I’m starting to get hot again but he’s already looking at his tables with the hostess. ‘You know I’m on the board with the National Restaurantuers Association and I do recommendations for the shows…”

“I’m sorry sir for the wait. Please come right this way.” I didn’t actually need the name, so even Mr. Wojiehowicz won’t get screwed on this deal.  No one gets hurt. It’s a beautiful thing. I signal the boys and we are seated. Smoking section but still.

Melvin says “How’d you get a table?”

“I’m a very important man.”

Beouf on the other hand loves this. “No. He’s the single best liar you’ll ever encounter who doesn’t have mental illness.”

“Don’t be so sure about the mental illness.” Hose adds. I wonder what his problem is.

I declare, “Well Monday is over. Anybody who’s important is on their way home. Present company included.” He say looking at Melvin

“Maybe for you. I have to take care of all my accounts. A lot of the schmuckier clients are still here.”

“So everything was taken care of with my little friend?”

“She interviewed again, this time with both me and my boss today.”

“Jesus you don’t have to hire her. But excellent. Thank you and I owe you one. I mean above and beyond dinner.”

“Blow job?”

“I’m not interested.  But I’ll pay somebody else to give you one.” He rolls his eyes.

“How was your tour of the southside?”

“Like a trip through a fucking graveyard. I want a scotch the size of a birdbath.”

Beefaroni assures us that this guy, Mel, wants to go out and get stupid and that we needn’t curtail our activities because he is with us.

“In fact,” Beefy kicks in, “Melvinator here had a great suggestion. There’s this transvestite lingerie show that he heard about. I have the address.”

“That’s not really normal but whatever.

Melvin asks, “So Jack, You’re from here?”

“Yeah we all grew up here. Beef and Joe and I all worked for Fish House Distributors. Beefy and I grew up in the same neighborhood on the southside. I knew his brother but I hired him anyway. Hose is some faggot from the northside but we’ve managed to work together at three different companies.”

“And now we’re competitors.” He says this flatly.

“In theory.” Something is on Hose’s mind, like I’ve done something to him

Melvin pipes in, “So you were visiting your family.” I’m tempted to ask him if he’s writing a book. But I suppose this is how people act friendly.

“Yeah, well they put my father in a home. He’s got parkinsons pretty bad.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Jesus, Jack I didn’t know.” Hose appears to have snapped out of the fog and is genuinely concerned or something. I almost remind them that it’s okay because I hate the bastard but the pity thing might come in a little handy. It occurs to me to play it that way.

Beefy  to know to change the subject. “Yeah Mel, Jack hired me about eight years ago but these guys have known each other for what, twelve years?”

As scary as it is, I do the math. “Try fifteen. Pat O’Jesus for about twelve. Hey, Hosehead where is Pat?”

“I go over to the Crusty booth and asked if he was there and they said he didn’t want to come. So I called and he said he none of his important clients were going to be here and he didn’t feel like coming, so they let him stay home.”

“What?”

“Didn’t feel like it. Didn’t want to have the six day hangover, didn’t feel like being away from his family over the weekend, didn’t want to sleep in a hotel.”

“Didn’t want to sleep in his own mess. Still doesn’t add up. There’s something wrong there. Why miss the party? Is he in trouble there at Crusty?”

“I don’t know. It’s not like him. He really likes to trawl. I mean I really loves…” Hose stops in mid sentence and then adds, “It doesn’t make any sense.”

The drinks arrive and Beefy proposes a toast. “Here’s to the NRA and getting stupid.”

“You mean stupider.”

“Amen.”

Hose muses “So Pat O’Jesus is not coming. Well Melvin I guess that means you have to take his role. Let’s see. You have to drink way too much way too fast, try to pick up girls that you have no shot at, get pissed off and thrown out of places because of it, throw up and pass out sitting in a chair at some point during the evening. Do you think you can do it?”

“It’s a pretty full plate but I’ll do my best.”
“I’ll miss him. He’s a good agitator. Beefy’s a good agitator too but he scares people.”

“I just take the bull by the thorns.”

“Yeah but  O’Jesus gets you into weird situations.”

“Yeah remember those two girls who told him they were lesbians when he tried to pick them up. Knowing Pat  he’s probably heard that line dozens of times. He’s the kind of guy who can drive women to dykedom…”

“Yeah he would buy them a shot if they would kiss each other, give them ten bucks if they’d fondle each others breasts…”

“I think for thirty he had the one sucking on the other ones nipples for fifty.”

“How far did it go?”

“That was it. We got thrown out of the bar.”

“So they were dykes?”

“Well, yes.”

“I disagree.” I surprise Hose and Beefy on that one. “The one was at least bi, but the other one, I think she was just having a little fun. For a while there I thought I had a shot of getting her to go back to the room.”

“Bullshit.”

“It would be bullshit if I told you I got her to go back to the room with me. If I convinced you that I got both of them to go back to the room with me, well that would be salesmanship. I’m just telling you the one wasn’t a lesbian.”

“So she just let another girl suck her tit for fun?”

“Yeah.”

“Would you let a guy suck your dick for fun?”

“Of course not, but that’s not necessarily a good analogy. Would you let a guy suck your nipples for say, five hundred bucks?”

“No.” Melvin says emphatically.

“No.” From Hose.

“Five hundred? Just touches my nipple and I get to beat the shit out of him if he does anything else? Yeah. I’d do it.”

“You’re an honest man, Bob Beefaroni.”

“This was only fifty.”
“Yeah but it was ten years ago. And they were in a different tax bracket.”

“I don’t buy it.”

Beefy says, “Remember though when Pat O’Jesus used to do coke?” Hose and I hesitate because Bob is with his customer. “What?” He looks confused and then he grins. “Don’t worry about the Melvinator. He’s been right next to me in the stall on occasion.”

“God yeah Pat O’Jesus on coke is scary because he doesn’t pass out and he throws up twice as often.”

“That’s because he drinks twice as fast.”

It reminds me of a story I actually like telling. “I remember going out with you fuckers once, I was so sick, I was running about a 104 degree fever and throwing up from the flu, but I had this deal I had to close so I took all this medicine, met the customer at the booth with the VP of sales, closed the deal in record time.  You guys told me you would drop me at the  hotel but instead you made me go out and celebrate. We went to the Sluggery and the only thing I could choke down were vodka and tonics. I think the first couple of drinks tricked  my system into thinking it was going to get more Nyquil. Eventually, I put some distance between me and my central nervous system but the rest of the organism was still completely drained. I also had this terribly stuffy head. But we were talking to these beautiful but stupid…”

“Incredibly stupid.”

“Stupid girls. Bovine spongiform level stupid girls. The kind of girls who need weighted shoes to keep from drifting up to the ceiling. Any rate I start to feel like maybe I’d want to stay for a little bit and Pat O’Jesus is telling me to do a little blow, I’d feel peppier, his choice of words, peppier. As in ‘Go ahead Jack. You’ll feel peppier.”

They laugh. “Peppier.”

“And, as I have no resistance and tire of hearing his spiel, I give in and go to the john and hoover. Well, it does work. Immediately, and though I’m worried about the long term, I really do feel peppier. My sinuses actually begin to drain. To make a long story tedious, we stay out til fivein the morning, I pound at least a dozen V & Ts into me plus a couple of shots, do almost a half a gram between ourselves and various coke whores, get laid and wake up the next morning, get to the booth by nine, work my ass off all day and party again the next night. The virus was completely gone.”

“You moided that little fucking bug.”

“Yep. I wrote the AMA to see if they would fund a study on cocaine and gin therapy for viruses. They never wrote back though.”

All this talk has us loaded for bear, whatever the fuck that means. We have our steaks and I’m just feeling much better. This was a delicious piece of meat and my synapses are still firing 5 minutes after finish it. I do break up my regimen with a frangelico and an espresso. Everything has been a struggle but I’m sticking to my dsicipline. Most of the hard stuff is finished after tomorrow morning. I haven’t even seen my shadow since this morning, and you know if it was someone my wife hired, the last two days have been such a train wreck that I don’t think that he caught me doing anything. Kind of ironic, huh? So I may  get a clean bill of health. And the stuff with my family, the best that can be said about it is that it’s done. I can get on with it. The march to the sea.

On Boeufaroni’s direction we head up on Broadway, north into boy’s town and of course it’s impossible to park. Eventually I park in both a crosswalk and by a hydrant. One of the great things about this city is how little attention they pay to writing tickets. We go in. The place is a lot less funky than I thought, in fact it looks like the fantasy of some pre-teen girl of the 1950’s, maybe Barbies Dream pad. The crowd too is pretty diverse and most of it looks straight. There’s a couple little pods of sissies but certainly they remain in the minority. Actually, in twos and threes are some attractive looking women and I never thought of these kinds of places as a good place to meet echt women, but you know sometimes you have to adjust your paradigms.

They don’t have any single malt scotches. I get a beer and the taste of it transports me back 20 plus years, freezing my ass clean off beside the B & O tracks with Mike and Kevin and Tom,  drinking warm beer and smoking dope, before a dance or a party, doing the same old shit every weekend with the same old people and the same girls and talking about the same stupid shit every time. I can’t believe how people pine for their teenage years. Just a little bit of realism can kill off the virus of nostalgia.

We pound the beers down. Melvin is yelling this shit at these girls. He starts slowly with I love you and marry me, but from there he goes to eat me and blow me.  I had gone to one of these things years ago and I think I was really drunk, because it did not have the same affect on me. It’s fascinating and somewhat unsettling.  These guys are more beautiful than any woman I’ve ever been with and worse, sexier. I know they are guys. In the deepest recesses of their tightly wound undergarments a pecker lies in wait. But I’m sitting here watching them and I’m impressed if not turgid. Melvin’s behavior makes me nervous, he’s threatening the barrier between the shows and the audience and I am not comfortable with them getting any closer than the runway.  Melvin is standing on his chair and suggesting they compare parts.

Hose is yelling at Beefy “You remember when we were on Bourbon Street and before Pat O’Jesus would talk to a girl he’d give them a subtle, little whisk with his hand to make sure there wasn’t excess baggage in the crotch.”

“Except he was pretty drunk and not all that subtle. The one nearly busted his nose.”

“Well, he wouldn’t have to worry about that here.”

Before too long, the club decides it has had enough of the Melvinator and a large bald man clad solely in leather appears at our table and informs us that it is time to go. I swear the gay community  bio-engineered these guys for bouncers and other circumstances  to scare straight people. Beefaroni starts to resist, but I straighten him out, so to speak. He can’t convince the guy to let us take our beer bottles. We leave and we’re all laughing hard.

They decide they need more beer for the ride to wherever we’re going. I ask them to pick up a bottle of single malt. I get the car and they come back with twelve beers and a bottle of tequila.

Joe hits the nail on the head, if you will, “Let’s go over and see some real girls.” It does seem necessary to dispel to these visions and for me it certainly is. I have the address of a gentleman’s club. Of course I have to drive. It’s funny how even in cities these days, you end up driving everywhere. We shoot back south towards the loop.. I find the club in an industrial area near the river.

They take a cover from us and we head in. It’s a very large place and it’s doing some decent business, but apparently we look prosperous and they find us a table towards the side and back of the stage. The waitress comes over and as usual she looks like a pole dancer from last decade. Beefy tries to order a beer and you can imagine our dis when we learn that they can’t serve alcohol in this place, It just won’t do. After she leaves  I volunteer Beefy to head out to the car to retrieve a bottle. A lovely blond in stockings only bends over and looks at me through her legs. All of a sudden, Melvin turns to Hose and says to him. “I know where I saw you before. It was just last night. We saw you in the Gland Riot bar. You were there with a hot little number, a girl with black hair. You were going at it big time. I thought you were  going to do her right there.”

Hose looks completely mortified. He must be shocked that he got caught. I can tell he’s thinking about denying it or coming up with excuses, but he’s not sure about what direction to go in.

“Hose I’m proud of you. I didn’t think you had it in her. Who is she? Do I know her? She in the business?”

He’s really embarrassed, “You might, she’s in the business, but I’m not giving you any names.”

“You know I’ll find out eventually. Why don’t you just tell me now. Before Beefaroni gets back.” But he’s not saying anything.

Beefy gets back with the supply. It’s dark and so I think this is going to work. I drink down my coke quickly so I’m left with ice and soon it’s mixing badly with the flavors of to kill you. I am astounded by the girls in these born-again strip joints. Not that they have tremendous bodies; that’s the result of exercise and surgery. Rather how pretty many of them are. They seem so clean and healthy. I think, and I have no proof, that a different type of girl works in these places, not desperate and pathetic, but rather assertive, independent and using the system to their own ends. Either that or the nature of my fantasies have undertaken a sea change.

But after the last place the girls seem the wrong side of wholesome, kind of funny and cliched. Hoary, if you will.  And not particularly sexy, though all the correct parts are there. Apparently we are neither as discreet nor as clever as we think, because suddenly  there’s a wall of meat between us and the stage, six or seven bouncers.

“Out. Now.”

I immediately have a sense of real danger. This is not a single guy whose threat, while potentially weird and horrifying was vague and unlikely. These are certifiable, angry gorillas, muscle that likes to be employed. I am not a coward. In fact, I seek confrontation. But these guys seem only  slightly in control and it being Monday night and the place being only moderately busy, they could make room in their schedule to break some ribs and noses. Normally, bouncers will try to waltz you to the door efficiently as possible and I’m hoping they do this. Maybe it’s a show for the rest of the patrons, but here I am flying in to the back wall and Beefaroni is jumping up to take a punch to the solar plexus so hard that changes the barometric pressure of the room.

The customer, Melvin, is still smiling. Apparently he thinks this is a little rough fun on boys night out. And, as a strategy it is very effective, because they are basically leaving him alone and taking it out on the three no longer indignant, merely scared, increasingly middle aged men.  One of them takes the base of his hand and pops the bridge of Joe’s nose. Before it starts bleeding, I find myself in a headlock and being twisted and dragged across the floor, I imagine, I hope in the direction of the door. I forget about consequence, my companions and my own actual discomfort and concentrate all my effort trying not to fall and break my neck.

And then I’m outside, in the warm night air. Joe comes flying out moments later, with blood covering the lower part of his face. “Where’s Beefy?”, I sputter.

“He’s in a choke hold on the floor.”

One of the bouncers opens the door, “Well, get the fuck out of here!”

“We need our friend!” I yell back with not a hint of manhood in my voice.

He comes back out a few minutes later with Beefaroni, who is only barely walking. He is doing some shallow processing of oxygen, but his lips have a bluish tinge to them.

“Now go!”

“We still got one more.”

“No. That’s it. You’re gone.”

We start to protest and one of them comes out of the door. It’s the one who clocked Joe. We start to shuffle bravely away.

“Well this is fucked boys.”

“Why don’t we just head for a bar?”

“I’m trying to think of some place to go but you know it is Monday night, pal.” I’m not processing this as well I should: sure it was a confrontation with some potential downside but it has passed. I‘ve got my breath and the endorphins are firing and I’m beginning to feel physically well. But we are walking towards the car and feeling kind of down. It’s not like getting our asses kicked by those guys should be a big deal. They are there to be latently violent and they are in their own ecology. Outside of that they don’t exist. No, I’m disturbed because I’m not getting the right rhythm that I hoped for boys’ night out. Perhaps there’s a little too much on my mind.  I vow to work through it. Melvin comes traipsing out without a scratch.

Then I suddenly remember this place that I used to go to that was actually good on a Monday night. “I got a place boys, if it’s still open, but it’s kind of punky.”

“Hey fuck, I don’t care.”

“That’s fine.”

We put some ice on Hose’s nose.  I head north, through neighborhoods, down side streets that I would  have never thought would re-gentrify, that, though they are composed of the same buildings that were there fifteen years ago,  look like a completely different place. The only thing I can figure is that speculation has to be fueling this stuff. I mean there can’t be that many people who want to live in the city let alone this close to the projects.

Beefy says to Hose, “Wasn’t this your idea? Mr. Jones got you in trouble again.”

“Why do guys have names for their dicks that always sound cool or tough? What happens when it lets you?”

“You mean like Mr. Bad Idea?

“Benedict Arnold?”

“Or Less than a minute man?

“In the pool, the incredible shrinking man.”

”Mr. Softy”

“The Halfling”

As we are going down one quietish side street, I hear Beefy say “Sssh,” and then he makes a motion with his arm out the window. There is a couple walking down the street and when the beer bottle explodes behind them they almost jump out of their skin. The boys think this is hilarious and they all start bombing. I turn down side streets and turn off the lights to make it work better. On a launch, Beefy hits the visor and the beer falls on him instead. This is funny too but he takes out his aggression on the visor, ripping it off the ceiling and throwing it the window. The guys laugh and so he reaches over and rips mine off too, hitting me in the head a couple times for good measure. Then Melvin, jealous lifts out the headrest and throws it out the window. Hose shrugs and does the same with his. The floor mats depart and Beefy uses the bottom of his palm to dislodge the rearview mirror. Then he grabs the contents of the glove box and throws it all out and then he rips the door of the glove box door and discards it. Satisfied, he drinks the last of his beer and we arrive at the bar.

The place is called Neo and it’s still there and open. I park the car in a crosswalk, bus zone and fire hydrant zone and we pop right in. The interior is not much different form the way it used to be. Dark. The crowd is kind of throw back too, some pink and green haired punks, retro chicks and the leather crowd, some slacker flannel types. These might even be the same people. I mean they don’t look like kids and if I can come back here after ten years, then why can’t the dubious fringe? The boys are delighted. It’s just weird enough for them for it to be comprehensible without being completely overwhelmed.

It’s not really all that crowded, but everyone here seems to have an attitude like they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, a certain Monday night fatality that means that they control this environment and this is the only option in town.  The downside is that they look through you like you are something that doesn’t belong and ought to go away and that wouldn’t be a problem if the people doing so were just the weird ugly punks but there’s some really the hot girls that you would like to screw who seem to have the bad attitude about anyone who seems to have a job.

Melvin says, “Check it out.”

At the bar is a regular Valkyrie, a tall Nordic looking thing who is skinny, yet curvy, distinct features and tight clothes. The guys are into her so I figure what the hell so I ask her dance. She gets more beautiful as I approach, angular but delicate and amazing pale blue eyes and I‘m glad I did.  She’s six foot at least and about all I’ve got going for me is my height. She looks me up and down and laughs and then says yes.

