StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Scruffy Aristocat

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 26, 2016

Scruffy Aristocat

By Kyle Thomas Smith

I grew up on the northwest side of Chicago and went to high school on the near south side. This meant I’d have to take the EL train 14 miles from my middle-class/upper-middle class neighborhood and through (what were at the time) low-rent areas that artists had been moving into. As I’d watch this Midwest La Bohème society board the train for their day jobs or art-school classes every weekday morning, my heart would swell with the feeling that I was seeing my own destiny unfold.

A lot of shit-paying jobs in and out of college ensured that I had indeed been watching my destiny unfold. I did go on to live in some cheap places in some happening areas but when the leases would be up, I’d be priced out of those areas and into neighborhoods that I and other white artsy types had been pushed into after our pale faces had made our last neighborhood a little too safe for building-flippers and plucky Yuppies.

There was a certain glamor to living where you could get mugged on your way to or from a simple toothpaste-run but, after a while, the sounds of shoot-outs and stray dogs fighting, and stray cats mating, in the alley every night and the sight of a new line of bashed-in car windows on my street every morning on my way to work got to be too dispiriting.

So I couldn’t pack up the U-Haul fast enough when a family friend let my mother know that her son had moved out of the condo they’d bought him on Sheridan Road. They asked if I’d like to live there instead at the cost of the assessments, which came to a grand total of $400 a month.

Twice I’d live in this family’s place: once in my mid-twenties before I went off and failed as a writer in Europe and New York and again in my late twenties when I was saving almost half of each paycheck to move back to New York.

Living on Ramen noodles most nights, I might have looked, dressed and acted like a character in “Rent” but I sure wasn’t living like one. Sure, I was paying peanuts for this apartment but it was on the ninth floor of a 28-story high-rise that stood right on Lake Michigan. It had floor-to-ceiling windows with a north-side view of a singularly Chicago cityscape. I’d fall asleep to the sound of waves breaking on the Granville Avenue rocks. It also came fully furnished with a Murphy Bed built into the other side of the kitchen wall. And by my early-late twenties, my time in the grant-writing trenches had landed me a much better job writing for a fair-housing organization, which was good for both my conscience and my savings account as I was able to squirrel away more and more money for the comeback I was staging in New York.

In the meantime, there was love to find and online dating to do.

Aside from one actor friend who had never managed to so much as find the on-off switch on the retooled word processor that had been donated to our theater and that had sat gathering dust on his desk for a full three years, I was the least tech-savvy person I knew. Nonetheless, I did manage to go to Kinko’s and scan and upload to the dating site a couple surprise Polaroid shots that were taken of me gorging at the chips-and-dips table at one of our cast parties. I’d also written and rewritten my ad to show I could rub two brain cells together, all so I could meet a guy who could do the same.

I ended up meeting a lot of cement-heads who were just out for hook-ups, though, and while I was game for that, I was also naive enough to think these crash-and-burns would lead to something. They never did. For however streetwise I pretended to be, my heart was too fragile not to break when it’d all be over in the morning and no messages would be left on my answering machine and no had-a-nice-time emails would land in my inbox.

I started missing even more meals so I could save more money so I could move to New York quicker and get away from the mood that was building up and taking over my sweet-deal apartment. After so many lonely nights and blue Mondays, I began to refer to this sweet deal in my journal as “my tomb with a view.”

I still left my dating profile up, though I was now scrolling through profiles of guys in the greater New York City area as I counted down the days till I could date them.

But then a guy in Chicago wrote me. He was a young oncologist named Nelson who was completing his residency downtown. “Wow!” he wrote, “Right when you’re just about to give up, you find the ad you’ve been waiting for all along.” He gave long and winding reviews of all the books I’d listed as my favorites. He said that picture of me dipping my carrot stick in the French Onion dip should be on display in galleries. I looked at his profile. He had a clean-shaven head and coruscating emerald eyes. My heart swooned. I came clean in an email to Nelson, though: “Like I said in my profile, I’m moving to New York.”

