I arrived back in Norwich Cove and was glad to be alone. I was surprised that Geoff had a limo waiting. Bit parts in the German theater couldn’t have paid for that and for his expensive designer clothes. I hadn’t pried into his affairs, unlike some people who have no compunction about poking into the personal details of others.
I stepped over the threshold of the snug house and went right to the back bedroom, where I almost expected to see Garry, sitting up against the headboard, ensconced in his bed, fingers dancing across the keyboard of a laptop. The house was empty and stale smelling from having been closed up for three months. Garry had moved away two years ago. I went into my bedroom and stretched out on the bed…
…The tinsmith’s tapping and hammering grew louder and louder. He began his work very early, because the sun’s heat was unbearable by midday in Jerusalem. I awoke with a start in a darkened room to knocking at the front door.
I threw open the door. “Mark! What day is it?”
“It’s still Thursday, Max. I get 7:30 p.m., two months and seventeen days since we saw each other in Amsterdam. How was your flight?”
I started to pace back and forth: “Oh, just fabelhaft!”
“When did you start speaking German?”
“On the plane—it’s nothing.” I didn’t know where to put myself and paced back and forth.
“You met a girl aboard?”
“Not really.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“Am I Jewish? I’m starving!”
The cross streets flashed by and the stucco bungalows multiplied in grotesque rows, as if viewed in fun house mirrors. We went to our favorite nightspot, a twenty-four-hour diner, and took one of the booths.
“I’ve been thinking that us guys ought to do something in business,” said Mark. “I have a friend with an in buying jeans. We could open a store in Brooklyn or Queens. That’s where the money is. I practically run my folks’ liquor store. So, a store’s a store.”
“A new venture entails a million details to work out,” I replied, looking around distractedly. Many of the booths were filled with couples and foursomes having a quick meal before the show at the small movie theater across the street. “Americans mostly are impatient, have a need to get it over with, whatever it is.”
“That’s a nice honey over there,” Mark said, eyeing a young woman a few booths away. I turned around to glance at her. He wore his crisp wannamake-it smile directed to her. I frowned and must’ve looked disapproving.
“She looks cheap—too much makeup.”
“Maxey, don’t be so choosey. That’s your trouble. Me, I’d hop into bed with her in a heartbeat.”
“Go for it!”
“Yeah. It’s Mark and his Dancing Girls appearing nightly in bed in the middle of the Norwich Diner. I need a new approach.”
“Tell her how devoted you are to the Weather Channel.”
“If you want to know, I worry all the time about what to say to some pretty girl. It drives me crazy. I see one and go through all the topics I know and then all that wants to come out is, ‘Did you see the Knicks’ game last night?’ I’ve been hanging out with the guys too much.”
“What does that have to do with it?”
“I’ve forgotten how to talk to a woman.”
“Should you talk to a woman any differently?”
“When you meet a girl you need to have a line.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“It’s different, that’s all. Look,” Mark began again pointedly and almost exasperated, “guys naturally have more interests in common: Sports, politics, economics, women. How do you talk to a woman about women? A woman needs…finessing. I didn’t do badly during the summer, what with everyone stoned so much in the student hostels. But can you believe I got the marriage spiel from one princess after we fucked one time? She asked, ‘Where you from?’ When I said, ‘Lynbrook,’ she beams, ‘Valley Stream.’
Boing! Good-bye. I swear I did better in my teens. It’s getting so complicated. The Big ‘S’ stands for Security not Sex. A few bucks in ya pocket for a night out isn’t enough anymore. I’m supposed to have a career path. I resent the way princesses think. Anyway, I don’t care…Maybe, I’m gay! I’ll be gay for a day. Let’s go on a date, Maxey.”
“We’re on a date right now. Aren’t you enjoying your gaiety?”
Mark gave a start, unprepared for the curvaceous girl’s exit: “She’s leaving and she has one of those bodies that won’t quit. And her friend isn’t bad either.” In an attempt to salvage the situation he smiled at her engagingly as she was about to pass our table.