She kind of laughs when she sees me dance, but you know what, I do have a sense of rhythm and so eventually I seem like I do know what I’m doing and I blend beautifully. That is it really; life for me is really a lot like a wedding reception, with me inherently cooler than everyone there.

Basically it’s shots with her. She’s apparently a big fan of tequila and we do a couple of those and as previously mentioned I don’t spend a lot of time broadening my relationship with strange liquors and few are stranger than tequila. But right now it’s okay. I’m really hoping the next drink can get me into the movie.

“So you married?” She is smiling and I don’t think it matters to her, just small talk.

“Yes but my wife doesn’t understand me.”

“She doesn’t understand you romantic, poetic side?” She says snidely.

“No, she just doesn’t understand me.”

“What? I don’t get it. She doesn’t understand your sexual needs?”

“No she just doesn’t understand me. She’s a mail order bride. She doesn’t speak English. And I don’t speak Irwaddy.”

“Very humorous.”

“Thank you. So you want another drink?”

“Um, maybe.” And she laughs.

“What’s so funny?”

“You ever do horse?” I smile trying to be cool and trying to remember drug argot. She laughs again. “You ever do heroin?”

I’ve actually been fairly curious about it for years. If you ever read a literary description of what it’s like, you know how intriguing it can be. However the window of opportunity for that has long closed.

“Just snorted it,” Which isn’t true but I remember reading about people who did and it sounds less weak than just no.

“You want to do some?” She’s smiling like Lucifer.

“With a needle? I don’t think so.”

“You want to buy me some?”

“I don’t think so.  I’d rather not end up in jail.” I’m feeling a little dumb.

“No, you don’t have to go with me to get. Just give me the money and I’ll go get it and then we’ll fuck around. You can wait in my apartment.”

I’m done here. There’s no way I’m going to go back to her apartment. Even if I was certain that she wasn’t setting me up to rob me, she seems way too comfortable with this sort of transaction. After all she’s putting needles in her veins.

“I can’t help feeling a little like a john.” I think that maybe I’ll piss her off but I’m curious as to how this thing works. But she laughs.

“I’m not a prostitute. I just believe in keeping things  uncomplicated. I choose ,rather than the other way around. I like the heroin and I often like the sex, but the sex only pays for the pleasure and not for food and rent. I’m certainly not a pro.”

I risk insulting her but smile, “Semi-pro?”

“If you like.” Her smile is fading away. The light changes and reflects strongly in her face. She looks older and wearier, as if the fact of heroin changes her in my eyes. She is still fiercely beautiful, maybe more so in this sad glow. “Last chance.” I smile at her and she says “Okay, bye.” And off she goes to finish her drink at the other end of the bar.

I return to the table to the boys. Beefy and Hose are sitting and what’s his name is out dancing with a couple of girls.

“Hey, what happened?” Beefy looks disappointed.

“She wanted to go do heroin.”

“That’s bullshit. What a lame excuse.” The normal Hose is gone and he’s back to  giving me guff, strangely hostile.

“No she wanted to do it with me or have me buy it for her. Then she’d screw.”

“How much did she want?”

“No idea.”

“Real man goes back with her and fakes it.” Hose adds, his moment of bad spirit passing.

“How do you fake it?”

“You miss your vein on purpose. She sure looked good from here.”

“ She was beautiful, but I don’t know. I didn’t bring any junkie strength rubbers.”

“Vulcanized.”

“Steel Belted.”

“Precisely.”

I’m not chasing much after that, she sort of took me off my stride. I look up after a couple more drinks and she is no longer at the end of the bar. It’s funny but I really would have liked to talk to her a little further. She seemed clever and I wanted to know what she did do to pay for her rent and food.  I almost find myself thinking like I did in college, that I could save or to help people, that acts of kindness or caring could transform people. Thank God I got past that bullshit.

I expected to achieve film at some point tonight, get hocussed and check into the little black and white theater. Everything has been so fucked up as to preclude it. All this different liquor I think screws it up, causes too much metabolic agitation. And that heavy meal. We should have never eaten. What was I thinking? Mel’s got some girl cornered and I don’t where Hose is, but Beefy comes up and asks what’s wrong.

How do I explain my strange thoughts to my simple friend? “Nothing man. A long day.”

“Your father?”

Stupidly I truth. “No.”

“That girl?”

“What girl? The one at the bar?” I know I’m not that transparent. I thought about her for a minute.

“No. The one you told me about the other night.”

I can’t imagine what he’s talking about. “Who? The one that died?”

“No. The other night. On Diversion. You said you had just run into some old girl friend. You seemed pretty excited. Like she was important.”

Well fuck. I don’t remember telling him, but then again I was pretty drunk.  I guess I am a little disappointed Consuelo hasn’t called. Maybe it’s just the ego stroke, but I hoped she would.  It was fun to be off balance again. And man, she still is beautiful.

“Beefy, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe you confused me with some other drunk.”

Not long after that we decide to go. Actually I decide to go. They want to stay. I think that they realize the odds of finding something with this much activity on Monday night are pretty long. But I’m drunk and that girl is here somewhere or the memory of her is or my stupid thoughts are here and I feel the urge to be some place else. We find the car and it’s got three tickets on it. I throw them in the street.

“You want me to drive?” Hose offers.

“Nah fuck, I’m fine.” I really am. I drive better drunk than most people do sober and besides I really feel okay. This is not to say that I don’t have  a bit of a buzz. But I actually like driving with a bit of a buzz.  The car feels, well, soft and forgiving, and it reminds me of the difference between really driving and an arcade game; after a while you get used to the difference.

I pull away from the curb. I had checked for traffic before I got in but apparently there are a lot of cars on Clark street because when I pull out I almost whack an idiot on a moped.

“Where to now, Jack?” I am thinking of Consuelo. Beefy prompted it, but by the same token I haven’t thought about looking her up in ten years. Maybe it was the trip to the neighborhood. And the uncertainty of the last few days. All this history, bleeding out.

“I got an idea.”

“A good idea?”

“It’s not important whether it’s a good idea. It’s my idea.”

“It’s the Jack Crawford show.” Hose says sarcastically

At first we are silent as we drive. They’re a little drunk and tired but I’m sure they will rally. It’s very quiet on the streets. A gentle rain falls and mists up the windows of the car, but the wipers make an irritating rubbing sound so I turn them off. Somehow I find my way over to her part of town, Liquor Park but it’s Monday night here too and there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on. I go past the bar where I saw Consuelo and it’s not even open. I pass the place where I had dinner and it looks dead. I look for her in the streets and I’m not even worried about being obvious. I pass a place where we see girls going in. We hear some live music come out the open door.

“Good enough for you guys?”

“Let’s do it.”

That’s enough for me. It’s not all that crowded but it is really loud.  I like it.  It seems like an emotional prophylactic. I have some theories on rock and roll on bands like this. This is one of those, I guess like Nirvana, who, as far as I‘m concerned are rehashing a lot of the riffs that I was listening to twenty years ago. Don’t get me wrong. They do them better and I realize that and I suppose I should be grateful for that but let’s call a smoke a smoke. I feel ambivalent about how important they were important to me for a few years there, they defined my fantasies, my transcendence. I regret those moony days and not just because I shut my mother out. I hate the idea of it, the pointlessness of all that useless fantasy.

I have a couple of scotch Manhattans, all but a martini, sluicing them right down. Alcohol is a good film editor, splicing over boring or irrelevant parts of an evening and making everything seem not only faster but more interesting. Hose hangs back with me at the bar. “You remember Consuelo?”

“No.”

“ Sure you do. The one I was going to marry?”

He’s dubious. “When?”

“When I first met you?”

“You never… Oh yeah. That’s right. You were going to get married. You were whipped. Yeah yeah yeah. I remember. She took a hike on you. What about her?”

“I ran into her the other night.”

“Really.” He isn’t that interested.

“She lives around here. I was hoping I’d run into her.”

“What’s the matter?” He smirks, “Are you unusually desperate?”

After scaring off the few attractive girls, the guys are up against me, wanting to go. I stall them with a shot. God, more tequila. But there’s no reason to stay; there’s no reason to believe that Consuelo will be coming in here. But I want to see her. It’s like a burn that seems healed until exposed to the heat again. I had forgotten it was there. Heading for the door, I’ m pissed off at my drunken self for thinking I’d find her here.

I ask the doorman. “Which way to Diversion Street?” The guy points down the street. We walk to the car.

“You know where you’re going?”

“Yep.”

“Do you know where we’re going?”

“Diversion. Diversion and Lush.”

“Yeah, Let’s get back to the Hodge Podge and meet some real girls.”

“Yeah, some stupid drunk food show girls.”

“Like the one who threw up on Jack the other night.” It’s really funny that Beef knows that.

“Hey, she didn’t get any on me. That’s hilarious. How did you know about that?”

“She’s a friend of a girl I know. The poor thing is so fucking embarrassed that she won’t go to the show for fear she’ll run into you there.”

“When did she puke?” Hose chuckles.

“In the middle of intercourse.”

“No!”

“Like you’ve never had a girl puke during sex.” I find Diversion Street and turn left.

“Hey, for me it’s a good fuck if they don’t puke.”

“So how was it? Like all over the place? What position was she in?”

“On her back and she was puked straight up in the air like Buckingham Fountain.”

“No shit.”

“Did you manage to finish?

“Nah. She missed me the first time so I wasn’t going to give her another shot.”

“The question is: did you know she was going to heave and when did you know it?”

“I admit she was plenty fucked up when we went to her room. It was kind of a gamble but she was randy. It was a mistake anyway. Bad body.”

“Big tits.” Beefy drools. I can tell by his voice he’s fading fast. I look in the rearview. He’s laughing, but he’s leaning against the window. He needs another drink.

“Lookout!” I hit the brakes and see a large object pass over the front corner of the car. The anti-lock brakes don’t squeal so I hear clearly the initial thud as I hit a man, the crumpling give of the hood and even the flat whap of the body falling off onto the pavement. I stop and the quickly move the car forward in front of the parked car next to me and pull to the curb. We all get out. Between two parked cars, inside a pile of raggy clothing a man is lying still, his head bleeding.  I smell booze different that from that on our breath, cheaper booze processed by a different kind of metabolism.

He’s crumpled, not quite on his side but not on his stomach, either. A dull dark face reflects nothing and only the pink of his open mouth belies a swatch of mud.

“Don’t move him. He may have a neck or head injury.”

I look around to see if anyone is around. There is a brightly lit intersection about 300 yards away but the stretch where we are is dark. It’s a cloudy, moonless night and no one is around. Melvin gets down and checks to see if he’s alive. “He ain’t breathing. Anybody know mouth to mouth?” We all say no, but I do. I can’t imagine myself doing it. Melvin puts a finger inside his mouth and that, or the fact that he moved him slightly causes a rale and some wheezing to start. It doesn’t sound good, but I don’t know what state of intoxication he was in to begin with. I know I have to get out of here immediately.

“Is he a smoke?” Beefy is having a bit of trouble focusing.

“I don’t know. That or his face is really dirty.”

“Does it matter?” Melvin is suddenly the voice of rectitude. “We got to get an ambulance.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? It’s homicide, um, fucking vehicular homicide and they’re going to get me for being drunk.”

“But we got to get somebody over here. I don’t think he’s breathing right. I’m going to go find a phone.” He starts to walk away and I grab him. I’m going to hit him, but Joe stops me.

“Look, Melvin. You go call 911. This old drunk was probably on the way out anyway. But if it makes you feel better… But don’t say who you are. Just report it and grab a cab and go home.”

“No, but…”

“Look you fucker. I’ll go to fucking jail! Why don’t I just lay down in the street and you can run me over…” I move towards him. I’m interested in using my fist to transfer my frustration and anxiety into his nose. Hose steps in front again.

“Make the call and just get out of here.” He takes off down the block to look for a phone. We go back to the car and get in. I pull quickly around the block with three right turns so we come out the block before  the spot where we hit him. We can see the parked car but not the body, or rather man. There’s no one else around and no sign of Melvin. I turn and head the other way.

“Fuck. I can’t believe that drunk walked in front of me like that.”

Hose exhales, “He didn’t,  he was standing by the cars looking the other way when you swerved into him.” I want to debate this but I know he’s telling the truth. I was looking into the rearview mirror. “Well was he standing very far into the street?”

“Not really.”

“He smelled like he was pretty drunk.”

“Maybe, but I couldn’t tell. He was standing like he was calling a cab.” He seems to feel bad for me, so he adds, “ You know, but I don’t know. It all happened so fast, And I’m not as fresh as a daisy either.”

We ride in silence. My mind is moving fast and I’m a realist. I know somehow that if I head west, I run into some worse neighborhoods where I can ditch the car.

“I want to make it look like it was stolen.” They don’t say anything, just look grim. I pull over and take out the jack handle from the spare set.

Beefy asks. ‘What are you going to do with that?”

“I’ve got to fuck up the ignition.” I drive a little farther on, until the neighborhood starts to look seedy and I turn down a side street. The side street is poorly lit, which has pluses and minuses and after a couple of blocks I find an alley and pull behind the first garage. I take the tire iron and peel back the plastic on left side of the steering column to reveal the ignition contact.

“I still don’t understand what you’re doing.” I preferred Beefy half asleep.

“If I’m going to claim that it’s stolen, I’ve got to make it look like it’s stolen.”

“So what are you doing?” I could kill the fucking idiot     .

“To steal a car you have to break the steering wheel lock and push this little contact bar forward. Look just shut up and keep an eye out for any cars or… roving… groups of…. armed… smokes or spics. There. Now Hose, hold the keys.”  I pull out the keys and I take the tire iron and jam it into the ignition lock. It snaps fairly easily and I turn it forward. Just for plausibility, I push the contact and it turns over.

Beefaroni is impressed. “Your next profession.”

“Yeah well I’d hate to have the cops pull up behind me now. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

We head down the street and start heading back in what I hope is the direction we came from. The neighborhood is dark and quiet.  The houses are old and in disrepair, but big, with gray stone fronts. The thought to buy some property here crosses my mind. Re-gentrification can’t be far off. Of course, this assumes that I am at liberty in the future to purchase anything. I may be renting in a neighborhood like this soon. For now I am a spy, albeit a drunken one, skulking in the dark, hoping to remain undetected.

The street ends at a busy street bordering on a large park. I’m a hard headed realist but even for me the blatant symbolism of the yawning blackness, the ambiguous danger, the murky region ahead has some kind of symbolic portent.

“Okay. Where to next?”

“This way. We’ll stay on this side of the street. Keep an eye out for a cab.”

Beefy mumbles, “Yeah, well people in ice water want hell.”

We’re walking for only about a block when a police car comes up next to us.

“No don’t take a fucking ride.” I whisper but Beefaroni is already talking to them. Before he says anything stupid, I head over to the car.

“Yes, Officer we parked the car somewhere but we got lost looking for it. I believe now that it was stolen.” Which isn’t bad for a drunk guy.

“Smells like you boys shouldn’t be driving at all.”

“I need to get my hotel key out of it and then we were going to cab it back.”

“Sure you were. Well get in. I’ll run you back to Damen where you can get a cab. This is no time of night for you guys to be walking around here.”

Well how I can’t say no. Beefy gets in first; I look at Hose and I can tell he’s also worried that our friend is going to say something stupid. There’s a smoke Cop and he says “Yeah these fucking Puerto Ricans.” I can’t figure out what he’s trying to do. Bait us?  He could be a PR himself. Bait his partner who’s dark skinned? Hose and I don’t say anything and Beefy, spooked by our silence only grunts. The other one looks at Hosehead and says, “Hey are you Puerto Rican?”

Hose replies, “No, I’m Irish, actually.”

“Oh, I thought because you were being quiet you were insulted. Hey, don’t worry, I’m Mexican and I hate them more than you do. They give spics a bad name.” Now everyone laughs a little freer.

I talk rather than letting the other two do so. “Yeah my brother is on the job.”

“Here?”

“Yeah, I grew up here but I live out east now.”

“Where does he work?”

“Lawn.”

“Down with all the other crackers.” I don’t know what this means and I probably don’t want to.

“What?”

“Never mind. Here you are in Wicker Park.” It was only a few blocks but I don’t know if we would have found our way back. “You can grab a cab here. Go home or your hotel. Don’t go off looking for your car.”

“Thanks guys.” Even though I address them familiarly, I feel just like I did when I got picked up for drinking at age fifteen. Under their protection. At their mercy.

Hose and Beouf get in a cab. I just stand on the corner and after a second Beouf yells at me, “You coming Jack?”

“No. Go ahead.”

I wonder what I’ve done. I’m fucking looped I know, but there are all sorts of messages playing in my head. When I close my eyes I see burned in negative endless redundant to-do. I keep my eyes open instead, thinking this is not at all like a movie. Everything is so prominently real, confronting me.

There’s a bar across from me. It’s kind of slacker seedy and I feel a hundred years old but fuck’em. It crowded at the bar but I shout for a martini.  I keep thinking, will I get out of this? Can they find me? Can they place the car? And I wonder what Melvin did.

It arrives a moment later and I throw a ten on the bar without regard for change.

The martini is horrible, like something your body necessarily rejects. I look out the window at the busy intersection. I’m looking for Consuelo. She lives somewhere around here. My ex-almost-wife. The love of my life. I need counsel and comfort.  I want to hide with her. I’m tempted to set the drink down and give up. Instead I drink it down in one destructive gulp. It isn’t so bad until I’m finished. It seems to take the scenic route to my stomach, threatening to double back a few times. I lose my breath and I start to head for the john and then it settles down a little more and I think I can endure it.

I hail a cab and go back to the Incontinent.


Tuesday


I am dreaming. I’m in a box. It is perfect, balanced. One wall is the world of  sleep and dreams and its attendant anesthesia. Opposite is physical sensation, which may or may not be pain or may be just the buzz of the phone. Another side of the box is the memory of the night before flashing images like a home movie projected on a wall and playing too fast. Opposite it is the things to do list on my computer, both illegible and interminable. I feel protected by the opposing forces. Attending to one imbalances the others, but the pressure of one offsets the others, as long as I don’t move or don’t think.  It can’t go on. Sleep and peace lose. I fight through the haze and open my eyes. I swing a hand at the top of the phone and knock it off the cradle. It’s my wake up call. The box collapses. I’m left with only the rubble, sorted by the real disasters and the potential disasters.