He shot back, “I know. But you’re here now, aren’t you?”

We exchanged phone numbers and, though we had to make it quick since we were both at work, we made plans over the phone to meet in person. He told me to meet him at a chi-chi bistro in Andersonville.

“Oh, yeah. I know it,” I said, “It’s not far from my apartment.”

He said, “It isn’t?” He seemed astonished. I was in too much a rush to ask why, though, so I said, “No. It’s really close by. I’ll see you there.”

“Okay,” he said, “It’s a nice place but there’s no need to dress up.”

“Um, okay,” I said, screwing up my eyes, “Like I said, I know the place. I’ll probably be coming right from work.”

Our workplace was casual so I wore jeans and my usual rings and things to the restaurant. I had gone to Citibank first and withdrawn more money than I’d hope to for dinner but it’d been so long since I’d had a good date that I sucked it up and crumpled the ATM receipt without so much as looking at it.

Nelson was every bit as handsome as his profile and he gave me a huge hug and kiss on the cheek when I got there.

We sat down. We both ordered the spaghetti frutti de mari and he chose a wine called Sangiovese. Nelson tasted it, approved it and after the waitress poured it for both of us, he raised his glass and said, “To you.”

It was hard playing it cool when someone says that with such green eyes but I’d taken what I’d learned from actors and played coy.

Nelson said, “Wow, you’re really pasty.”

I gulped, “Yeah. I’m afraid my first ancestors were the last in line when they were passing out pigment.”

“No, no,” he said, “I like it. I’ve always had this thing for Irish guys, especially when they’re artists.”

Say that to a guy who hasn’t worn shorts since he was laughed out of no-uniform day in fourth grade, you’ll get him rethinking his plans to move out of town.

Nelson was of German extraction. He grew up in small-town Pennsylvania but he had a most resourceful mind that had made him his town librarian’s special favorite. At dinner, I discovered he knew even the minor works of August Strindberg as well as Ingmar Bergman’s variations on them.

Nelson shared with me how his mother and father used to go on a long walk together each and every night and how, the one night his mother decided to stay home because she was tired, her dad went out on his own and was run over and killed by a hit-and-run driver. I gasped and Nelson put his hand over mine, closed his eyes and shook his head.

He changed the subject to how, after his first year of med school, he”d somehow gotten an audition for a touring company of “Rent,” even though he’d never been an actor and hadn’t sung a lick since he was in the boys choir. The casting director stopped him two bars in and called the next singer on but Nelson said it was fun anyway.

“And I figure I’m better off saving lives,” he shrugged, “It’s what I’m meant to do.”

Nelson asked if I wanted crème brûlée. Nobody had ever asked me that before. In my head, I repeated the words, “crème brûlée, crème brûlée,” as though I were rolling around in a whole vat of it.

Aloud, though, I said, “Lemme check my wallet.”

As I went to reach for it, Nelson put his hand over mine and said, “I’ll pay for it.” I said, “Don’t be silly.” He said, “Come on. Please. How often do I get to take out a starving artist?” I wasn’t sure if this was a rhetorical question but before I could hazard a guess, Nelson said, “Besides. You need to save your money. New York ain’t cheap.”

He was right. The last time I’d failed there proved that. I put my wallet away. The crème brûlée was delicious enough to put a muzzle on my ever-growling stomach.

Nelson offered to drive me home. We both wore bashful smiles as we walked the two blocks to his car, which I noticed was a jet-black BMW. He opened my side first and closed it when I got in. Nelson hopped into the driver’s seat and smiled as he turned the ignition.

“So, how do we get to your place?” he said as we headed east. I told him to take a few right turns and then there we were at my high rise, the waves breaking on the shore up ahead.

“Wait,” he said, looking at the building, “You live here?”

I said, “Yeah.”

He said, “But this is a nice place.”

I didn’t know what to tell him, so I just said, “Well, my other apartment is in the projects.”

Nelson looked down. After a few seconds of pro forma canoodling, I said good night and exited the BMW. My building’s doorman let me in and I took the elevator nine floors up. My phone didn’t ring for the rest of the night.