“Hello. M’name’s Mark. And this is Max.” I made a grunting sound and kept my head down.
“I’m Andrea and this is my friend, Carol.”
“You ladies headed for the movie theater? We can join you in a jiff, soon as we finish eating,” said Mark, to which I mumbled something in the low groan of an animal in distress.
“Is your friend all right?” Andrea made a small reflective parting of the lips. I slumped, grumbled softly, and then for no rational reason, I raised my head, kissed my palm and blew a little kiss to them. She reacted immediately:
“We’ve got to go. Take good care of your friend, he needs help.” They were out the door in a flash. Mark looked like he was about to strangle me.
“You happy now! What was that about? You tryin’ out for Bellevue?”
“Did I miss something on our gay date, Markie?”
“Fuck you! We could’ve made it with them if you had acted normal.”
“It’s a moot point. They’re gone.”
“Jeez, Max. Did you fill your fucking quota for the year?”
“I’m still blasted from the flight—”
“Max, I hate to have to remind you about your propensity to slip out of dates made with the opposite sex.”
“Have you been doing serious reading—‘propensity,’ Markie?”
“I have a great propensity to read Superman comics,” he retorted, smiling. Relenting, he couldn’t stay angry with me for long.
I changed the subject to the one I thought about uppermost. “Chris and I probably saw too many museums, cathedrals, and ancient ruins.”
“You think you’ll see him again?”
“I hope so, sometime.”
Mark, fingers drumming lightly on the Formica tabletop, slouched in the booth. “Traveling with Irving reminded me of my brother. Irving had his own ‘Parade of the Monsters.’ He was fantastic at attracting every ugly American girl in Europe. For a while, I didn’t mind. Ya’ know, when the lights are out—but then I started to wonder what was happening to my standards. I had become a fucking machine. If only I could meet some nice girl I could relate to, make it meaningful.”
“You like old vogue words, Markie. You missed out on Woodstock and Haight Ashbury by just a coupla generations. You needed Flower Power with your fucking.”
“I didn’t stay with Irving. I cut down to the south of France. Nice was nice. Plenny of young chicks. Plenny of hash.”
“I saw a lot of hash, but I didn’t smoke any until Ron scored some in Israel, and then I got good and sick from it.”
“Yeah, I got sick in Israel too. I was on a kibbutz and came down with a viral fever. One of the girls nursed me. She was very down-to-earth and zaftig. She insisted on giving me alcohol baths. I gave in,” He laughed and licked his lips. “She washed everything! I’ve never enjoyed a virus so much. That’s why the summer was so terrific, because I met all these people that I got thrown together with, and it made it easier for things to happen.” He picked up his tuna sandwich, squirreling food into his mouth and filling
out his dark, rounded cheeks.
I felt a sudden irritation with his restive jittering leg under the table. I couldn’t speak to him about my predicament when I first arrived in Europe. I had done my Jekyll-Hyde turn in the green room. My altered self hadn’t needed any magic potion. When we met Brian on the street in the stark daylight of coincidence, it was as if my forehead were branded with the phrase “only connect.”
And now, I felt tentative about all that had happened.
Mark dropped me off. I had been found wanting by him and a clown, or worse, by those young women. My defects kept accumulating like givens in a theorem until they outnumbered all the proofs in existence...
Late September, the water sparkled in the sunlight. From my house, I went across Norwich Avenue to the waterside. I breathed in the fresh sea air and trudged through the sandy hillocks and patches of dune grass. The soft breezes of the waning summer soothed my bare chest and arms, flowed through my hair in a gentle tingling. I studied the shifting line between the sea and the land.
What I could not admit to Geoff was that it was Christopher Rienzi. I traveled with him on the ship to Amsterdam until we parted in Rome. The summer vacation, which wound through nervous twists and close turns, had amounted to “our fifty-day date,” with intimacy implied, yet nothing explicit tried. I was captivated by this swarthy slim young man’s infectious warmth and quirky smile, and the pensive look in his deep, brown eyes.