The message light is blinking. I roll my bloated and unresponsive corpse on to its side to dial the phone. My head pounds at even this small movement. I can’t remember but I don’t think I’ve talked to my wife and I hope there’s a message from her. I go into the hotel’s voice mail system and hear Consuelo’s voice. This should make me happy but right now it’s more like a complication than anything else.  “Hi, it’s Consuelo. I sorry I haven’t called till now.” She hesitates like she is going to add an explanation, but then thinks better of it. “I would like to get together with you for that drink or dinner tomorrow. Please call me back at 384-2702. Same area code as the hotel.” And she hesitates again but simply adds, “Bye.”

There’s a message from Bouefaroni “Jack, Bob. Great time last night. Thanks a lot. Let’s do it again soon. I’m outta here. See you.”  I think for a moment my dread is misplaced. Could I have dreamed it? No I couldn’t. As drunk as I was and as debilitated as I am, the vivid image of the body in the street, of the sound of the thud and the gasp, are far too real to dispel.  I wonder if Beef even remembers. God knows what Melvin said to the police. I check the computer. What a mess. It’s fitting.

5/23 Tues. 7:00: prep

8:30: jack crawford 5/23 5/24 sandwich in

9:00: fire jack crawford

9:50: consuelo jack crawford

10:00  : jack crawford

11:00  : reconfigure jack crawford

12:00  : fire jack crawford

12:30 to-do: 5/23 5/24wife&&&&&&&&

1:00 to-do: 5/25 tues  sho 8:30 to-do: (fwd’d from 5/20 5/21 5/22 5/23                                                           5/24)     call auby at  mon du andwich

4:30  : (tentative) drinksjack crawford

7:00  : (tentative) din jac7777777jack crawford

 

              All I can think of is, ah fuck. I back up the file on to the network but I get the same shit when I call it up again. I dial chunk again. “Chunk, where the fuck are you? I have a major disaster on my hands here and I need you help.  I thought we were partners on this deal, but if you want to participate, you’ve got to support me. Call me the fuck back!”

Not a word from the CEO regarding Thomas. This means two things. First I’m on my own about what to do with him. And secondly no matter what I do it will be a mistake by the time Cloy is done spinning it.

I roll onto my back. I don’t dare close my eyes. That train leaves the station rolling and I wake up in Kyoto five hours later. My brain is thudding against my too, too small skull, but throughout my cadaver there are sharp pains in previously insensate areas. Nothing seems connected correctly. I feel like an over-torqued Frankenstein. I’m not sick to my stomach, but I’m sure that will come later. My sinuses are dried out which doesn’t seem fair because my nose is running and I’ve got some sort of matter in my throat. I’m freezing across my torso but my limbs feel sticky and warm. I would like to cry but I’m so dehydrated I’ll probably just produce crystals of salt.

I sit up and the shift makes the hydrocephalus only worse. The pain morph into  something more stabby and arrhythmic. My thoughts are spastic, images twitch, I’m jolted with invasive nightmarish conceits, hair-trigger dread. I’m dizzy before I stand up and I use the nightstand and lamp to guide me to the wall which I follow into the bath.

I have to piss severely and get a good portion on my shorts as I try to administrate the fly. I look in the mirror.  I am smaller, brittle, curled up, colorless. Kind of an autumn leaf  of my former self, which is just  weirdly poetic.

I turn on the shower. Of course it is a great shower, with good water pressure, liberal nozzle, high positioning and serious heat. However I can’t get any satisfaction from it. I’m too hot and I ‘m too cold. I want the water hard on my neck but for some reason my neck is too tender. There’s a numb spot on my back where I can’t feel anything. I get tired standing so I sit down for a few minutes, just to catch my breath, but I can’t find a comfortable position for my legs.

I stand up again contemplating alternatives. Then nausea amps through me and I curl feebly. I stop just short of retching, which I suspect would start the dry heaves. I remain in an osteoporotic hunch, for fear that other postures would be worse. I really can’t cancel with all these people. They have flights out and timing is everything with this plan. I know there is a way to give me some temporary energy and renewed sobriety. It is to turn the shower on cold. This is difficult to convince yourself to do in the best of situations. I am especially weak right now. On top of it all there is a very real chance of a heart attack. I’m stressed. I’m sure my blood pressure is up and I have a family history. I can imagine the paramedics carrying me out, the stretcher, the tubes in me, the bed in the ICU, the 2 or 3 weeks of bedrest… The idea puts me over the top:  I turn the handle clockwise.

The effect is inside out. I don’t know if I am this numb but it doesn’t really feel cold on my skin as much as it takes my breath away and starts my heart pounding. For the first second or two it feels good on my neck and the stimulation actually helps, but then I’m just a freezing man with a pounding headache, a pounding heart and desperate shallow breathing. I push it for a few more seconds, but there is no getting used to it and all the side effects continue to get worse, so before any erupts, I turn the water off.

I’m standing there acutely alert but freezing, so I turn the water back on to warm up to room temperature. I know this is merely a trick I’ve played with adrenaline. But it will get me through for a while and then maybe breakfast, then coffee, then coke in lab rat quantities can keep me going.

I order the same breakfast as the other day plus a bloody mary, two mimosa and a milk. I’ll consume the three drinks I’ve ordered, interspersed with the pot of coffee, the milk, several mini-bar cokes, apple and cranberry juices, ice water and, if things get too hairy, some of my Clenched Liver out of the frig. That’s a nine-drink variety hangover.

5/23 Tues 8:30 to-do: (fwd’d from 5/20 5/21 5/22 5/23 5/24) call auby at  mon du andwich

              I call his hotel again. No answer in the room. I go back down to the front desk to see if he’s checked out yet. They say he has. The little cyst. I don’t know but I guess it’s good because I won’t have to go to dinner with Bil Bild’s blood on my hands.

I find the rental agreement and report the car stolen to the company. It isn’t a problem at least not yet because the smoke woman on the other end is struggling so badly with her computer that she really doesn’t care about the issue at hand.

5/23 Tues. 9:00  : jack crawford

              I’ve fired lots of people, twelve in a day once, so this, at least technically should be easy. I think I could write a manual on how to fire people. Maybe a chapter in that book I want to write. Boy, that’s a bad joke right now. I’ve always thought firing people was easier, less angst ridden, than hiring people. Unlike doctors, who get to bury their mistakes, managers have to live with them.

I am playing hurt though.

I have the suite so the dismissees meet with me here. They received instructions to come with their luggage that they can leave directly from the hotel to the airport. Nevertheless, Hegel shows up without his bags.

“I thought the E-mail was to bring you bags, Ed.”

“Yeah but I have a dinner with a client tonight.”

“Not any more you don’t…”

That feels good. I’m on my game. There’s hope of getting through this.

He sits. “The company has decided to make some organizational changes to improve efficiency and communication as part of its overall TQM effort and as a result we are eliminating the director level within the department.” There’s no reaction from him, as I expected. He’s smart and over- educated and haughty and so he never acts surprised or vulnerable to everything. This is why I’d knew he’d be the easiest. “Because this is technically a layoff and the zone director are not being evaluated as part of the termination, we are able to give you a more than generous severance package, with eight weeks severance pay, paid insurance for 90 days and full vesting in the 401k program for the zone directors who have not been with the company the required five years, which includes you. It’s all here in this packet. While we expect your cooperation in the transition, we understand and expect that you will be conducting an intense search during the next eight weeks. We will be happy to offer you out placement and will pay for the basic service.”

I get no more than a few general questions out of him and he’s gone. I’m glad to see him out of my life. He was arrogant but didn’t have the balls to back it up. I wish he’d protested a little more so I could tell him to stick his Yale undergrad and Thunderbird school of international business degrees right up his ass. Unemployed motherfucker.

5/23 Tues 9:50 to-do: consuelo jack crawford

              “Hello Consuelo. It’s Jack. I have an alleged business dinner this evening. However, I could meet for coffee or a drink late afternoon say 4:00 or late night. Let me know what works for you.”              I set the phone down and it rings. I hope it’s not her. “Yeah?”

“Jack, it’s Chung.”

“Yeah, where he fuck have you been?”

“Jack, I don’t work for you anymore, remember?’

“Don’t give me that shit. I pay you for your  work. And I’m including you in this project.”

“I’m not sure what you’re doing with that but…”

“Look I don’t care about any of that shit right now. I need you to fix my computer. I knocked it over the other night and now my organizer is screwed up.”

“Well without being there I can’t tell if it’s a program problem or a machine problem or a drive problem. What’s it doing?”
I’m trying not to lose my temper. “All of the to-dos and calls and s are coming up as gobbledy gook.”

“What?”

“Gobbledy gook. Garbage. Meaningless stuff, gobbledy. Gook.” I don’t know if it is a slip or a subconscious urge to bite a helping hand or  some other  manifestation of my current insanity, but I say the word gook with a long “u” sound.

“I don’t work for you, Jack. I don’t have to listen to you insult me.” And he hangs up the phone.

I go into the bathroom.  Dark circles under bloodshot eyes and grayish complexion. It’s matching set. I feel pretty malarial too, for the moment freezing. I go to grab a coke from the mini bar and contemplate a small bottle of Wild Turkey. Seem too much like alcoholism for even me. I pound the coke.

 

I’m about to call Chunk  back when I hear a knock on the door.

                 

5/23 Tues. 10:00  : fire

              Bilge is here five minutes early and with his luggage in hand. I even find that he follows orders as an additional reason to detest him. He attempts some of his usual gratuitous lickage, which I ignore as I open the last minibar coke. This is a concern.

              “Have a seat. The company has decided to make some organizational changes to improve efficiency and communication as part of its overall TQM effort…” I’ve actually looked forward to this day and it’s too damn bad all these other things are going on to prevent me from enjoying it. He goes ashen almost immediately, computing, I’m sure, his bills, his savings, his retirement and his employment options. I figure if I keep on talking without a pause I can get through most of the administrative bullshit, let him know that this is really a pretty good deal. But then he starts tearing up. I had a small bit of pity for him up until that point.

“But I’m 48. The odds of me getting another job like this are slim and none. Can’t you do something? I’ll take a pay cut. I’ll work as a regional.”

“We don’t have any positions open.” And we’re not making any room for a pain in the ass over the hill numb nuts like him.

And he sits there like a lump, shoulders rolled forward, his head in his hands staring at the floor. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve never had to look for a job. I’m 49 years old.” It feels like he’s going to stays here until his social security kicks in. He’s just short of blubbering.

Men, as opposed to women, will stop crying if you say something mean to them. But I’m having trouble coming up with something. “You’ve got eight weeks to figure out what to do.”

“I don’t even know where to start.”

“Well you were in this fucking business when they invented chickens, so I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding something to do.” I meant this to be denigrating but it comes across as almost comforting. I have to do better. “You are not going to change anything sitting here bawling. This is a done deal. Go catch your plane and call all your pals in the business tomorrow.” This apparently does the trick, because he grabs his suitcase and leaves without saying good-bye.

5/23 tues.11:00 fire jack crawford

I just barely get the asshole out of there before the scheduled time for Tom. If he passed Bilge coming up the hall crying, it would probably be a clue. I scheduled Tom after Bilge because while it may be less emotional, it does have the potential for being more problematic. If he balks or quits, I’ve got problems. If he did see Bilge, it doesn’t show because he seems generally happy when he appears at the door.

“Hi Jack.” He doesn’t have his luggage with him either.

“Hello, Thomas. Please come in and sit down.” I take a deep breath as a signal that I’m going to launch into something and we are not here for small talk. “The company has decided to make some organizational changes to improve efficiency and communication as part of its overall TQM effort and as a result we are eliminating the zone director position within the department. However, unlike the other zone director, we are going to ask you stay on in a regional position at the same pay. Tastee Chicken considers you to be too valuable to let go and we hope you will stay on, knowing you will be the first considered for any new management positions in sales that open up in the future.” His reaction is subtle. He is angry but still curious and holding back,  trying to analyze the situation.

“The other zone directors are leaving the company?” It’s a good leading question that can garner him several bits of information.

“Yes, they have a severance package, a generous one, but they are not likely to find jobs in the company and there are no jobs for them in this department.”

“Any regionals being let go?”

“No.” I know the next question but I let him ask it.

“Well then what area will I be taking over?”

“That hasn’t been determined yet.” He knows what’s going on with this answer. He knows he had one foot out the door and there was an intervention. “Why don’t you take the rest of the week off and think about it and think about where you’d want to work. You can stay in Atlanta, move back home to Philadelphia or come to headquarters. But if you do take the time off please make yourself somewhat available for calls from the people who were working for you.”

He thinks for a few more moments on the couch and then gets up and says “Okay” and “Talk to you later” and he heads out the door.

              I call chunk back.

“Hello?”

“Chung, it’s Jack. I didn’t insult you. That expression is common in English. It is not a slur.  Look it up in the dictionary. No, don’t . It’s not in there. Ask anybody.” There’s silence. “ Please Chung just tell me what I can do to get my program back?’

“Did you try accessing the files on the network?”

“You mean like the e drive?”

“Yeah.”

“No. Can you do that?”

“Yeah. When’s the last time you backed up your files?”

“This morning.”
“You backed up the files in to the e drive even though you were having problems? Why did you do that?”

“I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose anything more.”

“That’s stupid. You just polluted your back up as well. I don’t think there’s anything I can do. We can try and reconstruct it when you get back but it will take hundreds of hours. I hope it doesn’t pollute the other users as well.”

“No this can’t be. You designed this system. You can’t fix it?”
“You mean you can’t? I thought it was your system, Jack. Your idea.”

“Now, listen you little bastard…” But the phone clicks off.

5/23 tues.12:00  : fire jack crawford

              At this point my strength is pretty close to gone. Of course, I’m sure that I could lift something heavy like a tie, but I have this funny fizzing feeling in my limbs, like my blood is cut with tonic water. But more importantly I don’t know about my mental fortitude. One of my most important rules is to do the hard part of anything first and I’ve broken it. My energy is low. I’m hungry and nauseous and weak. She is going to be here in a few minutes and she is going to be crazy pissed off, this I’m convinced of. She has been playing it cool up till now but she has been saving it for a moment like this. I think she will probably throw something at least and I don’t know that she won’t try something worse. But actually calling security to get her out of here would be easy. No, she is going to fight with me and demand answers and scream at me and that is actually a much less pleasant prospect than merely being slapped or punched.

Then there is the knock on the door. I open it and she is there, lovely and all and she comes past me into the room. She doesn’t have any bags with her. So much for the delusion that I have my people under control.

“Have a seat.” I say.

“I prefer to stand.” I hate that and it’s something she would have never done before.

“Suit yourself.” She seems cool and self-assured. That can be interpreted in several ways and it doesn’t help me with a course of action. I contemplate some contextual words but then decide this is best left as lean as possible. “The company has decided to make some organizational changes to improve efficiency and communication as part of its overall TQM effort and as a result we are eliminating the zone director position within the department.” I wait for some sort of reaction but she shows nothing like surprise or shock or dis. She turns her head and looks out the window. She’s almost smirking. I don’t say anything for a second, but then proceed. “Because this is technically a layoff and the zone director are not being evaluated as part of the termination, we are able to give you a more than generous severance package, with eight weeks severance pay, paid insurance for 90 days and full vesting in the 401k program for the zone director who have not been with the company the required five years. It’s all here in this packet.” I extend it to her, but she doesn’t move toward me.

“Well. All you have to do is sign a release, a non-compete and initial the inventory of company equipment to be returned and the package will be put into place.”

“I’ve been advised not to sign anything.“

I’m shocked that she could have seen this coming, “May I ask by whom?”

“I’ve been advised not to sign anything. I want to take the package with me. I’ll sign it after I carefully read everything in it. Then I’ll return it to you.”

“You have to sign it now.” I don’t know if this technically legal, but it could only get us into trouble if these things get out. I think it’s within her rights, but there’s no way I’m letting her take it out of here.

“I’ll have to check with our lawyers. I don’t have clearance to do that.”

“I’ll wait.”

“Well, I also need to talk to the CEO and I happen to know he’s not in the office today.  But you have to understand that the terms of the severance are based upon the cooperation of the terminated parties.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it . But you know what, Jack? It’s moot.” She smiles and it’s not forced. She’s finding amusement in this. “Give me a termination letter and I’ll get the fuck out of here.”

“It’s all part of the packet.”

“Well I’m not signing, so what are we going to do about it?”

I sit there stupidly.  We are engaged in a staring contest while I try to figure out if giving her termination letter will get me into any trouble. And I decide maybe it would be better if I don’t but if I don’t she will stay here and we will fight it out. I sit there looking over the top of my open briefcase. I flip through the papers in the bottom and come across the agreement for Thomas that I won’t be using. The agreement is a three page document with the employees name on the last page where they sign. I decide on a gamble. I look at my watch.

“Well I’m already late for a meeting.” I take Thomas agreement and stuff it the envelope with the other generic materials. “Fine.” I don’t look directly at her but can tell by a turn of her head that I’ve surprised her. “Here’s the agreement. Sign it and get it back to me.”  She takes it from me and as I suspected, opens up the envelope and glances at the agreement without taking it fully out of the envelope. In her mind she’s won, but I have to distract her from her suspicions. I take an angry tone, “But the thing has got to be back on my desk in 48 hours. None of this as much time as you like bullshit. If it isn’t signed and on my desk by 5:00 Friday, you get regular termination.”

She smirks, “Fuck you, Jack.”

This was a cowardly thing to do but I needed to get her out of here and I figure they can’t really use someone else’s termination agreement in a lawsuit.

5/23 Tues 12:45 to-do: wife&&&&&&&             

              “Hi honey, it’s me. I sure wouldn’t mind hearing from you sometime. This is the fourth message I’ve left without a call back. You make a guy feel unloved.” This lack of communication adds credence to the theory that the gimp is in the employ of my wife.            So I’m probably on the way out in the whole marriage arrangement too.

5/23 tues 1:00 to-do: sho

I get all the way down to the lobby before it occurs to me that I don’t have a car. Up till now I’ve done an effective job of putting last night out of my mind, but I’m sure there will be some more reminders. I climb in the back of a cab and try to concentrate on the various aspects of my physical discomfort rather than the problems that are besieging me on several fronts.

I get into the show and I feel somewhat better. This world is familiar and rational, at least to my mind and somewhat predictable. There’s a buzz here, above and beyond the conversation, that says this is significant work people delivering value to consumers, people contributing to society in positive helpful ways, producing and generating wealth, serving the marketplace. It’s also Tuesday and usually all the big shooters are gone; It’s a good day for waitresses and bus boys. It usually isn’t until Wednesday that you get the dishwashers and enterprising bag ladies stealing the samples. But the junior people are still at the booth and they finally begin to get out a little and have some fun and relax, because many or most of the bosses have gone home. The odds of anything important happening now are slim. I’m tempted to close the whole thing down, take them out and get a good drunk on. It would make everybody, especially me feel better and build bonds with my now twenty direct reports. This is what this show is all about. It makes feel good and who knows, it may be the last time for me. God, I love the NRA.  I’m working out how to actually do this when the guy from Monde du Burger appears in the front of the booth.

