Sunday, October 16, 2005
The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 43 and 44
Corey lay around the carpenter’s den Clarisse had made of what was once his living room, feeling out of sorts.
That the women in his life were confused about whether they wanted careers or family, girls or boys, gods or girls, should not serve to raise his plight above everyone else’s. Save for the touched-by-the-hand-of-God two percent who enjoy the pleasures and tortures of beautiful women falling at their feet, most men are driven to vertigo-inducing heights by the most uncomplicated maidens.
This is because men and women, despite legislation to make equal their pursuit of happiness as it is currently understood ($), are very, very different.
He opened up Yvonne’s now nearly world-famous spread in the magazine to drive the point home. It was a maxim not worth passing onto Randall for inclusion in their mutual (at times) brainchild, because anybody who didn’t know of this difference between genders was far beyond a mere bum. They were retarded.
Anyhow, it didn’t matter. He was flopping about, weighing Yvonne’s numerous and subtle advances against the odd little intimacies, pecks, whisperings, and caresses he’d witnessed between she and Joya. Somebody in another time, place, or culture might be repulsed by what he’d seen, but Corey just got hot. He understood completely the desire to do such things with the wonderful Joya, particularly because he was not a woman. He started to return the way from whence he came (Yvonne’s advances upon him), but realized this would only land him in the same place. So he decided to go outside and have a cigarette, since his wife forbade it inside the apartment each was tied to until a cataclysm could be forced by something, somewhere, somehow.
He had stashed a vanilla cigarette from the benefit/press conference that was sure to remind him of the woman he could not love – Joya – because he didn’t and, anyway, she wouldn’t, and was looking forward to sucking on it in lieu of her.
As he placed his hand upon the doorknob the phone rang. Corey, for a self-styled businessman, had rather uncommon, if very healthy attitudes about telephony. He felt in no way compelled to answer every time the technology beckoned. Telemarketing, a failing marriage, an extremely hot client, and a dissolute partner had all helped to deepen his conviction that, just because the phone rang, one was not necessarily obligated to pick it up.
At first blush this doesn’t sound exactly world reordering, but upon deeper consideration we are forced to recognize how it represents an intelligent urge to place a price on one’s access if not a damper upon their immediate prospects. And that was where Corey had changed in the past year or two; he no longer believed in fast opportunities, striking lightning, overnight success, faeries or hobbits. Luck was, indeed, something you made or placed yourself in a position to harvest and by the time something good happened to you, there was usually no shock, no jumping around for joy and drinks-all-around. Only the dull sense that a newer, farther-reaching challenge had come to occupy one’s horizon of desire.
That said, he had the poor judgment to turn around and answer. This in spite of the fact there was nothing he either wanted or needed from anybody else in the world at the moment. Just the opposite. To Corey, each ring of the phone meant he’d accumulated another task to crowd his already hectic days.
“How da hell ah ya?
It was his father and the utterance translates thusly (just this one time): “How the hell are you?”
“Hey Dad!” Corey responded as he always did to this towering, middling figure of withheld approval who affected his sense of self so much.
“I gaht your staff” (okay, once more) he referred to the fact he was in receipt of some stuff about the benefit/press conference which Corey’d mailed like some anxious cheerleader with an “A” affixed to her report card.
“Yeah?” he queried expectantly, boyish.
“What the fahk ah you up ta?” And in that moment Corey’s heart sunk in a way Clarisse, Yvonne nor Joya could never make it do. He said nothing because there was nothing to say. The judgment was in.
Typically, Corey would have said he was doing the best he could, but the question of course, was not one of effort, rather if the effort was focused upon the right things.
“Yah call this a jahb?”
Something snapped. It was not a big snap, for Corey would never break the ties that bound, but a snap nonetheless.
“I’m not interested in a fucking job. When are you going to learn that?” Corey scolded the dumbstruck patriarch. Dumbstruck not because there was any revelation in what his son had said. He had always suspected as much. Dumbstruck rather that his son knew it himself and had the pure and unadulterated balls to admit before God-the-Father with the spicy addition of an expletive he’d never uttered in his presence.