I needed psychological cover, I couldn’t disclose how I felt to anyone, but not because I was unsure of my feelings. What a sham I was. I’d never had a steady girlfriend. And there was Mark, with whom gay hints and quips had become casual and usual. I wouldn’t have been ashamed to tell him; I was just afraid of being very disappointed by a less than supportive reaction.
On the plane, I’d seen a film with scenes from Cambridge University, with its wood paneled student rooms, very British and correct. So, I imagined being with Christopher in such a room. His interactions with others since his return to America were unimportant to my static notions. Our shared experiences remained palpable. At the right time, I would proceed with mathematical precision and each step would lead my fairytale movie to the Happy Ending.
Yet, every experience becomes the raw clay of memory, all screwed up with emotions—forever evolving, like the film rolling in my never-never land. One daunting task was to be sure that I had remembered correctly.
In my former work as a salesman for a printing company, and in the midst of a customer call, I had become suddenly intrigued by a young assistant, as might an artist who, fascinated with the young man’s pose, envisioned his beauty as a finished sculptured statue. I had thought then that my problems had an external basis and that somehow, when the physical setting was made over, everything would change for the better. I quit my job to start in real estate sales to spend more time at home…
Garry Stanton, for his part, had no patience for “suffering fools”: “Good jobs don’t grow on trees for the easy picking.” His forehead creased into many little contemptuous lines. I had come to the doorway of his room. While reviewing some business reports in bed, books and papers strewn about, he had snapped out the tired aphorism. His humor was cynically peevish, as if my presence meant, from the look on his face and the shape his lips made, Ah, so you’re what the cat has dragged in.
“I think property is undervalued. Besides, the banks are relaxing underwriting rules. And working for Norwich Realty gives me an in,” I had answered. I felt both glad and anxious being with him and kept wondering if something more wasn’t supposed to happen between us. He was certainly good looking. Garry played the tyrant, at times condescending, at times benevolent. I enjoyed being his foil, because what I had going with him hadn’t been defined.
We fell in together as friends, because both of us came from dysfunctional families that were messed up for different reasons. His father was sadistic. Mine was a neurotic womanizer, who carped continually, brooded often, and had so many mood swings, that in the space of one hour, he went from the humorous to the ridiculous, spewing splenetic barbs at me. I always thought of my life as atypical, because of my father. When I was twelve, I lolled in the bathroom while he shaved. He worked on scheduling and checking the arrivals of containers for a shipping agent, going to his job for the night shift, wearing a suit and tie. His father and his father’s father did drudgery on the assembly line. He thought of himself as an executive, affording him the time to spend part of his “day” in the saloon on Cortlandt Street near his office. I stared at the dribbling stream of scalding water coming from the old spout painted in now flaking silver. The water ran down the drain, my father rinsing his single-edge
razor repeatedly under the stream. At one time, I had admired his air of self-importance, a proud indulgent attitude for how far he had come when compared to his forebears. We had a strange kind of closeness. When he was calm, he could be one of the funniest people to be around. Otherwise, he could brood and become anxious and could pitch my world into the caldron of his neuroses.
Another friend, Derek Cabot, lived at the house for a short while after Garry and I first moved in. He was surly and haughty, and could cause dissension. Derek was well- built and sharp featured, “our movie star,” the experienced one with the opposite sex in our monastic boys club. Garry and Derek barely tolerated each other.
Before I bought the house, we used to go to Jones Beach. At the end of a day in the sun, the locker room was crowded and Derek and I had to share a shower. As he moved closer to me, I felt myself having to consciously back away and to break the touch of his body. I had to force myself to turn away
and to stop staring at him. Being naked with other men was a constant battle of losing control and getting an erection. I desired Derek and wished everyone else could have disappeared.