“Hello, Aubrey. I’d just about given up on you.” I reach out to shake his hand. He doesn’t give it to me.

“I just received a phone call from Bil Bild asking me not to quit even though you just fired him. Well that was nice of him, though I suspect that he was worried about a severance agreement. It’s not enough though. It was only my friendship with him that prevented me from throwing you out last week when we discovered you hadn’t been sending us breast patties according to our specifications. In fact, instead of the 60% white meat we require, it looks like it has less than half white meat. Still, Bil was pleading with me to stay with you until he got to the bottom of it. I would have gotten a straight answer from Bil. You, however, you I wouldn’t believe if you told me my hair was on fire.” I’ll have to think about this later. I’m not sure what he means. “You’ve lied and bullshitted me from the first time I met you. I’m switching chicken suppliers. Immediately. As in get your product out of all corporate distribution in the next 5 days because the franchisees have been instructed not to take anything else with your label on it.” He turns and to walk away and then stops. “And if I hear that you screwed Bil over in any way, I will personally make sure that you never sell a pound to our company again.”

Vanderkellen is standing by me. “Holy fuck boss.”

I try to put on a brave face. “Idle threats. I’ll go over his head.” I don’t know anybody over his head and I doubt that I sound that convincing.

I excuse myself from the booth and slam three beers. I don’t care at this point if anyone watches me. I head back a little before two.

“All right everybody gather round. A little meeting. Everybody. Let the sample girls handle the brochures and forget about the traffic for the moment.” I might as well get this over with before they start getting on the phones and hearing it elsewhere. If you create the context, you control the news. God, I’m full of shit.

“As of 9:00 A.M. this morning we have had a change in the structure of our department. The layer of management represented by the zone director has been eliminated. All of you, each of you, will report directly to me.” This sinks in. I look over their heads and the super-structure of the building, the black exposed rafters and think it looks horribly utilitarian for a place that holds such significant human rituals. “Ed Hegel, Bil Bild and Phyllis Gutman have been given some time to find another job, but it will in all likelihood not be with the company. Their job over the next couple of months will be to find a job. They will be available to consult on certain issues but keep this to a minimum and you are required to run it through me first. I know that many of you are fond of them and they are good people and it is a shame that they have to be let go. But on the bright side it will open up some new opportunities for all of you, help make a larger bonus pool and will allow you to work more closely with a giant in the business, me.” I had initially thought up this as a joke but it comes across as more bathetic than anything. No one laughs. “There may be some shifting of territory and accounts. Tom will be staying on and most likely will assume a regional slot.” I catch some of the sappers smirking at this bit of information. “ Any questions?” Several people appear to be ready to ask questions or raise their hands, so I cut them off. “Good, I’ll get you all some additional information on E mail tomorrow.”

I get on the booth phone and check messages. Consuelo’s message is there confirming this afternoon at 4:00 and giving an address. It’s twenty to three so I have to leave soon. Everyone has become a little less diligent, the sales people are talking and several are sneaking drinks of various liquor samples. I prefer them afraid of me, but I merely tell them not to overdo it. I instruct them to draw straws so half of them can leave now. This generates a little enthusiasm.

I’m trying to grab my briefcase and go, but some of the people come up to me and say they’re sorry and if they can help just call. I realize they must think, due to my posture and demeanor  that I’m devastated by this turn of events, that this is something distasteful for me, imposed from above. Well that’s a win  for me. Vandy tries to give me a hug and I accuse him of being drunk. People laugh. There’s no point in clearing up the matter and, for the first time, the lassitude, the distaste of nausea and anemic pallor of a hangover is useful.

I look around the place and wonder if I’ll ever come back. I almost cry. I love the NRA show.

A little old lady with two huge shopping bags filled with stuff is looking at our rotisserie chicken in the display case.

“Those chickens look so, so delicious I could just eat them right up.”

Scuz is standing by. “Thank you ma’am. They are displays though.”

“Are they real?”

“Yes, but…”

“May I have one?”

Scuz is very kind to her. “No ma’am. Those are just for display. They have been in that case for several days now and we are afraid if we gave them to people and they ate them they would get sick, maybe die.”

“Oh I would eat it right away.”

“That wouldn’t be good either.”

“What if I cooked it?” Several of the guys have wandered over to laugh at this.

“It wouldn’t help. You see, if you leave a cooked chicken out for several days it develops… Lets just say it’s not good for you.”

“But I know how to cook it. Can I please have it?”

“No ma’am. It would make you sick.”

“Why can’t I have one?” At this point I have had enough, had heard this conversation too many times over the years. I walk over to the display case, take a chicken out and drop it in her bag.

“Thank you very much.” She says and shuffles off beaming. The guys are laughing out loud at this. This is why my people love me.

“See you, Jack.” My guys says. I pass Glom and he says “See you tonight.” I don’t know what he’s talking about. I don’t care.

 

5/23 Tues. 4:00pm  : dinner w/ consuelo

              Without a car, I’m forced to take a cab and I don’t pay any attention to what he is doing and the next thing I know is we are completely becalmed in Michigan Avenue traffic.

“You jerkoff! Why did you go this way?”

“You said North and so I am going north.”

“This is going to make me way fucking late. Take me to the El line that will bring me to North and Damen.” He  makes some turns and we end up on Dearborn. “This is the subway here.”

“No you fucking idiot! I want the El!”

“This line is the line.”

I pay the retarded cow hugger and get out. It turns out he knows what he’s talking about. I t turns into the el and it takes me back to god damned Liquor Park.

I arthritically struggle down the el stairs and onto Damen Avenue again. Her house is across from the  park itself, a few houses off the busy street,. A couple of large maples wall it off from the street.  The house is tall, a two story affair, but narrow, grey stone on the front, sturdy red brick on the sides, with tall windows that give it some elegance. There is a wrought iron fence and a gate with a latch but no lock. I go in and up the six or seven wooden stairs. The stairs are broad and creaky and in need of paint.  I guess I’m looking at all these things for clues about her, who she is now. She always kept me off stride, always discerning, skeptical, dubious, amused and now I feel greatly disadvantaged for I know her so poorly.

I ring the bell. The door is a carved ornate piece of immigrant craftsmanship, more stylized than stylish, but reflecting prodigious, forgotten skills. It has been stripped to the bare wood but flecks of resistant baby blue paint stick to the corners and details.  It’s a relief to be here and to be in the shade as well because it has become hot. But I still feel edgy. No, jittery bordering on spasmodic. Normally a grand mal hangover like this makes me calm, insouciant. No external conflict can compete with the maelstrom ravaging inside.  There’s a little too much on my plate this time, including manslaughter, fraud, divorce, dismissal for sexual misconduct, stuff. I guess having the private eye or whatever the fuck he is, following me tells me something is up. Even I can figure that out. And being here is unsettling as well, flying blindly into the past.

But after a few moments, I’m still waiting. I peer in through the sidelight, but can make out not much more than a stair and another door. I ring the bell again.

One of my principles is that I never procrastinate when confronted with a problem, a crisis or  really anything that makes me anxious. I take the issue on directly and immediately. Iam a man of action.  There are a variety of obvious virtues to this approach, forcing yourself to come up with a solution rather than having one thrust on you, being the aggressor in whatever negotiations take place, defining the terms of the settlement, it eliminates uncertainty as to the actual points of disagreement, resolving issues before they get more complicated, blah, blah blah. I am beginning to bore myself. However, a side benefit is that if you meet your obligation to engage the aggrieved or hostile party in a prompt, attentive manner and then they do not or cannot show up to resolve the thing, you gain an undeniable superiority in virtue and responsibility. You’ve done your best to accommodate them and they have not held up their end.  And sometimes it can even mean that you can let the issue sit until the other party tries to bring it up again. And sometimes it goes away all together, which is the goal of procrastination, but without the uncertainty as to whether you’ll get caught. It’s really too bad this valuable human insight will never see the light of day.

That is strangely how I feel as I take a seat on the top stair. I’d just as soon have her not be home. I did my part. I’m off the hook. I’m done with old memories. The biggest reason I’m fucking nuts right now is that the glue has dried out and the model parts are falling all over the floor. I have no handle on all the shit that’s falling off the table right now. There’s too much uncertainty and no way of confronting it. But emotion will just complicate it.

I don’t need to talk about what I’ve been doing for thirteen or fourteen years and I don’t want to talk about the funny ways in which we’ve changed. I’d rather flee but I think I’ll wait here for just a few moments and give her one last chance.

It occurs to me that I’m probably no more than a few blocks from the site of our little car accident. I guess someone who saw the guy get hit could walk by right now, but I don’t think anyone would recognize me. Anyway I feel somehow as if I’m not visible or I’m someone else. My head or maybe my whole body is spinning in a small wobbly orbit. There’s a kind of non-auditory static fizzing up around my skull. I’m extremely hungry and I list with the lack of ballast in my stomach. The bright light that my eyes can’t process tries to bore into the point where my nose meets my forehead. And it is bright, even under the shade of the trees, the purging sun reflecting off cars and concrete sidewalks. The traffic makes everything seem fluid, and while the cars mostly move by with a quiet buzz, it is not peaceful.

A kid goes by on a bicycle, a little girl. There’s something else going on here, something I don’t understand. It’s very green the trees yes, but also some plants and flowers coming through the black ground. You think of the city as being all brick and concrete and asphalt, but you forget  little irruptions of spring. I don’t know the names of any of the plants . The residents can’t have huge gardens but they seem to have stolen swatches where some things can peek through. It’s not like Manhattan that way. I also don’t know where this neighborhood is going; I mean I’ve seen gentrification at work before and you can pretty easily tell who’s coming and who is going, but this seems pretty confusing. There are off the boat polish people walking by and some upscale blacks, a spic looking guy cruising by in an Infinti. I can’t tell if he’s a pimp a drug dealer or an MBA.

After a while of this, I’ve settled down a little and, because I’ve given it enough time, I get up. Then I hear the door open behind me.

“Hi! How long have you been sitting there?”

Her voice is almost coy and unsettling. I don’t want to feel like the boy I was when we knew each other before.

“You know I’d forgotten that you really don’t have any clue at all about time.” I mumble but mean it, reminding myself of the fact, but she takes it good naturedly.

She is wearing a robe and a towel on her head and this makes me laugh. She steps inside and I follow. I had kissed her on the cheek at the bar and she seemed surprised; now she turns in the middle of the square living room, looking small under the high ceiling, and catches my eye directly and does not look away. I come into the room. It’ s sparsely furnished, eclectic as the room flows through a high arch into the next room.  There is real art on the wall. It is disorienting, these are the rooms of a mature and sophisticated person who I thought I knew well until now. I may not know her at all. And yet she is closing in on me now, still staring deeply into my eyes, hers mish mosh in color, but the real mish mosh is in my head, like someone tried to give me a lobotomy and but missed and scrambled everything except the part of my brain that is producing the uncontrollable mood swings. And she is causing another surge in emotion, among other things, as she wraps her arms around my neck.

I don’t need her to kiss me and I don’t want her to kiss me. This, of course, is contrary to the way I would react normally. But I’m really just brain free, clue dead and this seems somehow dangerous, more than I can handle. She smells of soap but of herself, the way she used to smell. As I said, she hasn’t gotten any smaller since I last saw and the way she is holding me now it seems she is stronger than me. And she is more solid, substantial than I am, permanent, as formidable as the bouncers, a physical presence to respect. And fear: at this moment she could kick my ass without leaving go of her towel.

Her tongue is there, moving through each kiss in her own singular way, and although the movement is not particularly special, it is hers and here she is in my arms or rather me in hers and I was in love with her once, desperate, dull, obsessive in love. Or that she is a very attractive woman. Her eyes, her full lips, the soft skin of her shoulders, her firm body pressed against me and the rise of her breasts against me, all these things causes the beginning of an arousal against all odds, with any luck the blood coming from  my brain where it wasn’t being put to use. She is moving me around, which is the first time that has ever happened.  A ray of sunlight from some window is suddenly in my eyes and I think of cathedrals, and someplace else, a feeling of history or the past, drama or meaning that I usually have the strength to disparage.

She has my coat off my shoulders and my tie off two. We’re doing the backward dance which I usually lead and then she’s taking me by the hand and leads me to a small bedroom off the dining room. She pulls the shirt out of my pants and touches my back. It surprises me, as if I’m being touched differently.  It feels new like the skin isn’t mine.

“Sensitive.” She says kissing my shoulders, again aggressively, pushing and disconcerting.

“You know I’m married.”

“So you said. But I saw you first.”

I now have an erection, an inexplicable physiological phenomenon.

She loosens my pants and pushes me down on the bed. The room is so small only a bed and a dresser fit and she has to move my legs at an angle to take my shoes, socks and pants off. She does so with a certain nonchalance, flipping them quickly away as they come off.  She takes the towel off her head and shakes out her hair. Her hair is still wet and dark and tangled and the smell from the shampoo fills the air. The darkness of the room and the light behind her turns her into some dark silhouette, some side of her I’ve missed. She takes her towel off and lets it fall to the floor with the same insouciance. She is curvier than before. A good deal of the touching men do is inspection. I find soft skin, but no loose flesh. I take my hand off, appalled at the notion of checking and then touch her again, afraid that she can detect these superficial thoughts.  My eyes adjust slowly and I laugh at nipples that point away from each other.

“Marty Feldman.”

The effect is only slight, as is the joke, but it is both cruel and private and I wonder if others have made the connection. She seems okay with the joke or the joker or both; we made a pact as intellectual brats that permitted just about the meanest barb along as it was funny and true. The breasts themselves are larger than I remember formidable, and firm and while focused in different directions, focused nonetheless. As I grow older, the women I date do the same and we both suffer from the gravity.

I move my head down and tease the nipple. The muscle in the breast seems stronger than my bone filled face, than my bone head. As she crouches on the bed with her legs on either side of me, I feel vulnerable and stupid, grasping her with wretched hands, controlled by her size and strength, her position and her urgency. I bury my head in her cleavage aiming poorly and kissing hard. This works when I’m drunk, but I’m not drunk now and I’m clumsy for strategy.

This wild rendering of the timid virgin I once had pushes me backward onto the bed. The submission is complete. She is on top, pinning my feeble arms and grinding her warm wet vagina against the diffident cock tangled in my stupid boxer shorts.  She leans forward so that I might indulge her aureole again. I oblige, caught between the pleasure I feel by touching and tasting the flesh I considered and missed for so long and the feeling that this was all a very difficult scheme I was letting myself fall into.  I bite hard but incompletely, again danger being the essence to all of this and she moans. I try to think how I’ve changed, what I’ve learned about making love and how to demonstrate that to her, but I’m so terribly addled at this point that I forget or I’m afraid of embarrassing myself. I press hard as I kiss her nipples, feel stupid for the lack of cleverness and kiss my way away from her breasts not knowing what to do with them.

Her neck is easier at this point and I know from the past that kissing her neck will bring a serious reaction. It worked when I was twenty it should work now. The fact that years have passed and that she might like something more crosses my mind but it fades like a drunken thought.

I stop suddenly and try to see her face, like I haven’t looked at it for far too long.

“Forget who I am?” she grins and returns to kissing the side of my face.

“No, I…I…”

“Dop, Dop, Dop…Spit it out.” She mocks me with the most loving cruelty. She still doesn’t need me or if she does she will do so on her own realistic terms and for this I loved her before and I love her now more than anything, more than is healthy.

“Dop, dop, dop.” I repeat as if to show that it doesn’t hurt me still, that the stupid shit before is still stupid and that we can both appreciate it.    I look at her face, wanting something, something more. Her skin is dark and pink at once, her own hue. Her straight nose, too long, perfect, her lips full, the mouth that turns up the corners too much, perfectly, her too many teeth. I settle on her eyes, not green or brown, shining,  complex and tranquil.

She’s got my shorts off and then I’m on top as if she finally was granting a concession. She’s very wet and loose as if we’d had sex earlier and it makes me feel somewhat inadequate. But she wants it in and she wants to grab me with her muscles. Now this I remember. She wants to grip my penis as best she can and force me to work. It’s harder and awkward for me but it worked for semi-adolescent because the stimulation is sort of discreet and it takes a while and is uncertain.  And now it’s all reminiscence and tribute to the clumsy probationary lovers we were.

Uncertain is hardly the word for it. She is slow but consistent and soon she is doing most of the physical labor whereas I’m stuck in that no mans land of trying to concentrate and trying let go to pleasure and I’m hating this because I’m worried I won’t come.

And then all the clumsiness ebbs away. She is where she needs to be. Proportion, effort coordination become moot and thoughts of them loose their hold. The feeling of being a frenzied Chihuahua dissipates and I think of a machine, not the adolescent fantasy of a driving piston but rather a unique and curious device, of loping cams, makeshift parts laughing in the face of engineering, a device that physics says cannot operate and yet churns in its own precision.

My eyes close tight and then I give up a little and open them and there she is and the funniest thing happens when I see her face and pull her to me. The grinding slows and I’m looking at her face and holding her tight in the my arms there, full of possibilities I hadn’t considered before, her simple confident life, her strength, the love I was now convinced she still had for me, and all the things I do every day seem at the moment, crazy, static, gibberish, the comportment of a  windup toy. And then I am stroking gently in and out and I come not violently or strongly but a slow long purge and I hold her with all the strength I have left, that I might disappear into her and I say I love you.

She pulls her head back and looks at me with the sweetest smile, less color in her face and her eyes now a weak green.

“Oh you sweet angel” She says almost like a mother and not a lover and I am for a moment embarrassed, but then surrender into the feeling, pushed the side of my face to her breasts and pulled her to me again. I lose track of time as I hold her, like I am in a kind of a trance. Of course the equation, hangover plus sex plus guy almost forty means I am in danger of falling asleep.

At some future point she says, “Get your clothes on. I can’t have you laying around here half naked.” She heads off towards the back of the house. I wearily pull my clothes on, as fast as I can go, as if I don’t move quickly enough she may be gone again.