“Didjew just say fahk”?”
“Are ya deaf dad?”
But then Corey reverted to an (much) earlier edition of himself and regained composure, pulled in the horns. Enough damage to wreck the next ten years had just come out of his mouth, which had been driven not by reason, but passion. Reason feels good in soft and fleeting ways, as do most things we know to be correct and good for us. But passion is a heavy meal that satisfies and clogs the arteries in one same act.
Dad knew the forces of planetary energy had swung his way, as did his “boy,” so that the former took a sip of water while the latter sat down to take the tongue lashing the whistle whetting signified.
“Ah spent my life making things. Ah worked with my hands and at the end a each day we hahd sumtin to show four it. We were brahthers, the men ah did these things with and we ahl did it fuh something besides ahselves. Look at these people yah hanging owt wid, this cunt, who showd huh cunt in a magazine and wants money like doin’ sum such thing was wort anything. And it’s my boy who’s makin’ the case four huh. What? Shud ah show this to ya mahtha?”
Well, clearly Yvonne was not the kind of girl you brought home to mother (or father) – at least not as a possible candidate for continuing the family name. It would be tantamount to being sprung from thieves and whores in his dad’s mind.
Worse, viewed from the old man’s distant and distinctive perspective, Corey had to admit the point. What the hell was he doing? “Surviving,” he muttered to himself, unhappy with the lack of grace it echoed.
“Wha was zaht?” his father pierced his rumination.
“Nothin’ Dad, Nothin’.
“Damn right nahthin. Bum philosophy. Sum case! You proud-a that?"
Just as he’d done from the time he was old enough to talk, Corey refused to.
There was an uneasy silence, as there had been in so many countless conversations between them. Corey’s dad knew he’d made his point, too well in fact, and tried to backtrack.
And backtrack he did, right into an even bigger pile of quicksand-mixed-with-shit.
“Now howz that lahveley French girl yah mahrried?”
Jordan awoke at 6 a.m. with the residue of a dream about Joya flavoring his morning the unmistakable lightness of vanilla.
In this dream she was but a teenager and my God how beautiful to contemplate the downy colt with wispy thighs and soft face minus the stamp of big city life that now marked it. The exact circumstances were naturally foggy, but they involved other young people of Joya’s suddenly reduced age doing things people that age do. It was all happening around J., who seemed, if not the very same age he was at present, perhaps even older. He could not keep up with these sprites of silken hair and hippie wear. He could not bear the exclusivity of their world, which was so beautiful, but they did not know because they had been born into it and never left yet. He could not hide the agony of desire before the little-girl-Joya who could not understand and could only be fearful of all the love J. had in his heart and could not hide, either. They were in a retail mall, an outdoor retail mall, that had an upstairs and downstairs and yet somehow there was a moment with sweet baby-build-Joya upon a bed which she sat, knees up to her chin terrified, doe-eyed, before Jordan, denying him and negating. He awoke with a broken heart.
Jordan immediately rolled a Drumstick with a pepper sprinkling of weed to calm things inside. It was, he told himself (like billions before him), only a dream, but there was no denying that his heart was broken; his feet anchored to the beer-sticky kitchen floor. How could a dream break a man’s heart? It was impossible, but then again, so was a broken heart. It had all happened in the same domain of spirit and shadow and murky movements deep beneath the human mess, the human mass for which there is no obvious explanation or indicator. He was scared to death about what to do. In love with a lesbian, in love with a young lesbian who existed only in traces of the lesbian that occupied the same real-time as he.
Jordan tried to clear his mind with some music, but as is the case with all broken hearts, each song – each note even – was an arrow launched successfully into the afflicted region of his self. To top it off, he had to go to work.
He crossed the street and saw the ocean in the distance and yearned to be the same: overwhelming in the force of its physics, in the awesome fact that it could not be tamed; impassive and deadly active, beckoning like a blue marble hell to be loved, like genies in a dream, from a distance only.