But he soon announced that he was moving up his wedding date and going to live with his girlfriend. He was gone in a flash, and I assumed the risk of being left alone with Garry. Garry was prideful and I took his steely pride for perfection. I had molded my own precise mental models, akin to a piece of work Derek had made to scale for one of his architecture projects: it was an assemblage that seemed too perfect and that was held together with poor glue.
I went on a house-buying spree and, when I intimated that I was doing it for him too, Garry merely shrugged and asked, “What’s the latest house of the month?”
That spring I bought three rental properties. He ignored my promptings about taking care of our house. He knew how deeply his disregard hurt me and spoiled the romantic illusions I had been building about us living together.
Somewhere along the way, like all fanatics, I had lost the ability to laugh at myself. I also hated to admit that my emotional investments had been failures. I was the failed schemer, who couldn’t admit to having
Two brothers lived at the house next door during the summers. The older one, Marshall, a lawyer, was two years my senior. Loren Lerner, who was five years my junior, worked in his parent’s supermarket when he had a mind to. Through the luck of his genes, he had inherited sensual good looks, which he used for all they were worth. He liked to come out to the beach in late September and, since his parents turned off the electricity and water in their summerhouse promptly after the Labor Day weekend to discourage him from using the house, Loren came to my place.
Loren’s girlfriend, Sandy, was with him. She was pretty and had a terrific figure. He smoked weed on the porch, sunning himself, and was used to giving her orders to get drinks, or not to talk, or whatever crossed his mind. He had been her “first” and only up to then and treated her like an appendage.
We all went down to the beach, and Sandy took a walk along the shore. He joked about her not being jailbait anymore now that she was eighteen. He tried to make light of her working as a hairstylist. It definitely bothered him that she was older and his hold on her had been loosened.
He was stoned as usual, kept sunning himself, didn’t move his head, and his hand brushed my thigh. I stared at the fleshy bulge in his tight trunks. “Hey, you thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”
“I don’t know. What are you thinking?” I asked, bemused.
“About makin’ it—you want to?”
I had never dreamed such great expectations. We went quickly back to the house and stripped. In my bed, his well-built body was sexily inviting, and he bragged about his endowment. Some guys talk as though they were able to order it that way.
All we had time for was to get each other off—just. Banging on the door made me jump as if it were the Vice Squad.
“I needed a shower,” Loren shouted to Sandy from the bathroom. I acted casual. She was suspicious…
Next time, Loren came back alone. He put a hand on my shoulder and looked drug dreamily into my eyes: “A sexy dude should be fully turned on,” and plunked a black and green capsule into my palm.
Feeling liberated, I took whatever he offered. Through the autumn and into the spring, Loren came to me accompanied with a bountiful supply of drugs. I wasn’t attending to my work. I let repairs on the houses go undone, and I was becoming undone. Loren, well, he was as subtle as Bible thumpers at a Gay Pride parade. He hinted at needing money to keep up his classic sports car. I told him that if he got any more transparent he could star in The Invisible Man. He was too drugged out or thick to get it. At times, I have had good luck for all the wrong reasons. The rental properties had appreciated greatly and I decided to sell, being too lazy and too crazy with Loren to hold them as investments.
As photosynthesis brings nourishment to a plant, so desire can be a positive energy beneficial to an organism and can offer balance or even contentment. I had reveled in this equation of maleness, feeling naturally aroused by the entirety of all thoughts male.
But Loren became snide and baleful too. He had turned hostile. With his legs spread, he snarled: “Get over here. Suck it, faggot!”
Desire can also be a wily narcotic that never lets up its constant gnawing and churns like an illusion, leaving the victim convinced that its narrow, soiled life seems worthwhile…
Autumn had announced its return. A brisk wind was blowing from the north off Long Island Sound. Nick Andropoulos was stopping by tonight. His dry, soft-spoken, confident manner always hinted of a proposition, usually monetary, but sometimes esoterically abstract. “Maybe you’d like to meet my new shop manager. Tommy’s willing, but he’s got a lot to consider…” Nick enjoyed making ordinary situations and decisions appear freighted with a hidden agenda. He subscribed to a belief system of self-aggrandizement, wanting to create a name brand carried over to the name of his company, Transglobal Art Enterprises, Ltd., comprised of a storefront in a secondary commercial area.