The next morning, I emailed Nelson that I’d had a good time but he didn’t write back. Despite myself, for the next several days, I’d call to check my answering machine but there were no messages from him. His online profile showed that he’d been active every day since our date and, by the next week, he had added pics of himself and his friends partying during the weekend he’d just spent in Baltimore.

It seemed when he’d written me, Nelson was in the market for a stray but what he’d gotten instead turned out to be a scruffy Aristocat. It was time for him to call the next character from “Rent” on to the audition stage.

This was the last date I’d ever have in Chicago. I decided to skip even more meals so I could move to New York even earlier after already having moved up my move date.

I traded in my $400-a-month apartment in a doorman building on the Chicago lakeshore for a studio in Fort Greene, Brooklyn that was half the size and two and a half times the rent. Even that apartment was considered a steal, though, even after the broker’s fee and two-month’s deposit. Later I found out why I’d lucked into such a bargain. I had a backyard apartment that looked out on to an abandoned building where prides of feral cats lived. Now instead of waves, I was falling asleep to the sounds of screaming female cats during mating season.

Mindfulness & Bones: A Six-Week Writing & Meditation Course

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 17, 2014

MINDFULNESS

&

BONES

A Six-Week Meditation & Writing Course

Wednesdays, September 17 to October 29

7:00 pm – 9:15 pm

 

Beating yourself up for not meditating and/or writing enough?

Thinking you need to be thought-free on the meditation cushion or word-perfect on the first draft?

Stop!

Breeeeathe

MIDFULNESS_AND_BONEs_EMAIL-2

And experience Mindfulness & Bones, a new course that combines Buddhist-inspired mindfulness techniques and spontaneous writing exercises à la Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones).

These practices will help you: 

  • Enter the flow of meditation and writing in a supportive environment;
  • Establish daily writing and mindfulness practices;
  • Draw on the depth of your own experience for more vital writing and living.

All levels welcome – Beginner’s Mind ALWAYS encouraged!

NOT a submission/critique group. Simply an experience of the fluidity of meditation and writing.

Park Slope location.

Tuition for this six-week pilot course is $120. Enrollment is limited, so please inquire early at mindfulbones@gmail.com.

Kyle Thomas Smith is an award-winning novelist and essayist, a longtime meditation and dharma student, and a teacher in training with the UK-based Mindfulness Institute.

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – (Chapter 13)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 3, 2014

SRO

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Thirteenth chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER THIRTEEN:

Single Room Only

Simon laid his head back on the lice-ridden tablet of a pillow they gave him at the Hotel Columbus on 8th Avenue, where he’d discovered there’s nothing quite like the sight of lead paint peeling off a flop joint’s walls to give one pause. The sheets, which the hotel hadn’t changed once in the sixteen days since he’d checked in, were as lousy as the pillow and the gray army blanket; and consequently so was every hair on Simon’s body now. No-one had run a broom or a mop over the floors in all that time either, so dust bunnies had begun amassing into steel-gray tumbleweeds. The mattress he kept kicking the sheets off of every sleepless night appeared to be splotched with gravy (only those weren’t gravy stains) and was itself no stranger to parasites. But the vision of the bottom coats of green lead chromate breaking through era after era of other green lead-chromate coats on the walls was what drove home the point that this is where the buck had stopped in Simon’s life, so the only sensible thing to do was to lay back and try enjoying the spectacle of corroding paint.

The soles of Simon’s feet were ripped-apart and blistering from his walking around all day, every day, these past two and a half weeks, so today he had his feet up with their sores festering on the bed’s iron guardrail. Initially, when Simon would be out walking around, it was to look for work but the shabbier he appeared over the course of his stay at Hotel Columbus, the fewer job applications were handed to him and potential employers started asking him to leave their establishments before he could even uncap a pen. His appearance—the lice, bedbugs and fleas crawling on his unwashed suit and hair; the patchy, peach-fuzz beard growing scragglier by the day; the dirty, scabby skin and bones he’d drag up to store counters or hostess stands—worked all the more to his disadvantage when he’d have to explain that there was no number employers could call him at since he didn’t have a phone so they’d have to set up an interview on the spot. After being out on his ear enough times after these stabs at self-promotion, he started walking around just to pass the time, just like he used to do when he was working for Paula and living with Robert O.