“Don’t think I planned that.” She immediately reaffirms her control. “And yes, I feel a little funny about what we just did.” She says to me as I sit down at the kitchen table. “I realize a couple things happened since we last saw each other, but when I saw you,  I didn’t feel like anything has really changed.” She looks at me and probably thinks I’m being pensive or rapt. Actually the surface of my brain is completely smooth. Not a single convolution. I don’t even know where to begin. I only love her and I am desperate and afraid. She takes a deep breath and adds quietly. “I live my life in the context of you. I like to imagine that you do the same but I know that with a wife and a child that that’s probably less true. But whatever has occurred in my life has had no effect on my memory’s composition of you and who you were.” She is wearing blue jeans and a loose flannel shirt, as if the towel and robe were no longer acceptable. I don’t know when she changed. She is simply lovely.

“Not that I haven’t looked around a little. I have had some boyfriends. I didn’t head for the nunnery. But none of them measured up.” She pauses for a second but can’t escape the tendency. “They all had bigger dicks, but none of them measured up.” She is proud of herself.

We sit there quietly in the kitchen. It’s full of old appliances and heavy wood cabinets, not with continuous countertop but more like a European kitchen with unmatched pieces. It figures. It would be about her taste, but it does work it a kitchen that retains its original cornice work, wide plank wood floors and a tin ceiling. It seems all very familiar.

“How’s your family?”

“Quite close to non-existent. My father has advanced Parkinson’s, I can’t stand one brother and I can’t stand being with the other one and my sister is practically a stranger. All in all, it’s worked out about the way it should have. Yours?”

“Fine. My Mother is in Santiago and other than missing their grandchildren, happy as they can be. One sister is married with a girl, the other two are not. Which is the one can’t you stand, your older brother?”

“No he’s merely depressing. He’s still a cop. Actually he’s a lot like my father, but we get along okay.”

“That’s too bad, that you don’t get along with Paul. I always thought you two were pretty close.”

“No… not really we always fought about the time I started going to college he got real resentful of me. It never got better. I don’t know why. He has a family, just bought a house back in Beverly.”

“Really.” She never liked it there and while I don’t like it either now, there’s no point in going over it again. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Some water, please.” She gets it and sits down. I drink and try not to get it all over myself. I’m quiet so she begins.

“There was a purpose in asking you over here above and beyond seducing you.” She laughs. “It wasn’t even on the agenda. I’ve been plundering your letters for my articles.” She laughs again and I wish it would never stop. “Nobody ever wrote worse love letters than you. Like correspondence form lab partners.”  She stands up and pulls a folder off the refrigerator. There are pages and pages of my own handwriting from when I was 22 or 23 years old. I can’t even process this information. The feeling is like that when someone relates something you’ve done when you were very drunk and had forgotten about and the memories assemble into a particularly horrifying mosaic. Again my skittish blood flow rushes forth now to my face and I can feel the flush, the hot skin of my cheek, like I’m caught suddenly in a lie. I hope she interprets it as me blushing instead. I keep my salesman instinct and head in a different direction. I find a question that’s easy to ask.

“Why did you leave?”

“Because I was pregnant.” This really is no more comforting. But some primitive intelligence, from my cerebellum I guess, still focuses on her leaving.

I laugh and feel myself for the moment. “No, you’ve misunderstood. We were about to get engaged. People on the southside don’t cancel weddings because they are pregnant, they schedule  them.”

She opens up the folder and riffs through it, “You wrote letters to  my Father. Why? I haven’t even gotten to those yet.” I am stunned and provoked at once. I’d forgotten about those entirely, my last efforts to get to her.

“Because I thought he was the one preventing us from seeing each other. We had this conversation at that Christmas dinner. He didn’t want you to be with me unless I could take care of you.”

“Really?”

“Yes a long conversation. In fact I went out and got a job because I wanted to show him I could support you.”

I get a sad look out of her, the first. “I thought he liked you. At least until he found out I was pregnant. Bad in the family. Lots of drama. I knew you were nuts about me and I thought you were great but neither of us had any clue where we going.  We were going to go and figured we’d go there together. We hadn’t thought about what the future might bring. Now, I could deal with that possibility and I was willing to risk it. But marrying too young is south side enough without being married too young with a kid and having to stay married because we had a kid.  Or how about divorced with a kid and no education?  It’s why I didn’t tell you where I was going. You’d have looked for and found me. I know you. And we both would have ended up miserable and desperate.”

“But I showed him I was willing to support you. I wrote him. I showed him.” I implore her like I am pleading with him.

“I’m not sure you are right.  He may have been mad at you for getting me pregnant. But I don’t think he was worried about you supporting me. He expected that I would get a degree, have a career myself. Plus there was always family money, from Chile.”

I am confounded. I am sure it shows.

“Will your letters to him tell me anything?” She starts searching towards the bottom of the pile.

This suggestion fills me with panic. There is no way I want her to look at those. “No I don’t think so. Don’t bother.” Salesman technique again,  deflecting, “So what are you stealing  from me?”

            “Do you remember a baseball game? It was raining?”

It would take a lot of effort to explain the trip to the park the other day. I want to say something nice, like I will never forget it. But I just stick with “Yes.”

“One of your little friends, I don’t remember his name,  was telling horrible jokes and we had a discussion about casual racism? Your words, not mine.”

“Yes”

“I am asked you to put together your thoughts . Actually this must have arrived before I left because I remember it. Anyway, it’s about group superiority. You tried to explain that casual racism was a characteristic of the community because much of the community shared the experience of loss of neighborhood. Here it is, ‘Groups define themselves as much by who they are as who they aren’t. Who they aren’t is the out-group. They identity their group by characteristics that they share but that they don’t share, or think they don’t share, with out-groups, the other. Because no one wants to identify with a community or group that is bad or a failure or inferior, the members turn their characteristics into virtues.  They can also turn their perceived characteristics of the  others, the out group, into vices or negative values. For most, nothing really happens. Your car radio gets stolen, you sell your house for three thousand less than you thought you might get, there’s crime on the TV. Group superiority is thereby proven. Everyone will tell you. You give in. You blame ‘them’. And it’s okay. There’s comfort in convention. Who wants to come up with different answers and reasons and perspectives when the answers are already there?”’  I think that is insightful.”

It is just strange hearing her read this. “I am not sure its original thinking. I would bet not.”

“Well I must have asked you to apply this to the homeless because what appears to be the next letter talks about how your group superiority thesis applies to the homeless. ‘The homeless are the perfect out-group. Every group gets to look down on the homeless. Really , anybody who isn’t homeless. The lowest ranking member of any community still feels superior to the homeless.’

I listen lazily. I can’t concentrate.  She is too beautiful and I have missed her for so long..

‘Every positive value and characteristic that a person believes about themselves or their group is reversed into a vice of the homeless. Not a condition, a characteristic. Hard work, sobriety, self-control, self-discipline, pride, hell, hygiene, these are all the things the homeless lack. And as result they deserve their fate. The real reasons people become homeless are disregarded and ignored. It is much more satisfying to feel superior.’ And here. ‘Nietszche said if alms were given because of pity beggars would starve.’ You pretentious bastard. I can’t believe I fell for this shit. ‘The accompanying emotion for a feeling of superiority is not concern or compassion but disdain and hatred. People resent and hate the homeless because of their condition.’ This is the stuff I really like. There’s more. Do you mind if I use it?”

She could ask for my wallet and any major organ at this moment. “Um, sure.”

“Do you think about this anymore?”

 

 

 

“I’ve been working on a project you mention here somewhere, the difference between panhandlers and the homeless. The majority of homeless people don’t pan handle and many panhandlers are not homeless, the panhandlers represent the interaction the public thinks they have with the homeless. Asking people for money and making them uncomfortable means general public  can resent them, blame them, objectify them and thereby remove any guilt.” It doesn’t make feel smart and I know I  have a headache except the pain is fluid and seems to move around my body. I am remembering these things, not the words but feeling this way.

“I bring the idea of superiority up with the people in and out of my classes. I think it helps people understand.” She’s fishing through a plastic box. “I was going to take credit for it. But if someone asks, I just tell them a fish peddler told me it.  Reading them also reminded me about the way I felt about you then.  I thought you were the best, kindest person I had ever met.”

We sit there quietly with the sun pouring in through the west window. There are birds chirping and I listen to them, because I’m a moron and these simple things fascinate me.  It seems the only words I want to say or the only sentence I could actually form would be, ‘I love you,’ but I don’t say it because it’s stupid and  completely beside the point. No one two men are so different as the same man at different points of his life or some funky ass saying that I used to know. But she is in love with someone who isn’t sitting this table and I am in love with the idea of someone who left me years ago.

She reaches across the table and takes my hand, which, to my impoverished soul, is the most loving act ever committed. After a minute, it’s too much.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to check my messages.” It gives me time to catch my breath.

There’s only one, none from my wife, a Detective Cooley who says something about how he wants to talk to me about the incident with my rental car last night. It doesn’t sound too encouraging. I sit down again. She is looking at the letters.

“Okay you do say some nice things to me in these. And I am sorry. I can feel the confusion and the hurt. “ I don’t know what to say.

“’One of the dangers of the sense of superiority is that the more power you have, actually the more power you think you have, the more you antipathy you have those people or groups who you think inferior. “After it’s okay to disdain, stereotype, categorize one group and it’s also okay to do the same with another and another. You find that that process makes it easier to deal with larger and larger hunks of the world. Makes things simpler. “You can end up categorizing a lot of things, people, groups, ideas. However as you do so, you can also end up resenting all those things about which you have prejudices, because that is the world.  Your world becomes smaller. You focus on your own things, yourself and your group you focus yourself right out of life. You become spiteful because you chose only the parts of  the world  that conform to your own version of how it should be. You end up bitter and small.’ ”

“Stop, please.” She laughs. She thinks I’m kidding.

She really looks at me this time and she  looks at me like I’m sick. “Are you okay?”

“No, yes I’m fine, I just don’t want to hear any more about that…”

I hear something behind me. Consuelo looks over my shoulder and shouts hello. Somebody is moving through the house towards us. I turn slowly in my chair.  Consuelo says “I didn’t expect you so soon.”  Through the bright light of the living room comes the figure, slight like a child but tall and as my eyes adjust I find myself looking at a boy of 12 or 13, black wavy hair, face reddened already with spring sun, green eyes, my mother’s green eyes, a photograph of my grandfather as a boy, a memory of my brother when he gawky and unsure and an embarrassment to himself and to me, a prototype of myself. That this is my child is so obvious that I feel stupid for briefly considering asking the question. The boy looks at me with a distracted annoyance, some adult here to bother him. I don’t know what to do. I turn slowly back to her, she has a slightly crooked smile, her eyebrows raised and a her shoulders up as to shrug. Apparently the shock I’m feeling is entirely evident and she says, “I thought it would be obvious.” And she has laughs.

I look back at him and he seems to be processing some information as well, that there are things here that aren’t being said and things he hasn’t been told but something , perhaps visceral, perhaps biological, but something  that he should pay attention to. He looks like he might ask a question. I can’t imagine answering any question he would ask me, even what time it is. He leaves, the room.

“I should…”

I almost lose control of my eyes, or maybe my head, and my focus rolls up the wall. There’s a crown molding, its intricacies dulled by the agglomerated paint of a hundred years and I think of my mother and my grandmother, the Pulaski’s, the stupid polacks, the side of the family I never really knew or think of, their poor life in some distant environs of the city and yet, as it turns out, this part of the city, in a place like this and a frisson of a setting, my mother as a child in this kitchen, my grandmother already old, talking to her, preparing something in this old kitchen talking about nothing and yet my mother listened intently as to learn, her head tilted in concentration, quizzical like the boy a moment ago.

“I think I have to go.”

“It’s a lot, I know.”

I stumble out of there. I’m moving out of the house and down the stairs, tripping but the momentum itself keeping me from actually falling. I’m hoping she doesn’t call me from behind and if she does I’ll stop. There is something pushing me that I can stop if given a reason, an anchor, but that the impetus is real and relentless and that only someone’s commitment or desire can resist it. There is intervention needed. I cannot supply it myself.

I’m down the side street and hit Damen Avenue. There, across the intersection, is a figure that might be my shadow. He’s facing the other way and doesn’t see me. But I know it’s him. I head back in the direction I came from. I don’t turn to see if he’s following me. I go past her house again. She hasn’t come out and she isn’t there to save me. I could just walk up the stairs. I could ring the bell and she would let me in and I could hide. Forever, From everything.

Then again, maybe he doesn’t need to any more.  If my wife sent him,  he’s got all the information he needs. The thought of him not following me anymore should be a comfort but it isn’t. I can’t even turn my head to see if it is him. I feel compelled forward but also incapable of turning, of contemplating that which I am running from, as if the knowledge of tiger is sufficient without seeing him.  I must keep moving forward. But the park ends and I don’ know what I am supposed to do next.

I turn left follow the other edge of the park and I may be heading north which I think is the direction of the hotel but I cant get there without a cab. What I really need to do is go backwards, as though I’ve come too far and need to retrace my steps to get my bearings. I am quickly out of breath, though I run regularly, it has taken only block or so. I walk very fast, then I run some more and then I’m sweating in my suit and I stop. The sun is lower in the horizon,  cutting through the building, corrupting my field of my vision, reflecting off everything, so bright I can’t see anything.  But I can clearly see that kid’s face. That image is there like a case of the mumps, uncomfortable and sore at all times,  spasmodic, unbearable. I look up to let the painful brightness dispel it and to avoid hitting any one or thing. I’m almost hit by a car coming out of an alley I didn’t see, by some several gangster spics or smokes. They yell shit at me that may or may not be English. I can barely lift my head.

I’m not certain if this is a neighborhood I know or not. The vision of my grandmother’s house was so strong that if you told me this was her neighborhood or even that Consuelo’s house was hers, I wouldn’t be surprised. Like there’s  ghosts here? But I just know that it was in a place like this, in the city of my memory. And it is gone. I miss my mother. I wish to be annoyed by her weak jokes and embarrassed by her appearance. I need advice to ignore. I need someone to return to.

The past can be avoided, but not forever. At some point you must realize that the future is nothing without the past. Everything is found in the past . We lose everything. Everyone matters.

Some kind of high rise breaks the field of sunlight, but instead of feeling better, I feel stranger, too light, weak, in danger of falling, in need of the discomfort. I run out of park again and I think I am back on Damen. Forward is feeling a lot like backwards, like when you are sitting still in traffic and a truck next to you moves forward. It isn’t real movement, I’m not stopping and my legs continue to function. Some tired looking smoke bums follow me with their eyes from their perch on a picnic table. I don’t know if I’m a spectacle or if they’re sizing me up as a potential touch. The building passes and my friend the sun finds me again. I reel slightly to the right when it hits me, start to stumble and readjust my lean.

Traffic thickens and I see a cab. It’s engaged but it gives me hope. I need to get back to the hotel at once, to that place of privacy, with its manifold, practically instant comforts. But as I pass into another space of shade it occurs to me that the police may be waiting for me, that work is looking for me, that the world wants of me. Finally, how can I know if the private eye who is or was following me, is still doing so.  How do I know if it really was him up the street or if he really is watching me to catch en flagrante dilecto or if it is some other reason. I’m not as sure anymore. I’m not certain of anything.  I don’t know if I can slip in, if there’s some other way to get in the hotel, into the room, I don’t need  to answer the phone or the door. I have to have my computer.  And I need to check messages again. I need some more delay, to think. I lose my listlessness and now attain desperation. I need to develop a plan.

I see the el. I’m thinking that it would be safer to take the El back downtown, as if the cops would be checking the cabs. This I sof course stupid and I’m beginning to lose my mind. I pass under the El tracks and hear in my ears the sound, and the words spoken, ‘ El train’ casually by my mother and father and grandparents, casually yes but important as point of reference as something always present, a structure more than steel, something useful not to be discarded. It is a motif, a repeated allusion to getting around, to doing what had to be done, to being part of the city, to happy, fair struggles.  This allows be a moment of respite but then the weight of all this collapsing history buckles my knees and rolls my shoulders.

Then there’s a bar on my right and I struffle in. The sign says something about Soul but I don’t think they’ll check at the door. I coil on a stool at the end of the bar. I just need to sit and have a drink. The bartender comes over.

“ What can I get you?”

“A martini.”

“How would you like it?”

I’m completely stuck. I look at her like a panicked tourist, which is all I am.  I mumble “Gin. cold dry, good gin.”

“You okay?”

“Bad day. Very bad day.” She’s a little suspicious, maybe I’m already drunk or drugged up, but she goes to get the drink. She’s little and attractive and the fact makes me all the more nauseous.

The bar area is in sort of a wide hall area that doglegs to the left and opens into the restaurant. The restaurant has it’s main entrance directly across from where I came in, opening on another street. It seems odd it would be so full in the daylight but it’s later than I think. Or so it feels.  Two people who look strangely like Hose and Syph are spooning at a table in the far corner but I can’t really see over there and I‘m so  inundated by strange visions at the moment that I can’t trust mere eyesight. Then the drink arrives all brimming and tenuous as it descends in front of me, spilling gin slightly that rolls through the frost of the glass. I can stare at it like art and lose myself for a second. I lean forward and sip the first bit of the drink raising the glass only inches off the bar.

I don’t think I’ve ever drunk a martini while sober and certainly never on an empty stomach. The initial flavor is almost  metallic, not fragrant but herbal, but as prepared, icy cold. The flavor that  follows is organic and evanescent. It’s threatens to be a purgative.  Ipecac, shaken not stirred. The after taste is steely and modern. Yet there’s something Catholic about  this: cold, and punishment and therapy at the same time. Consuelo loves martinis. I dislike the drink and feel like I’m stuck with it.

I should have asked her for the letters I wrote to her Father. But she cant read those letters. At first I told him all the things I was doing so I would have a career. To make sure his daughter would be taken care of. I inflated a little of that.  That didn’t get a response so I started telling him my plans: an MBA, a career in business. I told him I was making more money than I was. Worse I told him he was right. I was a becoming a proper capitalist as a man of my age should.   Pinochet was  a good man, doing what he had to do for the good of his people, how  useless the work with the homeless was. In the end I would have said or wrote anything.  I  simply lied over and over again to him in those letters, hoping for some kind of reaction.

The bartender looks over at me, concerned so that I don’t pass out here and now. I try to reassure her with a joke.

“I may be a weak old man but I’m strong enough to kill off this drink.” At least I think I say this, for all I know it comes across to her as semi-articulated grunt. And I’ m not sure I said it loud enough for anyone to hear.