The storm door jostled open with its distinct scraping sound. Nick came in, brushed back the shock of black hair from his forehead. He introduced the couple. Tommy Folkien said hello in a soft baritone, averted his eyes and made a deferential smile, but his handshake was firm and genuine. Leah Steinberg had a light complexion with naturally rosy cheeks.
“I haven’t seen full thick three-quarter inch knotty pine in a million brewskis,” said Tommy, surveying the paneling in the living room as he spoke. To break the ice, it was easy to make the house the center of attention.
Afterward, I asked, “Do you live around here?”
“I live right outside.” He motioned with a thick thumb to the street. “Wherever my car is, that’s my kingdom.”
Leah frowned, and with some embarrassment and exasperation said: “What do you call the place we have on Shore Boulevard?”
“That’s your apartment. I’m a visitor.” Tommy feigned an air of bored condescension, moving his jaw up and down with the lower lip protruding. Leah slapped his shoulder. They sat down on the carpeted floor against the pine-paneled wall. She leaned into him, snuggled against his side, but was not eclipsed by him. Her dark brown hair glistened and fell over onto her shoulders. Her face was pert, somewhat boyish. Tommy’s nose was broad, slightly askew, tended to fleshiness. But his large brown eyes and long
eyelashes softened his appearance. He had a large mouth, thin rounded lips that curled in a little ironical flair, and a strong angular jaw. Everything else about this couple exuded a sexual aura, certain tenseness, and a restlessness of their limbs, even while they sat and chatted.
“What did you do before you went in with Nick?”
“I’ve heard the building trades pay well.”
Nick sat complacently, the look of old authority etched on his face. Then he went outside to smoke two cigarettes.
“Why solder pipes all year long if I can learn something new? So, I ‘figeed’ (Tommy imitated an old steamfitter) I’d have some fun too.”
“You’re making a fresh start with different work and a new place to live,” I said, looking to Leah.
“The place is cramped, but the rent is cheap enough for the winter,” said Leah.
“The price is right for me,” Tommy added, making a zero with his index finger and thumb out of Leah’s line of sight.
“I have responsibilities,” Leah spoke up as if she had eyes in the back of her head. “I teach algebra in junior high. And what do you do?”
“I was a real estate salesman with Norwich Realty. I used to own rental houses. I sold out last year.”
“At the top of the market!” said Tommy. “You must be a fuckin’ genius.”
“No, just lucky.” Or should I have mentioned that I sold, because the boy I was having sex with had made me crazy to the point that I couldn’t concentrate on even what day of the week it was?
“I used to have a house, but that went with my wife, Char-lotte, I hate the name. Me brudda Peter and the boys, hung out there. Us stoned all the time, stumblin’ around like the bunch of stumblebums we were. Now, all I get is nose bleeds.” He pointed at Leah. “It’s the gas heat at The Royale Shore Suites,” Tommy said mockingly. “The heat is all the way up, always.”
“How about opening a window?”
“Na. The hot air is sucked right out,” Tommy replied. Leah tittered, her small, light brown eyes twinkling. He turned to her. “Sucked. Thought I was talkin’ ‘bout you. She’s so perverted such a disgustin’ individual.”
“We were made for each other,” she said, and her little nose crinkled when she laughed.
“The only thing that was made for me was my larber.” He pointed a thick finger down at his loins; then, suddenly, he threw an arm around her: “Yes, wormy of mine, you were made for me.”
Her face lit up. “It must be his Irish half. He’s such a ham.”
“Why haven’t we seen you before tonight?” Tommy asked.
“I was in Europe this summer.”
“I envy you,” he said, and the gleam in his eye showed he took pleasure in imagining the good time of another. “That’s the way! Ya’ gotta live to the fullest,” he bounced a leg, speaking in a deeper baritone. “Where did you go?”