He’d walk famished until the soup kitchens opened. He’d found a whole list of them in the first one he’d gone to, St. Brigitte’s in Tompkin’s Square Park, and he’d mapped out routes to all the names listed, from one end of the island to the other. His favorites were Central Synagogue Caring in Midtown for breakfast (they served day-old bialys every once in a while, and it turned out Jews, especially the ones who fed him, weren’t as bad as Menard always said), Bowery Mission for lunch (always good for a baloney, cheese and wilted lettuce sandwich) and all the way up and over to Community Kitchen of West Harlem for dinner (their fish sticks and tater tots were at least half-cooked, something he couldn’t say about the ones at St. Joseph’s). The other hard-ups would try making conversation with him but he’d pretend to be a deaf-mute who couldn’t read sign language, lest they prove even crazier than he thought himself. He also took full advantage of the soup kitchens’ washrooms, where he could brush his teeth with his pocket toothbrush, evacuate his bowels into an actual toilet and wash his hands, face and feet in the sink, when the security guard wasn’t looking.

Simon couldn’t do such ablutions or evacuations at Hotel Columbus. There were too many thugs pushing drugs in the shared bathroom or lunatics braying down the halls or junkies nodding out in doorways—and every time he’d gone in to use the men’s shower, he’d find another rancid body passed out in a pool of vomit or another goon with big-house tattoos price-gouging, saying to get to the shower you had to go through him first. And the manager was too busy drinking beer and watching game shows behind the grill at the front desk to poke his head down the halls and make sure no funny business was going on, even though that’s just what he’d promise the cops every time they’d stop by—“No funny business goin’ on’ere, off’sirs, I’m always on da lookout for do’s kinda t’ings…”—and Simon sometimes came back to Hotel Columbus to see some of the scattered-toothed hags, the ones who’d stand outside their doors and ask Simon his name and try bumming smokes off him he didn’t have, coming down the stairs and giving the manager his cut of their pay once the sleazeballs had gone back to their wives or their can’t-get-any-any-other-way lives.

The manager was sure to be upstairs at Simon’s door today, though. Simon was supposed to have checked out two days ago but he couldn’t rub two dollars together to pay for the days he’d overstayed. Sure enough, as Simon lay in a daze, there was a pounding on the door. Simon merely licked his teeth and stared at the ceiling. The door shook. How high’s the Brooklyn Bridge?, Simon wondered. Don’t matter. You gotta have good enough feet to walk there. Simon kept his feet up.

Hotel Columbus was as lousy with deadbeats as it was with lice, but to be one of the ones who got to stay, you had to get in good with the grizzled longtimers who’d plead your case to the front desk if they liked you. But Simon had played as mute with his fellow hotel guests as he did with the soup-kitchen folks, so there was no one to speak for him now.

Ten days into his stay at Hotel Columbus, he’d tried talking to God. It took a lot out of him, God being the same Being Menard had always talked to—or, mostly, talked about—so Simon questioned whether God would want to talk to the bad seed Menard had banished, seeing as Menard and God were such peas in a pod. But one day, the security guard at the Bed Bath & Beyond on Broadway had escorted Simon out for walking in to answer the Help Wanted sign when his body had so clearly been begrimed in his hotel bed and hadn’t been in a bath in weeks, so Simon shambled down to Columbus Circle where a fat woman with kinky hair stood at the base of Russo’s Christopher Columbus statue, singing in a lispy singsong, with her hands down the front of her powder-blue sweatpants, “They-ew muth-t be a God up they-ew thumb-way-oh!/They-ew muth-t be a God up they-ew thumb-way-oh!” It was a one-line song that she’d made up on the spot and kept singing over and over again in a baby voice, her stupefied eyes looking up to somewhere miles above Trump’s hotel and the CNN sign as a traffic jam slogged around her.