It was throwing off great gusts of coolness and J. wrapped his army-issue jacket close to the form all his misery held. Carlos was already inside the coffee shop and Jordan could see one warm light burning through the receding cobalt, inviting enough that he might burn his fingers upon contact with it. At the beginning – in the morning – all seems fraught with danger.
He walked in. The musky rainforest smell of espresso grinds and mocha mix did not comfort him as it had in the first few days after hiring-on at Java World. Now it only sickened him with the reminder of low-wage labor, the hectoring of too-choosy clients, and the mechanical thunk of the punch clock.
Carlos was a good guy and he liked Jordan, but at such an ungodly hour his own demons had yet to recede and he issued the subtlest of nods in greeting. Crack, he opened a roll of nickels that rushed into their slot in the cash register. “Four-thousand years of civilization,” Jordan thought, assured in some odd way, “and still coins.”
The coffee machine belched and coughed as Carlos coaxed it into action with the help of electrical charges driven by the silky fluid mixed remains of giant lizards from another time. A time before adolescent Joya had knocked Jordan’s insignificant world right off its axis.
J. mechanically set to grabbing the plastic tables and chairs stacked in the now gray light, which served as beacon for addicted locals, and took them outside. Back and forth he went each of four laps incrementally accelerating the flow of his blood. There was a heavy wooden bench that stood just inside the door, in front of the cash register that confronted those entering. Without a single utterance, Carlos mashed a collection of pennies into their designated space in the register before grabbing one end as Jordan gripped the other.
It was too heavy, but together they could move it outside. There was something soothing in this mediocre ballet of cooperation the two struggling men performed between them on coffee shop mornings, but not today.
Today, the world was coming to an end.
Carlos continued with the more strategically important chores as Jordan took some Windex and sprayed the display counter that would soon hold all the muffins, cakes, turnovers and sticky-buns upon which the establishment’s fame rested. He felt gypped, like a child, when the aquamarine blue fluid atomized into an evanescent ammonia-smelling mist suitable only for war with smudges of oil.
He poured heavy cream into a metal bowl, poured sugar-like microscopic diamonds atop the velvety accepting surface before plunging the electric mixer into deep and inviting peace. It slowly thickened and J. remembered how thrilled he’d been to learn such a thing an how enthralling it was to possess the knowledge of whipped cream.
As was routine, the calm he and his colleague knew for ten odd minutes after everything was almost in place – before the baker showed up with his warm puffy treasures – broke with the arrival of a bubbly young blonde woman heading off to work at a fitness club. It was always a treat to see her in the black leotard, which spoke clearly of her own warm and sinewy treasures. Her voice was raspy and a splash of cold water to their spider-webbed awareness. Her order was born of a routine that early risers all possessed: double latte, toasted bagel with a little plastic container of Neûfchatel cheese. They could have had it waiting for her and once she even asked why they didn’t, but there was no answer forthcoming. The boys were shy in their way and if they had told her what a pleasure it was to have her stay just that little bit longer, she might have told them what a pleasure it was to oblige them.
The next arrival was a quiet and pleasant man appropriately named Sam who always ordered the always changing special flavored coffee of the day. He was a model of adventurous taste in a straightjacket of rhythm that made passing final judgment on his true nature impossible. One day, when the especially accented coffee was accidentally repeated from the day before, Sam left without breakfast.
This morning’s flavor was Belgian chocolate, which made J. smile and Sam too as he asked for a toasted bagel already prepared for him and then retreated into a quiet corner by the window where he read the paper with a nuclear physicist’s intensity. Jordan was almost calm when the screen door screamed with the agony of some spring being twisted in a pain beyond its ability to quietly endure.
Looking up to serve, J.’s eyes met those of Detective Dumburton.
Carlos headed for the back door where a newfound concern with upkeep and maintenance drove him to performing the busboy’s duties.
Jordan played it cool. It kept surprising him, this capacity for icy behavior that he had never demonstrated during less serious, but somehow equally nerve-wracking experiences in his life.
“How ya doin’ punk?” Dumburton didn’t really ask.
“Broken heart,” J. retorted.