“I was in London…Amsterdam. Then on to Brussels and Luxembourg. Ah yes, Paris, Geneva. And on to Leysin, it’s a small town in Switzerland, and then we went to Italy.”
“You said ‘we,’ so you weren’t alone.”
“I started out with my old friend Mark. We met Chris, he’s from Massachusetts. Later on, Ron, a Californian, joined Chris and me in Switzerland. Ron sure loved his weed and women!” That deflective remark made me ashamed and I felt myself redden. Had Nick been here and not outside puffing his brains out, he would’ve noted my demeanor and assessed me critically. Nick was sensitive to nuances in behavior.
“Hey, that’s what I like!” Tommy said heartily. Life is good dope! I knew you weren’t a loner. “I bet you had some fine honeys to party with. Even me little darlin’ would expect me to do the same.”
“So, I’d have the same latitude?” she said.
Add a few longitudes. “Leah thinks she’s teachin’ a geography class. We’re talkin’ about Max’s trip.”
They came across as sympathetic. I felt I could’ve been open with them. I had simply to say that sure, I met someone in Europe this summer I think about a lot and who inhabits my dreams too, and I miss him. With Nick I’d never discussed sexuality and didn’t think I ever would, given his conviction that every “thinking man was ruled by a particular perversity.”
She rubbed her head against the side of his. “That’s right, as long as we’re together.” Her normal speaking voice was high, though not unpleasant. He pulled away with a look of fake disgust and a gesture of covering her small face with one of his large hands.
“Good times are intensifications of shared moments,” I said, being pretentious.
“Watch out!” warned Nick, who returned, smelling of cigarette smoke. “Soon Bredman, the Russian Transcendentalist, will be sprouting wings and going off into the wild blue yonder.”
“Is that like an orthodontist?” Tommy piped up.
“You’ll give Tommy and Leah the wrong idea. I enjoy literature. I’d like to be able to rise above everyday problems to reach for higher meanings. But when I started out, I felt strange in London without a friend closer than three thousand miles away. It was hard to fathom that I was known only as a restaurant patient,” I let slip, “er—patron, or a guest at a bed and breakfast. And Mark would be joining me there in two days.”
Youth jostled one another on the London streets, their faces creased with hearty laughter and loud jocular speech. I had fixated on those boisterous groups in the farfetched hope that my longing could create a sensual alliance… there had been nothing to transcend. I had kept busy continually circling around their images.
“Me, I’d head to a bar.”
“The pubs. Yeah, I was a bit standoffish.” I dissembled by omission. “Anyway, Mark and I had agreed we’d split when we got to the Continent.”
“True, Bredman.” Nick’s affectation using my last name was meant to convey our close friendship. “We’re both prone to keeping a distance. Wasn’t it at the third party, with everyone asleep all over the place, that the two of us were sitting at the kitchen table with mugs of coffee, and we first spoke to each other? We are at least civil.”
Tommy and Leah smiled and looked uncertain whether Nick intended humor. His deadpan indicated nothing. As to grand gestures, he ran a tight ship for business reasons, (never let a competitor know your concerns) and reserved the right to act out on special occasions. Nick had a notorious reputation at the Norwich Diner. One night he noticed a lone piece of chocolate cake on an empty neighboring table that a customer had left untouched. He appropriated the cake and ate it. The waitress charged him
for it. Nick told them that they weren’t going to get paid twice for the same piece of cake. The argument went on as he made his way out the door and to the parking lot.
“Me, I’m in a bar havin’ a few, and before long I’ve got one or two old buddies. Thing is, where are they all now?” said Tommy.
“You’ve got them rolled up all in one, in yours truly.”
“Leah’s writin’ a letter tryin’ out for high society.” He made a nod to me.
“Many things about the summer have seemed coincidental,” I said, and saw that my guests were tired and ready to leave. “You must get up pretty early to teach.”