At first, Simon wasn’t sure what it was about the woman that made him want to stop and ponder her. Everyone else who’d seen her had taken their conversations or sidewalk-cart food over to the Circle’s outer rims. What’s more, in spite of the lyrics wheezing out of her vocal cords, the woman also had a big round button on her frayed blue down coat that read in brassy red party letters “Make Yourself Useful & Get Naked!!!” Still, she was at Columbus Circle singing about salvation and here there was a statue of Christopher Columbus, and here Simon was looking to get the hell out of Hotel Columbus and into a better life, so he put all the signs together and took them all as a message from Grace, even as the messenger had her fingers nested in dirty pubic hair. “They-ew muth-t be a God up they-ew thumb-way-oh!” Simon decided to put his attempts at atheism on hold and crossed himself and crossed the street and started walking to the church he’d passed so many times down on 44th Street. (Sartre and Beauvoir would be none the wiser: they were dead anyway and they’d made it known in their writings they weren’t going to be looking down or coming back after they’d pass.)

Simon had seen the church many times but never had the interest to glance at its name. He’d missed its name this time too but only because he was running into it so quickly. He’d also missed its denomination. From what Simon could deduce, it was somewhere between Baptist and Pentecostal, but it was nothing like First Stone Mountain Calvary Baptist. For one thing, most of the congregation was black and so was the preacher, and instead of Calvary’s plain white walls, wooden cross and oak altar, there was a blazing, neon yellow cross coruscating behind a shiny white marble altar.

It was a Sunday and there was a service going on. The congregants didn’t sing their hymns like dirges like they did at Calvary. No, they got up and danced and clapped and there was a gospel choir in mulberry robes and a band with an electric guitar, an impassive bass player and cymbals clashing in time to drums and oh, there was spirit! And to get more into the spirit, Simon got on his knees in a back pew and said: “Father, You know what my daddy thinks of me and, unlike him, You know where I am right now. And I don’t know what You think of me—different people say different things—but I’m sorry, I’m with the existentialists on this one: I don’t think You authored that Big Book. I always had the feeling different people put their own ideas down in it and passed them off as Yours. But if You’re up there and You’re willing, I could sure use Your help. Specifically, I could sure use a job and a place to live I wouldn’t mind coming home to…oh, and a change of clothes…”

Simon was well into his prayer by the time the choir and band had stopped and the assembly had gone back to their seats up front. A man in a shiny teal suit came up and introduced the preacher, Reverend Baker. The congregation cheered and called his name over and again. Reverend Baker had to hold up his hands at the pulpit to get them to stop howling for him. Once they let him start, he said: “Society don’t go the narrow path.” Lots of the women in their smart hats nodded and shook their heads in agreement. They said, “No No. No. No it don’t,” or some variation thereof. Reverend Baker said: “It lets all kinds of things slide by. Deems all kinds of things okay that it shouldn’t.” A lot of the men shouted Amen and a lot of the women concurred, “That’s right. Preach it.”

Reverend Baker went on as Simon watched from the back: “Other day, I had my cute li’l baby granddaughter over and she’s bouncing up and down on my knee. And I’d had a tiring week, people. If I wasn’t visiting the infirmed at the hospital, I was talking to city council, and if I wasn’t at city council, I was downtown rallying in the cold to stop predatory lending. And if I wasn’t trying to keep our seniors in their homes, I was over at the youth center, telling our boys, the black man’s an endangered species in case you haven’t noticed, so preserve yourselves and while you’re at it, learn yourself some self-control and self-respect and stay in school and keep goin’ to church and gettin’ the Lord’s blessing, and I was telling our young sisters, keep-’em-closed, keep-’em-closed, keep-’em-closed until the night after you walk down God’s aisle.” The clapping thundered all the way up the aisle to which Reverend Baker had been referring, as did the rumble of knowing laughter from those who’d made the same mandate with their daughters or granddaughters.