With the second and third scabrous sips, an anesthetic shroud descends on me. The El clamors overhead and pulls me back into the morass. The past is pouring in on me, my own past, my family and history These are things easily ignored in small parts, everyday, but now the sheer volume is forcing leaks and breaches that I have not the tools to staunch. I have avoided thought about who I am and  while it seems quite unfair I‘m suddenly confronted with a whole set of facts that are in conflict with what I think.

I don’t know what the next step is with Consuelo. I can’t even organize my thoughts around a plan.

A bus stops outside the bar, and the window becomes a weak mirror. Sometimes you see your reflection, not in mirrors but usually in windows and glass, and it jolts you because of your own unfamiliarity. There are days when you look good and when you look bad and it’s probably the light or the color clothes you wear or your general health that day. I don’t think that what a person looks like is as variable to others as it is to themselves. But sometimes you catch a glimpse that makes you wonder so profoundly, is so disorienting that it makes you wonder how you really look to the world, you don’t appear as you had believed, that maybe you aren’t what you think you are. Sometimes you see it in a picture, not when you’re paying attention but rather at the fringe of some other subject and again you wonder if that’s really you. There is your doppelganger in real motion, contrary to artificial poses. Well, the guy looking back this way, off the side of the bus, is a phantom, colorless, formless, as if physical characteristic and anima have been drained away, stolen. I know the little bastard who’s done this. I’ve seen myself in someone else..

Usually you just get up and find a comforting mirror that confirms that your reflection is behaving as you think it should. Right now, I’m afraid I’d find the picture of Dorian Gray.

I remember being alone in a bar, near work, in the market, it may have been called The Market or something, writing letters to Consuelo. The bar was a nothing place, just proximate and I hated my apartment. I guess I remember writing more than what I wrote.  I brooded for weeks but what sticks with me was the desperation.  I needed her and as I wrote, it didn’t feel like I was getting drunk, but rather my thoughts getting clearer and clearer. I knew what it would take to get her to come back.

In the  same bar, a few weeks or months later with some of the guys from the Randolph market, customers, telling a joke I ‘d heard. It was a funny joke and I used the word nigger. It came out easily and it wasn’t a big deal.  It thought it made the joke funnier. All the guys laughed.

A load of people gets off the train. A well dressed black woman heads across the street directly at me. Her skin is very dark and I can see she is not thin and does not have an appealing face. But she is impeccably dressed and looks very serious and is carrying a brimming briefcase. She looks serious and looks straight at me as she crosses heads right into the bar. I feel like she is coming to get me, here to me repossess me.

She goes right past me and meets a couple friends past the end of the bar, near the front of the restaurant with warm greetings and hugs. I guess that she must be an exception. I don’t particularly like the way the movie is going right now; it’s one of those black comedies where the protagonist isn’t in on the joke.  One of her friends looks like Tom. But of course it can’t be. He flew out already. I’ve got to start wearing my glasses. You know it’s kind of funny, but a guy who looks like the dufus who has been following me just walked past the restaurant. Well who cares? His work is done.

The whole thing was to get out. Maybe I wouldn’t succeed at anything but at least I’d be different. I didn’t want to be part of that group. I wanted a different identity.  Then I did have  success and I was different. I have money, I have position and power, I travel around the world. I lived a sophisticated life, not in this cow town. Of late a sophisticated, hell, aristocratic wife. This would have all been okay, a little on substance but heavy on pleasure.  But now it is all at risk. I think I’m going to lose my wife. My job is probably in jeopardy and I could possibly may be on my way to jail. I’ll be in worse shape than the slobs I ran away from. .

My mother said my father was kind once, too, but I always thought she meant on one occasion. Maybe I’m not as different.

I’m almost done with the drink. It doesn’t feel at all bad. Its palpable strength seems to shock my system and from the core outward, suffusing welcome poison to this all too human viscera. I hold up the glass and thereby order another.

And I remember the last martini I had and it also was while I was sitting in a bar alone. I was still trying to cultivate a tolerance for them after Consuelo left. It seemed something to correct. I went to see Von Freeman play. I remember that, but I don’t remember where, some hotel bar or something by the lake. I was going to a jazz clubs by myself, partially because no one was interested in going with me, but also because I could lose myself more easily. I’d feel special just because I had the guts to go alone, because it wasn’t a social occasion. I was there for the music. I was focused.

It was the Green Mill, or maybe not, one in a series of bleary clubs, drizzly bars of mildew and stale smoke, where you found good music for cheap, for there were many more good musicians than good clubs to play in. I arrived early and sat alone brooding on her comment that I drank the martinis too quickly. They were made for sipping and if I would slow down I would like them better and not end up as drunk.  I found insult, of course, in the advice. I tasted the first deliberately, rationally assessing her departure, weighing my independence. I had the new job and with it money and some new friends and things to do. I felt my strength, stronger the shambling crowd, stronger than the middle aged musicians, prideful with each pass of the eager barman. I felt the shame of need slipping from me.

And then the band started. It was a good band but Freeman was great. He was jarring, utterly unpredictable in his direction, his cadences interrupting, lasting too long, only to answer, seemingly too late, with a flurry of notes. He would modulate into keys that made no sense. I remember thinking, it’s the mid point  between the blues and Debussy, and feeling clever at the insight.

On the analytical level it was something like a foreign savant full of words and ideas you can neither expect or understand. And while I was strong, it was funny and challenging. But eventually the music just broke me down. The saxophone nipped at me from angles unforeseen. It was too evocative, too provoking. The drink was finished and I heard myself order another. I was in the herky jerk of shifting scenes of flashing images and in this subconcious realm, I could not resist thoughts of her.  Soon a murky despondence settled on me. I could not comprehend or process her departure. Soon I was angry and would drink my new friends at the speed they deserved.

I left there fiercely drunk and went to drive my new company car home. It was winter and very cold. The sidewalks were slick. As I walked to the car, I fell hard and hurt my elbow and it took me a minute to get up. But I told myself I was all right and even trying to convince that the pain would help keep me sober.  I had parked on a side street a couple of blocks away but still managed to get lost and circled around for a little while until I found the car. I may have walked past it because I forgot which car I was driving. But I was too proud to be relieved when I found it.

I made the decision to take the side streets back to the apartment. It would take longer but there were fewer police on the side streets especially late at night. As I said it was winter and we had had a lot of snow. The streets were heavily rutted with dirty icy snow, piled up and packed down and now frozen hard. It was a difficult navigation for even straight, experienced drivers. It took all my concentration just to keep the car in the ruts. I mean all my concentration; I kept forgetting what direction I was heading and what course I was taking home. Periodically I would reassess my plan and start heading in a direction that I thought would bring me closer to home, but then the focus of not hitting anything caused me to forget or to become confused as to what I was doing. I meandered, slow and barely in control for several hours. It was torturous. I was tired and drunk. The sky over lake was lightening by the time I finally came to my apartment. It was the only time I ever called in sick.

I can’t imagine going some place to hear music now. I go to the symphony or the opera on the occasions when my wife makes me. I fall asleep. She can’t make me go to see dance. And I haven’t been to an art museum in years. I can’t imagine trying to glean anything from a painting on a wall. For starters, right here there’s a mural above the bar. It has a vague WPA feel of workers and working but trying also to represent the neighborhood here. Is it Thomas Hart Benton? Did he do The Rock? Is it a parody? Or a travesty? Is it bad art?  I don’t know. There’s a lot of things I don’t know anymore.

My eyes are tired, like I’ve seen too much, like I’ve processed too much, like if you lived forever you would become blind, not because of senescence but because of necessity.  Have you read Paradise Lost? Neither did Milton.  Here’s a thought: Before I write a book it would probably be advisable to read one.

The second drink arrives. I take a big hit, maybe half of the martini. I remember the last thing I wrote her on superiority. I remember writing, ‘Feeling superior is human nature. If you look at the 7 deadly sins at least three envy, pride and avarice are merely manifestations of the will to feel superior. And lust and gluttony might drop by to join as well,’ The idea was that groups teach you that superiority is natural. Our group is better than that other group. It also conflates group values with hierarchy – people who have the most conforming group characteristics and identity and values are more highly respected. The they turn and look down on other inside the group. I wrote this because of the way I always felt in the parish  growing up. Not only do people want to feel their group is superior group, they want to feel they are high ranking  within their group.

I remember thinking , don’t know if I wrote down,  about people being so alienated or dislocated they leave a group, they will join another group that makes them feel superior to other groups including the one they left behind. But their desire to belong is accompanied by a need for pre-eminence within that group.

I’m feeling a little calmer. Admittedly things have been catastrophic the last few days. I realize that in a very simple way, I deserve it. It is a natural outcome of my attitude and my approach to things. I realize that some of the ways I‘ve been going about things just aren’t right. But I’m going to straighten them out.

And I decide I can stay here all night. The cops won’t look for me here. No one will know I’m here. I hold it up again for the bartender to bring me another.  She doesn’t really respond, just looks at me pensively.  I don’t know if she’s bringing it, but I am watching as that couple I saw earlier leave the restaurant. Not only do they look like Hosehead and Syph, she is wearing clothes I saw on her earlier. He has his arm around her to as they head for the door.

I really do need another drink, but the next thing I know a big chef guy is tapping me on the shoulder.

“Hey buddy, we can’t serve you another drink. It’s time to go.”

I want to argue with him. I really like it here it’s safe and warm and, other than the hallucinations, kind of familiar. But I can’t form any words. I stand up and I start to fall, but I catch myself, cleverly, with little flamenco steps.  He has me by the arm and finally I blurt out: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

“That’s great, buddy. Get out.”

I step outside. It’s getting dusky. I catch my breath outside the door. It has gotten cooler, too, and the suit feels like a pissed in pajama.  There’s a crowd of kids waiting for something to my left as I come out. They seem to be waiting to get inside a club. I realize that it’s the club we were in the night before, just before the incident. I turn around to go the other way, not knowing where I’m going but not wanting to negotiate the crowd when standing across the street, in front of me, I see the private eye or whatever the  guy is who has been following me. And he looks at me and all notion of him as a passive observer leaves my brain; he looks like he wants to kill me. He starts to limp towards me and mouths “Crawford.” He is reaching inside of his crappy blue raincoat. My flight-or-flight instinct takes over and I stick with what I know. I cut back through the crowd, crying weakly, “help” as I do. Past them is an alley to my left and I turn down it. The El runs directly over it and as I run I can’t hear anything because of an arriving train.  Running is hard but because I am frightened. I think I am moving rather fast. I try to look over my shoulder but I don’t do so fully because I don’t want to slow down.

The running also has the established benefit of allowing me to stop thinking about, well, just about everything. I don’t allow the thought that he has a gun. Alll of a sudden and out of nowhere, I have the movie fantasy to guide me again, the Cary Grant thing, but this time it is much later in North by Northwest. The other side is after him and they want him dead. At the end of the alley is a large yellow brick apartment building and the leading man turns around the corner. However there’s a park there. He’s adrenalized enough to realize that the wide open spaces of a park do not present the best opportunities for hiding. He stops and goes back to the corner of the building. He peeks around it to see if his pursuer is coming up the alley. But he can’t see. Did the bad guy follow him down the alley? Did the crowd stop him? Is he hiding, too? The character scans down the alley as best he can. In the blurry field, he can’t spot anybody peeking from behind the track supports or a building. His adversary has a limp. If our man can just stay out of a line of fire and keep moving, keep running, the gimpy guy will never catch up to him. He takes a deep breath and, half expecting a bullet,  sprints across the alley to the other side.

He runs down the sidewalk just a hundred feet and finds a busy street. The traffic is stopped so he cuts through the cars, still jogging, to the other side. He turns right at the other side, going down the sidewalk to the first side street, turns left and runs up it. He almost stops running, like he’s run far enough, but feels as if he can’t trust logic. The street curves slightly to the left and after a little more than a block he finds himself at another busy street. He turns left and begins to walk, catching his breath and feeling that his route was meandering enough to lose his adversary even if he had been able to get stay close. Still he checks behind him every few steps and looks for escape routes, if need be.

I snap out of mode when I see a homeless guy pushing a shopping cart filled with all manner of junk. I think as to whether I’ll be joining him soon and I start really to feel sorry for myself. Then I realize that while I may be fucked in the near future, he’s already there. I try to give him a dollar. He refuses. Great. He’s insane. We’ve got that in common, too. Me, I don’t know if the guy following me actually wants to do me some harm. He just seems furious. Am I wrong? I don’t know.  The traffic is backed up on this street too, whatever it is and I pass a stationary cop car. I hope they notice if my pursuer shows up and tries to beat on me. I don’t think I have to worry about anything, but I hope it’s not the same two who gave me a ride last night. I’m keeping an eye out for a cab to get the hell out of here and back to my hotel, arrest warrant or not.

There’s an intersection just ahead and I’ll even grab a bus, for Christ sakes, if I can figure out what direction I’m headed. I get to the light and it’s six-corner intersection, just like the one I just left. I see a bus straight ahead that says Clark Street which I know is not far from my hotel and I hurry across to catch it. However as I go I notice the street signs say Milwaukee and North and then it begins to dawn on me that I have made a complete circle and come back to same place. And, standing just a few feet away from where he was earlier, the dick is talking on a pay phone. I hurry across the street but he turns and notices me. I decide not to get on the bus but run past it and decide this time I’ll double back towards him and cut left down the alley at the end of the block. I’m behind the tall buildings that crowd the El station, running hard. I’m trying to decide if I should turn at the next alley and run for the train or turn right and go into the neighborhood when he steps around the corner right in front of me.

I’m really done running, which is just as well because he has a gun. I’m not a gun guy, so I couldn’t tell you what kind it is and it seems rather small, but I know that most of them fire bullets and they all tend to enter your body at high speeds.

“At last I caught up with you, you motherfucker.”

He takes a step toward me and again he seems really angry. A funny thing happens to me. I feel released. Being shot to death at this point seems merely linear. I’m the calmest I’ve been in 36 hours. I sit down and lean against the building. I catch my breath.

“Look what do you want pal? You want a confession? You want me to admit to some affairs? One night stands? Fuck I don’t care, whatever. Just one thing: who hired you?”

“What are you talking about? No one hired me. I just want a piece of you, Crawford.  I’m not like you, I never fucked her around. I loved her and she loved me.”  He’s wearing a trench coat but it’s fairly obvious he’s of-the-trailer-born. His face has some pock marks. He’s bald on top but the skin is very white like he’s been wearing a toupee. The fact that his teeth are crooked and oddly spaced isn’t so unusual; that his eyes are, is. He spits when he talks, but that might just be rabies. It’s not the time to point it out.

“We weren’t high rollers, we had a nice little business down in Florida, didn’t make a lot but we didn’t need a lot. We got to work with each other every day and we couldn’t have enjoyed it more. We shared every secret with each other and I doubt that there were ever two people who knew as much about each other.  I knew every thing she wanted every thing she ever did and ever wanted to do.” He is getting a little frothy and I have frankly no idea what he’s talking about, but a gun makes a good listener out of me. “She told me all the things that she had regretted not doing and one of them was having sex again with this guy she knew back in Chicago by the name of Jack Crawford, that she was hot for him and he went to bed with her once and dropped her and oh, that was years ago and we had a big laugh. That’s how much trust she had, to tell me that story, you fucking bastard, and I was jealous but not for long because I knew how much I loved her.” He pause to catch his breath, I watch him like it’s a movie. He’s like a movie. Not a good movie, but I haven’t seen it before and I don’t know how it is going to turn out.

“ Then she got sick at first the doctors seemed to think the cancer was treatable but then it got worse they couldn’t stop it and she knew she was going to die. She talked about the fact that she didn’t want to have any regrets. She said she wasn’t to miss anything and we spent our savings on trips, La Scala, Ireland, the Grand Canyon, things she wanted to do. I didn’t think about Jack Crawford, until one night she was in Miami at a show and didn’t call home, didn’t come back to the hotel because I called over and over again, I thought she was in the hospital or dead. She told me she had run into an old friend and I didn’t think much about it because she got much worse right away and died just a couple weeks later. I was driving home from the cemetery when it occurred to me that she had spent the night with you. I made some phone calls and it wasn’t that hard to put the two of you together.”

“Betty McDowell.”

“Betty Cob. We were married. Who else have you fucked recently that’s dead?” He’s got a point. But he continues. “Are going to deny it?”  There doesn’t seem enough plausible deniability here. He wouldn’t be murdering me if he wasn’t certain.

“I didn’t know she was sick.” How do you fuck a dying woman?

“Everybody knew she was sick.”

“I didn’t. It wasn’t my market. I mean I had I heard she was, but I just assumed she got better. She looked fine. I mean…” I’m not doing a really good job here. I’m neither defending nor explaining myself and this is not a good time to be lyrical.

“But that’s the whole problem with assholes like you. I know all about you. I asked around. Everybody knows you’re a prick. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, who gets hurt. You basically don’t care.” He puts the gun right up against my nose and gets his face close to mine. “The most important thing I had in my life was Betty. Our life was perfect. She was taken away. After she died the only important thing was my memories of her. It was going to be hard but I thought I could live them.  Then you took them from me. You ruined my memories, the only thing I have left.” He slides the gun up my nose to my forehead. Now my calm fades and the appropriate anxiety I couldn’t muster a moment ago comes washing back over me. “ I can’t do anything about cancer but I can do something about you.” No life is flashing before my eyes, just uncollated notions, irony and atmospherics. I get the fact of Consuelo found, recovered and now lost, but not as strongly as the bright bolt of her face and then the boy’s face. I get the idea of dying in the city where I was born, and fled, but I really feel the moist air, warm and cool on my skin. I get the sound of the baby, Cole I guess, my daughter crying in my ears. I get the point of meaningless striving for material ends, of hollowness, but mostly I get a smell, much like grilled, pre-scored chicken patties.

“Police. Put the gun down!”

Now it is his turn to be becalmed in a moment of tension. He relaxes and even smiles and removes the gun from my face. But instead of bringing the gun down he turns smoothly to face the cops coming up the alley. It feels like he is going to explain this rationally away. He keeps the gun waist high. “Drop the goddamned gun!” The cop screams and Sweaty’s husband tenses up, suddenly realizing this is a real. He’s confused and agitated. They don’t seem to understand who the good guy is here. He hears other cops coming up the other alley, turning to see them and keeping the gun up. I hear a gun shot.