“I leave at seven,” said Leah, and she slapped her thigh.
Tommy rubbed his hands over his face. “Ja, it’s time we bring our séance to a close, until the next good time.”
“Drop by the shop. Your usual time,” said Nick.
“Sure. Nice meeting you. Drop by anytime,” echoed Tommy. After they left, I took away the cups, plates, and utensils and washed up. I couldn’t abide leaving them for the morning.
My life-film had taken in minute by minute the night’s visit. Tommy certainly had an expansive personality. He was likeable and original, a dynamo of good cheer. Leah was assertive and had a lot of charm too. I had become taken, meeting this couple with their trenchant talk and touches. In a way, I was sorry that Nick had been here, though to be honest, how much would I have disclosed without him here? Anything remotely personal about Christopher was too incendiary a topic to speak of openly.
I had hesitated to contact him and sat reflecting past midnight, keeping alive the dream of being together again, while consumed by the terror of rejection. I had used up my excuses. I sent a short “hello” e-mail…
Waking up early, I attributed to my “European Education.” The later six-hour time difference had me still in its grip, and I jumped up wide awake before 6:00 a.m., as if late for an appointment. Classes didn’t begin until the afternoon, so I stumbled into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee…
I stopped at the curb, parallel to the storefront. The professional signage in block letters read Transglobal Art Enterprises, Ltd. All to the better that Tommy was alone. He was picking up a frame and measuring the print against it.
“Hiya, Max. Nick drives me nuts. He likes to say, ‘I delegate authority.’ I have a union delegate. I don’t know what the fuck he wants done with this.”
“Where is he?”
“Lookin’ for a motor for the old drill. Probably won’t find it even at Sam’s Famous Used Parts Circus.” Tommy threw his head back often to sweep the hair from his forehead. He worked gracefully, and his upper back muscles rippled through his shirt.
“I had the impression you were going to say more the other night about why you came to work with Nick.”
“It’s no secret. Leah doesn’t like to hear a lot about the ‘shit of my heart,’ who gets alimony. I have a two-year-old daughter. Nick pays the alimony-- in cash. I collect unemployment. Nick does it the Greek way—in business that is.” He chuckled. “I come cheaper than a whore on the old Bowery. Ah! Our president has arrived.”
Nick walked briskly into his domain, carrying the cumbersome drill in his right hand and a weighted plastic bag in his left.
“Bredman, your presence astounds. Mickey Mouse,” he looked at his vintage watch, “says noon, and your wont is to arrive no earlier than two. Something must have happened to you in Europe.” Nick gazed appraisingly, the revealing look reflected in those dark Mediterranean eyes. “So, Thomas, I have a little project for you. I bought some parts to adapt to our motor.” Tommy made a face; he recognized that Nick used ‘Thomas’ emphatically when he made a request that was unreasonable or impossible
to fulfill. Tommy started to pick delicately through the new old parts, like the discoverer of an exotic variety of offal.
“I meant to thank you for arranging my return flight.”
“It was satisfactory, then? They treated you OK?” Nick had unknown sources and was supreme at getting last-minute airline tickets. He certainly enjoyed using the question form to show modesty for his good
“Oh, yes, the flight was perfect. I was in a double-seater in the back.”
“Yes, I know. I looked at the seat configuration and requested that row.”
“Did you! And here was I thinking it was plain good luck,” I said, gulping.
“See, Max, nothing is ever left to chance.”
I changed the subject: “Your new displays for the inventory look great.”
“I’ve been happy with the way it’s been moving.”
“Why don’t you put a showroom in the front?”
“The key to success is in wholesale,” Nick said sententiously.
Tommy had been glancing back and forth at us. “You guys are wastin’ a perfect Indian summer day. We should be on the beach gettin’ the rays!”
Nick studied Tommy with a pitying look that translated: You’ll always be a worker. He probably doubted his “program” to teach Tommy about business was worth the effort. He turned to me. “Have you thought about my offer? You come in with me and we could do a major expansion--nationally.”