“You’re a real smart-guy aren’t ya?” Dumburton didn’t really ask (again).
“Yeah,” Jordan answered in a real smart-guy way and shook his head at how two people could physically occupy the same space and time, yet utterly different continuum of understanding.
The detective looked up at the pastel covered chalkboard for a moment. “Gimme a Shotgun,” he demanded.
The Shotgun was a drink offered up for delectation to only the sickest and unstable of souls in the community. There were surfers come in from hours of night riding who asked for a Shotgun, there was a strung-out Russian girl who asked for hers on credit and didn’t come back again until they’d forgotten how she’d never paid for it, and order another. There were many Shotgun victims, almost forgettable as they moved toward their quiet, speedy, and self-inflicted immolation.
“Why dontcha just buy yourself a line or two of cocaine?” Jordan didn’t really ask.
“Because I don’t do drugs,” his nemesis snarled, “they’re against the law.”
An uncomfortable moment passed (was another kind possible?) between them and Jordan looked back to catch Carlos craning his neck whilst planted on the last rung of the wooden stairway to the broom and mop storage area. The Mexican was terrified. He could smell cop through a hundred cups of espresso and Chai tea and the manifold sins committed over years of desperate, junkyard dog survival could not help but lead him to believe that, when the scent wafted through, atonement time had come.
Somebody else walked into Java World and Jordan made an expression with two bug-eyes in a plea to his colleague for some assistance. Carlos did not budge. Jordan did it again, the second time being the charm. Carlos returned and Jordan told him, “This whey wants a Shotgun.”
Carlos nodded submissively, retreating into the roll of dumb and pleased-to-satisfy-you Mexican that served him so well when the white man’s world turned threatening.
Jordan tried to hide somewhere in the four-by-four area allotted the three (the bus boy’s coming) coffee workers – without success.
“So,” the hunter spit, “I understand you hate Armenians.” Squeezing a trickle of black muck out of the cast-iron machine in front of him Carlos turned an attentive ear while keeping his eyes clear of Dumburton’s.
“Spare me the crossword puzzle Dumburden. It’s too early in the morning.”
“Burton. Alright asshole, I’ve been doing a little checking and learned about how you got your clock cleaned by the Armenian Power gang a little while back.”
“You gonna prosecute me for that?” Jordan didn’t really ask.
“No, but the crone you offed at county was Armenian.”
It is moments such as these that do the amateur murderer in and it was only by the grace of the God he did not believe in that Jordan realized something. “I never offed anybody and I do believe I got beaten up after the poor woman croaked and by the way, where the fuck were you when those guys were pounding on me? Having a coffee?”
Carlos stepped away from the machine and plunked Dumburton’s Shotgun on the glass case. Jordan looked back and saw the machine was still pumping black tar into the grill beneath the spigot; a clear sign his colleague had short-circuited the concocting of a full Shotgun for a sawed-off version before Jordan responded himself right into jail. For Carlos knew (from experience) that legal language was different than regular language and rigged by legislators and bureaucrats so that the normal and correct answers were what got you into trouble.
You had a beer and got pulled over for making a bad turn. The cop asks if you’ve been drinking. You say “yes, one beer,” because it is true and because one beer does not get you drunk. But the cop’s directions are to pull you out of the car because once you’ve admitted to drinking, you’ve given him probable cause to believe you are drunk. This is because in the skewed eyes of the law one cannot drink without getting drunk since drinkers don’t make the laws about drinking when, really, they’re the experts.
But back to the sword fight.
“Anyway,” Jordan added despite Carlos’ savvy efforts, “that’s too bad for Armenia.”
“What’s too bad for Armenia?” Dumburton wanted to know.
“That the old lady died.”
“So you don’t deny it?”
“Deny what?” Jordan asked, for real, intent upon making Dumburton work every step down his path to condemnation.
“That you hate Armenians.”
“I wouldn’t do anything you would.”
“That’s why you’re having a Shotgun.”
Carlos laughed, Dumburton scowled the smirk right off the Mexican's face and then Jordan told him the price and requested he pay up and move on, that there was work to do.