Apparently I am bullet proof. Or this really is a movie. I wait a moment to feel something. There is no pain, He drops the gun to his side. He ahs a funny look on his face. I think I must be shot in the head because he feels he doesn’t have do anymore and theres no pain and theres no fluid rushing out of me. I feel a rush of something that just feels like adrenaline or  something but is also a lot like that feeling I have when I am in the movie state.  Its funny because there is no future, just a lot of right now, no nxt move, nothing to plan. The echo of the shot stopped and then I hear nothing and then I hear the cars and the street and the city. He drops to his knees and then falls face down.)

 

They shoot four times. They hit him at least twice, in the chest I guess from the faint squish and low quick echo. It’s not three feet from me. He falls back, grabbing, unable to catch himself, gurgles for a second and stops.

“You all right?” The cop is seriously hopped up on adrenaline and breathing hard. He’s not a thin or young man and I think he’s close to a coronary.

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine.”

His partner touches the guys neck. “He ain’t going to make it.”

One of the other cops says. “You got to give me CPR to the ambulance gets here.”

A fourth snorts, “Have a nice time, rook.”

“Did you know the guy?” The shooter says. He is way more frightened than I am and I don’t need him to have a heart attack and die on me, too. I’m like the black plague.

“No. He started following me around the neighborhood threatening me. I’m from out of town. I’m here for the restaurant show.”

They turn and yell at someone, “Hey, Get the fuck back buddy. We got a shooting here.” It’s Thomas.

He protests “But I know this guy.”

“You know him?”  The cop asks me dubiously.

“Yeah.”

“Jack are you all right?”

“Yeah, luckily. The cops arrived just in time.”

The cop is trying to assess my veracity but I think he buys it. “Yeah, we got a report of somebody getting chased down the alley over there a few minutes ago. Probably the same guy.”

The cops wander over to look at the body. I get a strange prick of guilt; if it’s not for me, he’s not dead in this alley. Thomas is smart, reading something else here. He makes sure the cops are out of earshot.

“You really didn’t know him?” He looks over at the cop blowing air into the cadaver.

`             “No.”

“Was he trying to rob you?”

“I don’t know. He was just… some crazy guy.” I almost don’t lie and I don’t feel comfortable lying.

“I called them. I had seen you in the bar. I was meeting my sister. I was going to say hello but you very much looked like you wanted to be alone. Tough day, huh?.”

“Yeah.” My heart is slowing down.

“Then I saw him chase you and I thought I saw a gun, so I called the police. I was keeping an eye on him from across the street in the bar. When I saw him take off down the alley I pointed them in that direction.”

“You probably saved my miserable life. I don’t know how to thank…”

“Jesus, Jack I consider you a friend. I always had respect for you and I realize you did what you had to do. You saved my job.” He laughs “For that, I guess I can take care of you.”

The cops are wandering back over. “You want to go in an ambulance?’

I almost say yes but then I realize the sickness I feel isn’t physical. “No. Thanks.”

Thomas asks, “You sure you’re all right.”

“Why don’t you get back to your sister?”

“Are you sure you’re okay? Do you want a ride back?”

“Yeah. No. You aren’t you leaving any time soon, are you?”

“Actually, I was going to meet Phyllis and her friend for a drink over here.”  I may have greatly inflated the extent of my hallucinations. But I don’t ask anymore about it.

After they take basic information, they have a patrol car drive me back to my hotel. I tell them again that I don’t know the guy. They’ll never be able to make the connection.  I don’t think. The same doorman is there at the curb and he is wide eyed when he sees me get out.

I get up to the hotel room. The light is blinking for my messages but I don’t dare pick it up for fear there are other cops looking for me. There’s most of a bottle of Clenched liver in the frig and I drink a large glassful quickly and without the benefit of ice. It’s a hairshirt of a drink and appropriate. I wait for someone to come for me, someone to arrest or accuse or fire me.  The curtains are open; the maid must have done that. The lights of Michigan avenue expose me, but no one comes. I suppose there’s some sort of beauty to it.

I check my messages. There’s one and I expect to hear form this Detective when it’s my wife’s voice. “Hi. It’s me. I must admit I’ve been avoiding your calls. I was mad at you for going away and from always being busy, I don’t care if you’re President or Vice President. I just like for you to spend more time with Cole and me. We can sell this house. It’s too big anyway. I don’t care about that. Just please figure out a way you can be home more. Thank you. I love you. Bye.”

I have tears in my eyes when the message stops. I can picture her holding back, trying not to cry as she left the message, the trusting blue of her eyes, her small mouth turned down a the corners. She is lovely and childlike. I dial her number, our number quickly.  I intend to apologize in a humbling and general way. I genuinely am sorry for everything. There’s no answer and not even the machine picks up.

I know she married me for the wrong reasons, for the old reasons, protection, power, provider, that shit, and I always suspected that, while not consciously aware of it, she  married me simply out of fear that I would go away and reject her. And she wanted children and because she was afraid she wouldn’t find somebody. It was irrational but that’s how she works.  She really is too good and it’s going to be terrible. I don’t know what she’ll do when I tell her I’m going to leave. I don’t know. I think that’s what I‘m going to have to do. But I also want at this moment to see my wife and my daughter.

The problem is that I love Consuelo. Or.  Or it’s the problem that is winning the competition. I allow myself to recall writing letters to her. I can’t be certain of the logic and a day ago I wouldn’t have listened to it. But what I heard today convinced me. Maybe I just regained my own certainty. But I also know my state of mind and my motive at the time. I needed to reject it all so she would accept me.

She has captured me again. And I need to get back closer to where I was. I won’t be able to fake it. She can tell. That is my son and beyond the obligations, I feel the need to get to know him. I could, at this moment, if I allowed myself, imagine being with them, just us three, constructing something basic and simple. It seems entirely right to trade in all these other things for a life with her and him.

But she wouldn’t have me. Not as constituted. I couldn’t fake it and pretend to be who I was. And at the same time I feel like my current life too is a forgery. I was acting like I had given in to the truth. It’s the way we all feel, comfortable with what we decide.

Admittedly things have been catastrophic the last few days and I realize that in a very simple way, I deserve it. My attitude, my approach to things, has been a great contributor. I realize that some of the ways I‘ve been going about things just aren’t right. But I’m going to straighten them out.

I need to talk with Consuelo. It’s amazing that she could be a factor again and so quickly, but she is.  It’s been so long since I had someone to answer to. She not only sees the best parts in me, perhaps even better than I really am, she expects good things, important things out of me. I like to talk about taking responsibility, you know the whole ‘them’ generation thing, but truth be told being responsible for just you and your wants is not being responsible at all. Oh there’s all that crap about being a productive member of society paying your taxes, creating wealth but that’s just bullshit. I derive maximum benefit out of this system. In fact I probably tax the system more than it taxes me.

I owe it to myself to not accept the easy way, the easy answers. I have to find out what’s really going on, become aware, compassionate, and tolerant. I’ve stopped doing anything as a person. I’m just a dick attached to the Sales Manager.  I recall being really interested in the more meaningful parts of life, art and music, I guess, and now someone is going to expect that out of me for the first time in a long time. I don’t know what kind of a relationship I’ll have with her. It isn’t all that simple. After all we have a son together. At the moment, I’m still married and I have to figure out what that means. But I love Consuelo.

It’s a good thing to happen to me is having a son. It’s made me rethink having a daughter. I need to spend some time with her, especially as she gets older. She’ll be one soon. And she’s getting cuter. I can’t wait to get home and play with her.  It will be hard to get out and see her if I’m living in Chicago and not making the kind of money I am now. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Somehow this relates to the way I treat women generally. I know I’ve been a fuckhead and the worst of it is I really set an example for a lot of the sappers.

The whole thing was to get out. Maybe I wouldn’t succeed at anything but at least I’d be different. Then I did have some success and I was different. I had money, I had position and power, I traveled around the world. I lived in a sophisticated town, not this cow town and, of late a sophisticated, hell, aristocratic wife. This would have all been okay if there had been something substance that I had accomplished. But now I guess one way or the other I’m going to lose my wife. My job is probably in jeopardy and I may be on my way to jail. I’ll be in worse shape than the slobs I ran away from. And the real problem is, in the final analysis, for all the effort, even out of prison, I’m no better than my father.

My mother said my father was kind once, too, but I always thought she meant on one occasion.       Maybe I’m not as different.

Consuelo didn’t even get through the whole thing. I remember now what I wrote. As your functional prejudice simplifies the world, the bitterness can consume you. You become mean. You become stilted, you give up on beauty or anything for it’s own sake, but rather just work and worry about the little parts of life you can control. You shut out the world as an absurd, hostile place. You stop caring about new things, different things. You fantasize about the past, become nostalgic. Growth ceases. You become unkind and small.

I like the occasional serving of truth as much as the next person, provided it’s properly processed and chilled but it makes it a little bit harder to take when you hear from that little bastard, the younger voice who knew nothing, had seen nothing, done nothing, had nothing.

I was kind once.

I must admit something at this moment: nothing happened to make me change my mind about things, I just took the path of least resistance. I set out to be different, special and at one point, I think I was. Now I’m indistinguishable. I ended up being like the people who I was trying to get away from. To quote Marion Barry, ain’t that a bitch? And the only reason I can come up with is that it was just easier. So I guess I told me so.


Wednesday


I pass out or something. I wake up panicked, disoriented. I figure out I’m still alone and it’s still dark. I was hoping, desperate to get here earlier, when the hotel seemed to be a sanctuary. But now it is a plastic thing, full of engineered detail, cynical. It seems sullied, the borrowed room it is and I’m altogether fraudulent. I feel reduced, boiled down. I get in the shower but I start to think and I hate contemplating my flaccid, frail body. So I shampoo and get out and shave carelessly. I find myself rushing through the various to-dos of dressing and picking up the room in an obsessive, manic way. Managing the details, as if that will make things okay. I’m sure it’s a state caused by the need to avoid contemplation, but I’m also rushing like I have to go somewhere.  Then again, maybe I just miss my computer. It’s where I channel my anxiety.  Soon I’ve got my suit on and I’ve laid out the garment bag on the bed and I’m sitting in the chair.

I plug the phone line into the modem and turn on the computer. I allow myself to think that maybe it was just having a bad couple days too.  I hear it power up then the modem connect. I sit on the side of the bed perhaps ten feet away, as if more than zeros and ones are going into or can come out of the computer. It’s done but I’m not ready to pick it up. I wait for the phone to ring but it doesn’t. I have phone calls to make but I guess it’s too early. I click and click but the organizer isn’t working at all now. A few days ago this was what I was aiming for, this was career nirvana, nothing to do. Now it just seems to underscore the hopelessness of my situation.  There’s nothing to do but to check Email messages.

                   *****rec’d email from: tom h. jack, where were you i sent you an email about dinner with  siezures pizza? you told me you’d be there yesterday. they wanted to know how you could blow them off. he was pissed. we’re not going to get the business.

 

The phone rings, but I’m still connected to the modem and I miss the call and there’s no voice mail message.

I decide that it was my wife. I pull the line out and dial her. Again no answer but at least this time the recording kicks in, so at least I know she didn’t burn the house down. I hang up. I can’t leave a message; I need to hear her to say whatever it is I’m supposed to say. Sorry and that shit.  Whatever abnegation is required.

I think to call Consuelo, but then I remember it’s just past 6:00 and she’s surely asleep.  Plus I don’t know what I’d even say to her. I feel like I have to fix things first. I need to do some things. I’m going home.

In the open the closet hangs my perfectly spaced suits and the garment bag. The original plan was to ship them out again so I wouldn’t have to carry them. The cheap plastic garment bag I ship the shirts in doesn’t really hold five suits very well, even if arranged neatly. But I grab them and stuff them in there nonetheless. I grab underwear socks and gym clothes out of the drawers. I fetch the shaving kit and it all fits like a tumor in the outside pocket. I yank the computer cord out of the wall without turning it off as a hostile and pathetic act towards the machine and the information in it. I put it in my briefcase, carry the stuff down and check out.  The bill is almost three thousand dollars and suddenly that seems like a lot of money. I give the clerk my corporate card. It goes through.

In the cab, I can almost avoid thinking about things. Traffic moves very well and if I keep my head and eyes perfectly still, there is never anything in the present. The images keep changing and distracting, over and over again. It works for a short while. This is down time and usually there is no down time because in my briefcase, next to me, is the means to managing, controlling everything.  Except it doesn’t function.

Yesterday there were a lot of things to manage but now there are only things to consider.

I will talk with Consuelo. It’s amazing that she could be a factor again and so quickly, but she is.  It’s been so long since I had someone to answer to. She not only sees the best parts in me, perhaps even better than they really are, she expects good things, important things out of me. I like to talk about taking responsibility, you know the whole ‘them’ generation thing, but truth be told being responsible for just you and your wants is not being responsible at all. Oh there’s all that crap about being a productive member of society paying your taxes, creating wealth but that’s just bullshit. I derive maximum benefit out of this system. In fact I probably tax the system more than it taxes me.

I owe it to myself to not accept the easy way, the easy answers. I have to find out what’s really going on, become aware, compassionate, and tolerant. I’ve stopped doing anything as a person. I’m just a dick attached to the Sales Manager.  I recall being really interested in the more meaningful parts of life, art and music, I guess, and now someone is going to expect that out of me for the first time in a long time. I don’t know what kind of a relationship I’ll have with her. It isn’t all that simple. After all we have a son together. At the moment, I’m still married and I have to figure out what that means. But I love Consuelo.

It’s a good thing to happen to me is having a son. It’s made me rethink having a daughter. I need to spend some time with her, especially as she gets older. She’ll be one soon. And she’s getting cuter. I can’t wait to get home and play with her.  It will be hard to get out and see her if I’m living in Chicago and not making the kind of money I am now. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Somehow this relates to the way I treat women generally. I know I’ve been a fuckhead and the worst of it is I really set an example for a lot of the sappers.

I’m at the airport and head to the ticket counter. It’s a round middle aged smiling woman.

“Hi. What can we do for you today?”

“Hello. My name is Jack Crawford. I’m on the 12:00 flight but I’d like to get out earlier if that’s at all possible. Any seat. Please.”

“Okay. Let’s see what we have here.” The thought of being wedged between a colicky baby and some snoring fat guy seems a little like penance. I might have to get used to it. She types away on the computer. “Well I have your reservation here, but for the seven thirty we’re pretty much sold out in coach.”

I am disappointed, but I don’t have the right mindset to manipulate the system. “Okay. Can you check the next one? Please.”

“Well hold on. I don’t have any gold executive flyers on this flight and there are people waiting for upgrades, but first class is wide open. Let me put you in there. After all, you gold executives are the most important flyers we have.”

I decide to go ahead and call Hose. He’s on East Coast time and probably in his office. I need to talk to him about Monday night. It was wrong, but I need him to either forgive me or help me think about it differently. Or may be I just want him to tell me to come clean with it.

“Joe Burkes.”

“Joe. Jack.” There’s nothing about silence on the other end. At times I’ve thought about him as my best friend in the world. To lose him now would not be unexpected but would be a solid lash. “I called about, well, the situation.”

“I’m pretty confused about things right about now.” His voice is flat but his words seem to allow for some understanding.

“I’ve done a lot of things I’m not too proud of recently.”
“Yeah.”

“I’m not sure what to think about this.”
Some emotion loosens in his voice. “I feel so fucking guilty about it.”

“You don’t have anything to feel guilty about.”

“Jack. Have you finally gotten to that point? I love my wife. And now I’ve cheated on her. I said I would never do that.” I am certainly the poorest judge of character in the world. We’re talking about two different things. “And it wasn’t like it was some drunken one night stand. I always liked Phyllis. I mean I found her attractive but I also felt like she was a friend.”   I’m shocked and saddened and I realize that I always had in the back of my mind that if things ever fell apart I could go back to her. I ascribed my vision of the two of them last night as a function of bad eyesight and general cognitive dissonance. But it makes sense. His vague hostility towards me. Her lack of surprise when I fired her. He speaks again. “I still like her and that makes it more difficult.”

I can’t focus on much more than my need for redemption or forgiveness, so I throw out, “Well don’t feel guilty because of me.”

He laughs acidly. “I’ll tell you what. That’s one thing I don’t feel bad about at all. You not only used her, you were a dick to her and you fired her, so no, I don’t…”

I wait for him to say more. He doesn’t. I can hear the silence being digitized, zero zero zero zero. I feel a prick of anger and my impulse is to fight back, but I’m not only on weak ground, I’m just plain weak. “So what are you going to do?”

“I’ve got to do this the right way. I feel shitty about Phyl. She’s been jerked around enough. I hope she’ll understand. I never really lied to her.”

I don’t have the energy to bring up the other night with the stewbum and it isn’t on his mind. He’s got his own crisis. I know he’ll handle it the right way. He’s more centered than I am. I don’t know what to think. We say good-bye. I hope I don’t lose him as a friend.

I get on the plane, stuff my distended organ of a garment bag into the front closet. I feel sheepish about sitting in first class and I can’t get comfortable in the seat. I can’t tell if I will sleep and I can’t tell whether I’m tired or just buckling under the weight of circumstance.  I take a few minutes and try to organize myself. I begin to add some other things. I scribble a few things on the back of an airline sickness bag that I find on a seat:

5-25 wed: call det. Cooley

                    call chairman

                    call Sylvia

                    call Consuelo                           

                    call Joe Burkes back?

                                  f/up: think about women

                                 f/up: relationship w/wife

                            f/up: integrity, greed

                            f/up: arrogance, shallowness  

                        f/up: Consuelo, offspring, etc.

                                  f/up: think about smokes, et. al

 

Another Movie comes to mind from the fifties; The Sweet Smell of Success. And I feel very much like Tony Curtis. At the end. It’s just desserts time.

You see that’s the thing; you can influence people by acting the right way. And even a little helps: you don’t make it as easy to become a little worse. I can’t refer to a person as a smoke, even if it is a code word to my friends. It is still a  generalization. Look at Thomas. Saved my life. How many times have I referred to him as a smoke? And called him my smoke, for God’s sake. And there’s a whole bunch of other things, the slopes, spics, sand niggers stuff, of course but the marital laxity, trying to get laid all the time. Lying to people. Getting around things. And pushing people around, especially the people who work for me. It really wasn’t right, squeezing the sappers, letting the weasels sink or swim, eat or die. If I could do it all over… but I don’t think I’ll get the chance.