“I appreciate your offer, Nick. I’m back in college.”
“Leaving your money in the bank won’t get you the thirty plus percent you’d make with me.”
Or the thirty plus percent I could lose with you, I thought. “Maybe so, Nick. And I try to do right by myself. I’m taking a longer view of what I want in life.”
Nick tilted his head in a slight fashion as if in agreement, though unsure, because of my vagueness. “Family. A wife and kiddies?” Irony was hard to read in Nick.
“The future is up in the air,” I answered, being purposely trite. “I like to believe I can avoid a mistake by giving thought to a decision.”
“Thought! I don’t think. It’s bad for you.” Tommy looked at us wideeyed: “Leah enjoys worryin’ and plannin’ for the future. Why should I bother when she’s doin’ it for two?”
“Right, Thomas, and before you know it you’ll be walking down the aisle.”
“No fuckin’ way! That kind of thinkin’, she ain’t doin’ for me.”
I started flipping absentmindedly through reproductions of Dalí, Miró, Picasso. No wonder Nick didn’t want to put a retail store in the front. After knowing him for five years, I had learned that in business, his ethical scale was built on a vast sliding contraption made exactly to his own specifications to attain success any way he could make it happen. He couldn’t have paid for the copyrights to reproduce these works. Best to keep a low profile, eh, Nick?
“I’d better be going—let you guys work. I really have to prepare for my courses.” I stepped across the shop floor and took hold of the door handle.
“Stay, Max, have some coffee. I wanted to go over the figures on my new ad campaign,” Nick called disappointed, as I walked out to the street…
I had kept the shred of paper I received in London. It had become a bit worn, though I would hold on to it even were it to go to tatters and become indecipherable:
30 August, Heathrow
The remainder of my trip dragged for lack of your companionship and because I kept counting the days until today’s departure. I’ll tell you briefly what happened since August 10. I left a deserted and sweltering Rome on the fifteenth—Ferragosto. Rome was a real bad time, because my head never ceased to ache. I got to Paris, where the weather was arctic by comparison. I stayed in Paris until the twenty-eighth, not doing much of anything. Basta! I would rather speak to you in person. I’ll write or call and give you my address when I find a place to stay. Till then, take care, Chris
I replaced the paper to the desk drawer. I said aloud: “Good night, Christopher.”
I had gone through nerving up to go to the green room. Why should I think of it now, now that I didn’t have to deal with it? The fact was that those green rooms were everywhere.
When Mark came to the house on Sunday, we ran down to the water for a quick swim.
“It’s nice here, it always is,” he said, scanning the Sound, dotted with boats against a cloudless sky that made people and objects appear in sharp relief. “When I was in Europe, after a while, I missed home. Now that I’m home, I miss over there. I should go for my master’s.” His close-set green eyes blinked indecision. He made a cavalier gesture and put on his windbreaker. “My upbringing has been too conventional. I should start traveling again.”
“We always have to give up something for the illusion of being free.”
“I like that—please repeat it.”
I obliged him and felt myself blush.
“I’ve learned from you, Maxey.”
“At times, I must seem like a father figure.” I was embarrassed. I wished to speak the truth, but shrank from it. I felt like a fraud. The air had turned cooler and we left the shore.
He showered, then opened the door of the steam-filled room and began singing show tunes out of key and sang his own words for the verse. You won’t get to be gay that way, Mark. I glanced at his coppery nudity while he dried himself, then I stepped into the kitchen to prepare dinner. I searched
for reasons for not speaking out. Wasn’t it the same for Mark? We were friends and comfortable joking with each other. On the level of the joke anything goes. But in another basic respect we differed greatly: my sexual longing was relentless, and I behaved like a member of a secret cult.
“Supper’s ready!” I called out from the kitchen.
“Ooo-ooh-Ooo, Maxey,” Mark sang, rolling his eyes, singing another show tune off-key, and laughing at his own antics…