“I don’t pay,” Dumburton explained.
“I think you do,” Jordan explained.
“Call the cops,” Dumburton suggested and turned to leave. But then he came back and put a roll of bills (to be sorted out and quantified later) in the tip jar that was the lifeblood of both baristas.
There is somewhat the thug in many a copper. Their passion for the mean streets and the steel-hard erection of a gun barrel speak of just how close they are to the men and women with whom they routinely do battle.
It wasn’t that Dumburton wanted to tip Jordan (or even Carlos whom he vaguely recognized). No, he only wanted to get away with what he was supposed to, which is how many honorable crooks approach things.
The detective left Java World after having sat around a while for the simple purpose of torturing Jordan and the Mexican guy who was clearly up to no good. Carlos was beginning to break a sweat and when Dumburton finally departed he heaved a shot-putter’s sigh of relief.
“Relax,” Jordan said, “he’s not here for you.”
“Relaz? Wadju mean relaz?”
“I know you think the cop is here for you. He’s not.”
“Hees here for ebrybody.”
Jordan had never looked at it in that way before.
“I know dees cop. Detectif Dumboorting.”
“I thought you seemed a little fearful.”
“No feefor! Careful. Jou know, I am a famish cholo around Eenglewood.”
“Yeah,” Jordan said, “you’ve told me a couple of hundred times already.”
“Wash out for dat fucker. Hees good!”
Jordan was beginning to get just that idea and the thought terrified him. Surely it was only a matter of time before he was caught. What would Dumburton have to do? Get a warrant for his arrest, take him in for some fingerprinting, match his with those on the machines Jordan had unplugged, put him in a police line-up for the orderly to identify? It didn’t have to be hard, but he’d make it so, go kicking and screaming all the way to the big house.
These and other thoughts on the unstable nature of all existence were interrupted by the baker’s arrival. His name was Martin – another Mexican. That meant that Jordan had to call him “Marteen,” which was the proper pronunciation. He was a marvelous artist in his way, each day bringing the obligatory blueberry muffins, cinnamon rolls and other treats in an arsenal that was varied and a threat to all wasteline watchers.. He rolled in, blustery, his eyes weighed down by the sleeplessness with which his life of 4 a.m. wake-up calls burdened him. “Ay whey,” he applied the Latino vernacular to Jordan.
“Whey hey,” Jordan mangled their language the way they mangled his. His eyes grew wide at the sticky buns and the white chocolate-chip muffins Marteen had cooked up for the morning.
As noted earlier, part of the employee deal at Java World was free food and most mornings presented such dilemmas for Jordan. “I maked eet hart for jou to choose, eh?” Marteen smiled as Jordan cooed over the gooey dough bombs and crumbly cakes and tried to decide which it would be, sticky bun or white chocolate-chip muffin, white chocolate-chip muffin, or sticky bun?
Carlos and Marteen exchanged familiarities in Spanish, none of which their American counterpart was intended to, nor could, understand. Jordan did hear the name “Dumbooorting,” rear its ugly head through their spirited jabber followed by Carlos jutting his lightly bearded chin over in his direction. Marteen smiled. “El choto wants jou, eh?”
Jordan smiled back. There was fun in seeming dangerous in the company of dangerous people. “Wha you did?”
“I killed an old lady.”
Once again, the stressful yet stimulating circumstances of being a suspected and actual criminal got the best (or the worst) of Jordan as he made a confession that might easily have earned him an injection of heart-stilling chemicals.
Both Mexicans stared at him dumbfounded.
Jordan smiled sheepishly. “No I didn’t. I’m having a little problem with some stocks I sold a year or so ago.”
The Mexicans seemed to buy it, which was a pretty good sign that they had not bought it. These were not greenhorns to the criminal justice system. They knew that matters of financial and/or white-collar crimes – white people crimes – were handled by pansy agencies like the Securities Exchange Commission – not hard-asses like Dumboorting. And they knew a confession born of the need to let loose some incredible tension when they heard one.