It just doesn’t feel right sitting in first class. Again, it feels false and cheapened. But this might be the last time for me. The attendant brings me an orange juice. It’s sweet but quite acidic, at least to my stomach.  I reach over habitually to turn on the computer, but there’s no point. I look at the phone. We’ve got a few minutes before takeoff so I can call the office. Luckily the big guy does that O dark thirty thing so I know he’s in.

“Hello.”

“Hello, It’s Jack Crawford.”  When I hear his voice the first thing my mind starts to do is calculate the best way to tell him about the Phyllis thing and losing one of our biggest customers. But I’ve got to try to do the right way for a change. I mean maybe they’ll fire me but I’m going to try to be straight about it. And this is what it has come to: I not only have to re-assess the way I treat people and what I say, I actually have to think about the words. I  am not sure how to talk to people in a forthright way. Of course I don’t know what is going to happen with the police. But my peace of mind demands that I settle these things.

“Well, Hi Jack. How are you doing?” He sounds almost jolly.

“Well to be honest with you, not great.”

“It sounds like you had a helluva show.” I don’t really like the sound of that.

“Yes sir. I really need to talk to you about a couple different issues here that require some immediate attention and to make it more complicated I have some personal issues that may limit how much time I can spend in the office today.”

“Well son, as sympathetic as I’d like to be I’m going to warn you that I have several board members coming in here and I will be tied up with them most of the day. You are going to get me in very small doses.”

Yes sir. Well …I might as well start with the business.”  I’m tempted to let the Monde thing pass and try to deal with it later but for his purposes, it’s probably the most pressing. And that’s not how I want to operate right now. And it’s the clearest of the issues “It’s a problematic situation. The buyer from Monde du Sandwich stopped by the show and said he was switching suppliers. He gave a couple reasons but the main reason was something we did and something we did at my direction. Their signature chicken patty was specced at 60% white meat. About 5 months ago I directed operations to change to natural blend.  At that time, I also directed the cost accountant to track the difference between the two to see what the savings were. It was about $300,000 in the 5 months alone, so while I didn’t put it into any budgets, I was hoping to present it at the end of the fiscal as additional operational savings that could go directly to the bottom line. Unfortunately they caught us and as I said the buyer is throwing us out. I plan on going over his head, but we are by no means assured of getting an audience with anybody above his head.”

“Assuming you can get over him, what are you going to propose to those people?” His voice is flat, reflecting either analytical or pensive state of mind. I can’t tell if that’s good or bad.

“I think we can go in, plead mea culpa, my fault, unclear direction and confusion at the operational level, we propose to give the savings back, all of it, plus another couple hundred grand if they give us a two year exclusive. We’ll make the other money back in four months. For their part we read in the trades that they are dealing with some serious red ink. Half million should be very motivating.”

“The three hundred hasn’t showed up yet as savings in any operational budgets?”

“No sir, it’s a separate line item.”

“Okay. Don’t do anything.” I don’t care to interpret that. He stops to think. I don’t know what he’ll say next. “I’m trying to remember somebody I know who sits on the board over there. It’s a Charlotte company, right? Yeah, I know I know at least one person. Let me figure out who I can talk to. That’ll be our strategy.”

“It’s too bad about the 300K.” He doesn’t say anything. “The other thing is…”

“Listen Jack. I’ve got to prepare for these people here today. You keep trying me back and get my girl to see if I can come out of the meeting. I realize there’s some important things on your mind and they need to be resolved. I just can’t change these meetings.”

“Yes sir, I’ll call you back a little later.”

              I can call him from the house after I get there before I start with Sylvia. I don’t know what I’m going to say to her, but I’ll start with the truth. All of it. Including my feelings for Consuelo.

I still haven’t caught up with the detective Cobb who left a message last night. I find his number on a scrap of paper in my briefcase. It’s the way I used to do things, before I was organized.

              “Cooley’s desk”

“Is this Detective Cooley?”

 

“No it isn’t.”

“Is Detective Cooley in?”

“Yeah but he’s away from his desk. He’ll be back soon.”

              “I’m returning his call. Could you ask Detective Cooley to call me? ”

“Why don’t you just call back in a little while?”

“You don’t want my number?”

“It’s better if you call back.”

“I’d like to give you some information regarding a hit and run I was involved in.”

“Why don’t you just call back and talk to Cooley. I’m not his secretary.” And he hangs up the phone before I can tell him I’m flying home.

I haven’t caught up with him, but he hasn’t caught up with me either. It occurs to me that what I’m doing is not running home to my wife but rather fleeing from the authorities.  Because he had already called me yesterday afternoon, it has to be about the night before last. I’ve already given my statement about Sweaty’s husband trying to shoot me. So I don’t know what he’ll want and I don’t even know what I’ll say. I didn’t check the paper to see if there were any reports of dead homeless victims of hit and runs. I don’t know if there‘s a section for that. I don’t know what I’m going to tell him. I’m thinking I should admit what I’ve done and take some responsibility. It’s the right thing to do and Consuelo would respect that, although I don’t know if this is some weird catholic thing manifesting itself.

I don’t know if they’ll be pissed off at me for going to New Jersey. I guess they’ll just have to extradite me. I feel guilty about the cop who shot Cobb, too. It must be hard on that poor bastard.

I try to relax. There’s a small tension at a point between my eyes. It feels like the pull of a string, a line through the nose of the plane to my destination. A pivot, no, a pawl, a reel pulling me back and the plane with me. As far as I know it’s all the impetus the plane needs. It is taut between my forehead and someplace east. I don’t know where the line ends. Perhaps it is in my house or my office or maybe the White Horse Tavern where somebody or another drank themselves to death.

I never, or at least not for a long time, noticed the white noise on an airplane. I suppose I am so used to it as to find it soothing.  But now it sounds aggressive and hostile, something tearing at the fuselage. I try to nod off but I keep having these horrible nightmares where the plane crashes but I survive.

I wake up, so I guess I was sleeping and it occurs to me that as much as I want to go home and yip up all my personal poison, I should probably take care of the office. Plus I’d rather talk to the cops there. These are issues that I don’t want to have hanging over my head, things that should be resolved before I talk to Sylvia. I owe it to her to tell her everything, but I also need to have some kind of idea where it’s going.

One other thing. I like to pretend that I don’t pay any attention to the past but the truth be told I’m just as sentimental and nostalgic as the next motherfucker. I just didn’t want to confront my own past, so I invented a past that I neither experienced nor understood. It was fantasy just like all nostalgia. Unfortunately, like everyone who dreams of the past, I devalue the present. I don’t know who I am. And … if you take away the politics of functional prejudice, glamorization of the past and incremental improvement in my taxes and I don’t even know if I vote Republican.

We touch down and I dial the CEO’s direct line but the secretary answers.

“Mr. Johnson’s office.”

“This is Jack Crawford. Is Mr. Johnson in.”

“He’s in a meeting, Jack.”

“Do you know when he’ll be out?”

She hesitates. The silence has a hiss like Zyklon B.  “ I don’t know. He’s got meetings all day.” This means that the next person I hear from will either be from Cloy or human resources. Johnson won’t have anything to do with me. I’m on the way to the glue factory.

“Well can you ask him to call me on my cell phone. It’s important.”

In a strange way I’m going to miss Phyllis. I felt like I was doing her some good, giving her guidance, at least on her career.

I dial Detective Cooley again. The line rings. “Hello?”
“Hello, Detective Cooley?

“Yeah?” He’s eating.

“This is Jack Crawford. You left a message for me. I’m sure you wanted to talk with you about the incident with the rental car the other night.” I’m not at all nervous. I’m ready to tell him what happened.

“Oh yeah. Did they ever find it?”

“I don’t know. You see there was more…”

“Hey listen. Can I call you back? I just got here and I haven’t had my coffee and I’m so swamped that if I don’t get it before I start with you, I never will.”

“Sure I guess so.” And I give him my number at the office.

I call home but Sylvia is apparently out somewhere. I’m anxious about what to say and what I want to say, so I just say. “Hi, I’m back. I’m in the office. I got your message. I want to talk. I’ll be home in a little while.” And I feel a little better because at least I’ve reassured her.

I get the car service and head to the city. I’m sitting in the back, trying to empty my thoughts, suppressing the urge, feeling precariously mortal. At the tunnel tollbooth, the traffic angles at me; all of a sudden I’m aware of it. The imminent dangers. The inhospitable universe. But it is fact and not emotion.  I’m not at the point of being afraid of dying. I’m too focused on the reality of pain. At the same time, facing it feels like virtue and I need all I can get.

After a few minutes, the phone rings and it’s Johnson. “Sorry, Jack. But you can only get me in small doses today.”

“I understand. As you know, I eliminated the director level  positions in my department. I did this in order to save the company a lot of money, taking on the extra work myself. One of the people I let go at that time was Phyllis Gutman. Well, I need you to know that I slept with her, more than once and while I had broken it off before, the main reason I let her go was to improve the bottom line and not for any personal reasons.”

“I believe you.”

“Yes sir. So I’m calling to say that I did it, that I realize that it’s something wrong, that I…”

“Jack, listen. I’m aware of the situation.” I know that this means that he got wind of it through Cloy via Cloy’s wife. “What you did was probably wrong, but even an old bastard like me realizes that she was an extremely attractive woman. Did you force yourself on her?”

“No sir.”

“Did you promise her anything for sleeping with you?”

“No.”

“Did you promote her, demote her or deny her promotion because of your personal relationship?”

“No. Well we got involved just about the time of her promotion. But I was going to keep her in the organization until I heard she had interviewed with a competitor, which as you know is grounds for dismissal.”

“Then I don’t know why we’re talking about this. I understand she’s already taken a job with a competitor?”

“Yes sir.”

“I think you did this the right way by breaking it off first.” He may not realize how closely apart the two events were or is choosing to ignore it for reasons of plausible deniability. “I think the fact that she has already taken a position with someone else means she was on the way out anyway. You shouldn’t have done it, but I think you are smart enough to get out of it before it became a problem. Ah, Christ. Let me call you back.”

That’s interesting. Maybe I’ll come out of this thing employed after all. If I’m still literally at liberty. I don’t know if it makes any sense. You can only do this job if you go about it passionately. You have to give in to it. I’m not sure that I’m ready to do that anymore. But it is heartening to be thought of so highly by such an important person, someone who has made a career being a keen judge of character.

One of the things I’ve always tried to do is avoiding closing any doors. And for now I’ll keep this one open.  I can always walk away later.

I dial up the detective again.

“This is Detective Cooley.”

“This is Jack Crawford. You know, I am in New Jersey now. I don’t know if…”

“Yeah, thanks for letting me get it together.” He shuffles paper. “Yeah apparently it was amateurs. They probably wanted it for parts but they screwed up the key so badly they couldn’t get it restarted once they turned it off. But that’s about all the damage, so you won’t have a much of a claim with the insurance. There was a small dent in the fender. And some blood.  They must have hit something…” He is shuffling again. “There was something else. Crawford. Crawford. Can I put you on hold?”

“I’m about to go into the tunnel, so we might get cut off .” We’re not quite there yet, but I don’t want to piss him off if he loses me. Plus I’m not comfortable and don’t want that distraction.

“No. I want to eat my bear claw. Call me back.”

The phone rings just as I hit end. “Jack. Now, this Phyllis Gutman thing was brought up to me by someone else in the organization and I’m sorry to say was using it to denigrate you. You know there are people who think they can elevate themselves by running down others. He was repeating stuff he heard from his wife for God’s sake! Frankly, I don’t appreciate that approach by members of my team. And you are an integral part of this team, my team.”

“Thank you sir, for your faith in me.”

“You are doing just fine. In fact, I want you to make a presentation to the board. You’ll be taking over marketing in the food group as well. We’re going to have Roy do some different things, strategy and such. I want you to report directly to Mike Levine.”

I choke out, “That would make me…that’s Roys job? Senior Vice President?”

“I guess that’s what it means.” It also means I’m one step away from division president. And it means stock options. Cloy must have fucked up badly. This is an old school kind of guy. The kind of guy who doesn’t buy that weak propriety bullshit, but also hates back stabbing. He’s also smart enough to see through it all, that Cloy was using the wife stuff to eliminate competition. It’s a beautiful thing.

“We’ve got someone in place for marketing, you know Phil Deegan in marketing but I think you’ll need a number two guy for sales.”

Without thinking too much about it I say, “How about Thomas Lewis?”

He laughs, “Ho ho. Thomas in upper management, huh? Well life sure is strange. I suppose it’s inevitable. In my company. Why not? Go ahead. Get a hold of HR and take care of it. They’ll know why you’re calling.” He hangs up. I feel a little better and not just for selfish reasons. I feel like I’ve done some penance. I’ve given back. And the funny thing is, he’ll do just fine.

              I’m conflexed.  In fact I have the job I was aiming for, plotting for two days ago. Now, I don’t know. Everything happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to discuss the moral aspects of what was going on. And should I be discussing my conflicts with the CEO? I’m not sure I want the job. I might want to live in Chicano. Depending on things.

Was I supposed to turn it down? What was I supposed to do? He made it so easy on me. It’s nice to be wanted, as opposed to wanted.

But I’ve forgotten about Cooley. And now we’re in the tunnel. I’m not allowing myself to think about being Executive Vice President. I’ve got to deal with the Police Department of the City of Chicago. I mean even if I were to get off, if I have to go to trial and they wouldn’t keep me around through that.  And if I make a clean breast of it, I go to jail. Would that be all right with Consuelo? I don’t know. She might understand. She might even still love me. But if I’m in jail, what chance do I have?

Perhaps I’m delusional, but maybe I could convince Consuelo to move to New York. If she lived in Manhattan and Sylvia was out in Jersey, hell, I’ll give her the house, then I could see Cole and my son on a regular basis and I could work things out slowly with Consuelo. I’m not sure whether she could do her work in New York, but I don’t know why not. We’re tripping over the fuhomeless in this city. I’d have to make sure my schedule was reasonable, but if I’m not drinking, chasing and commuting I should have a lot more time. I don’t know what kind of job I would do.  I guess I could stay here. I guess Senior VP would be okay.

We pull up in front of the building. I sign for the car. It feels comfortable to sign and I tip the guy well. It’s probably a good time to arrive here, just before lunch; I manage to get up to the fifteenth floor without seeing anyone with clout.  The receptionist looks at me kind of funny and says hello. She probably knows there’s been some trouble and can’t tell if I’m in or out. Me either. Or maybe it’s just because of the layoffs.  Everyone seems very busy. There are a lot of closed doors, which is portentous. Hey, that’s one of those intellectual puns. Annoyreen is away from her desk, thank god, and I go into my office and close the door.

I’ve forgotten about Cooley. I dial him again.

“Cooley. Is this Crawford?  Uh, was there something else that happened?”

I swallow an adenoid. “Um, well…”

“Somebody smashed your window?”

“Yeah. A couple days ago…”

“But that’s not it. Hold on.” He’s reading or looking for something.

I let go with it. “This guy tried to shoot me. A cop had to shoot him instead. Over in Wicker Park. Too.”

“Jesus Christ. Nice trip in to town.” And he doesn’t say anything more. I don’t know if I should say something, and I’m about to tell him that I knew the guy, contrary to what I told them on the scene, when he pipes in  “Oh, that’s what it is. My partner here knows your brother. He’s sargent on the Southside? He said to make sure I gave you a hard time.”

The movie feeling washes over me. It finally dawns on me that this is all part of the script. It’s a comedy. The long nightmare of circumstance is over. I laugh. The joke is on me.

“Something funny?” He says, still riffling paper.”

              “What department are you in?”

              “Property crime, auto. Why?”

“Oh, just curious. Thanks. I’ll say hi to my brother. From your partner.”  There’s no real crisis. The main character has to endure trials. Otherwise you don’t have a movie. There’s no problem at all. There is only plot development. It all turns out fine in the end. The protagonist is back to being who he truly is. I’m back.

“What the hell were you doing over in that neighborhood?” The jaded police officer asks.

              “Well people told me that’s where all the action is. I didn’t think twice about the car.” The handsome man laughs at himself

              “Don’t let  ‘em kid you. That area’s still full of Ricans. They’d chop shop

their own mother if there was a market for her parts.”  They both chuckle.

 “What were you in town for?”

              “The NRA. The restaurant show.”

              There’s a knock at his office door. It’s one of these plant watering services. It’s a cute little Hispanic girl. “Pardon me.” She says with an accent. In his sophisticated way, the handsome man in the movie says, “Buenos Dias. Sigue por favor.”

She looks very intimidated as she says, “I speak English.” She reminds the star of the room service girl in Chicago. And that makes him think of a large glass of single malt scotch with a couple of ice cubes. He could stand up, still holding the phone and get out of the way, but he makes her squeeze between him and the credenza on the way to the ficus in the corner. He thinks, shes looking at me like I got her dog pregnant. The hard boiled cop asks him basic information.  He’s not exactly certain he’s not being coy, but they’re just routine questions. The policeman says “The forms will be mailed to you in New Jersey. “

              The gardening girl leaves with her water can. Turns out she’s got some severe backdrag. “Hispandex.” He says and laughs. From above, we see him copy from the airline sickness bag to his personalized stationery. After editing the list looks like this:

5-24 wed  call det. Cooley

                     call Human resources re T. Lewis

call T Lewis. I have to make sure he hasn’t said anything about our little incident to anyone.

call chunk and schedule work on system

                     to-do Sylvia

                     to-do Consuelo

to-do glom and seizures pizza. probably have to let him go, start fresh with seizures.

              There were some other things and he tries to remember. But they’re not crucial. He wishes he could open the window to let some air in the office. It seems like a good time to breathe.

              It is almost lunchtime and perhaps also time for a drink. He tries to think of some cronies to call and hoist a couple drinks with. He’d even try a martini, at the Oak Room, like Cary Grant at the beginning of the movie. It’s not just to celebrate the fact that he won’t be going to jail. He’s back on schedule. His plans and dreams are one again. He is looking at stock ownership. CEO by 45. Saliva is still worth $10 million. He has to start getting to know Saliva’s family. He’ll need some of that financial acumen. And once the computer stuff gets fixed, he still might make the book thing go.  He’s got things to do.

              He looks out over mid-town. He thinks about the woman he was once in love with. He can take things slowly with Consuelo. It might take a while. He really doesn’t know what she wants and for now there’s no point in changing any of his plans. Things may not work out. He can’t wait to change the scene, to get back to his house, with its eight hundred thousand dollars level of comfort, to see his wife. The baby will be in bed by seven and they can relax, even fool around. After they talk a while, she’ll want to and he’s feel like he’s earned it.

              And then the protagonist laughs.

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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