Reverend Baker circled back to where he’d started: “So, brothers and sisters, I thought—woo!—I needed a breather before I could start a mean game of peek-a-boo or maybe tell my beloved granddaughter some good, clean Bible stories. So, I got a little lackadaisical. You know, I did what too many of us do with the young’uns God has put on this earth for us to love and guide in accordance with his Word. I confess to you all, I picked up that remote control and said to my baby granddaughter, ‘So, let’s see what’s on the tee-vee, little lady…’ And I’m here to tell y’all, out of the twelve or thirteen or fifteen channels I flipped through, there wasn’t one program on that set—not one program—that was fit to show the innocent eyes of my precious little wonder. And if it ain’t fit to show her, an innocent flower who knows nothing of this world, it sure ain’t fit to show the Lord Almighty, who knows ALL.

“Just what are we showing Him, people? Music videos where you got these women grinding up against each other? Bad enough what they doin’ with the men in those videos—but now they with the women too? What, we gonna show Him these sitcoms where you got these grown men prancing around like little girls, tellin’ us funny little jokes, amusing us with their antics, trying to lull us into believing it’s okay to accept the perverted, the abominable, the unnatural? And where does it stop? Is there an end to it all?

“Well, yes. There will be an end. Scripture promises that. There will be an end, but at the rate we goin’, we as a world ain’t comin’ to no good kinda end…” As the congregation clapped louder and louder and crooned a chorus of assent for these words, some even standing up and waving their hands, even those congregants who themselves regularly indulged the same trespasses they now so avidly joined in condemning, Reverend Baker looked up from his pulpit to see the church door swing open and shut, as yet another candidate for salvation had slipped his grip.

Past a certain point of the sermon, Simon just couldn’t see daylight between Baker’s church and Calvary and, as he stood in the bright winter sun on W 44th Street, he could feel the ghosts of Sartre and Beauvoir telling him they’d told him so. The whole visit made him want to make a beeline back to those secular and irreligious books he’d devoured in the library, but he didn’t know of any library that was open on a Sunday and anyway he hadn’t been in any since checking into Hotel Columbus. Instability in general and hunger in particular had made it too hard for him to concentrate on reading. Now, six days after that moment in the church, as he laid on his back watching paint peel and listening to the door bang, the only thing he thought might save him was to maybe turn to deadweight once the manager would walk in to drag him out.

The door rattled some more. Pounding had now turned into crashing. And then he heard his name: “Simon! Simon! Are you in there? Please, Simon, open up!” Simon? The front desk didn’t know who he was. He just gave them cash and they gave him a key. There were no names exchanged. Simon crawled up on to his elbows, “Who? Who’s there?” The door crashed open and in lunged Bucktrout. Simon looked up, a freaky clownish expression on his filthy face. Bucktrout was clean, by contrast, and wearing a nice black peacoat and in-tact Levis blue jeans and black Georgia mountain boots that guarded against the snow so much better than the thin-soled Italian boots that Robert O had given Simon and that Simon had marred beyond recognition by now.

Bucktrout stood and huffed with exertion. He gathered himself together, took a long look at Simon, “The guy at the desk sent me up to kick you out.”

Simon said, “You know him?”

“No,” said Bucktrout, pulling up the metal chair from the rotting-wood desk in the corner, “But I described you and he sent me up. I came a couple days ago too. He didn’t give you away then. Suddenly today, he’s all, ‘go up n’ get ’im.’ He says you’re delinquent on rent.”

“On that and many other things.”

“Mister, you smell like…”

“Like what? What, Jude, what do I smell like?”

“Like…something between a hot subway tunnel and death.”

“Hmmm…death in a subway tunnel. Now there’s an idea. I was going to use the bridge but the subway tracks…hmmm…Tell me, Jude, are you the angel of death?”

“What?”

“Well, I only met you once, Jude. And now you’re turning up in my room out of nowhere. So this must be like something out of Touched By an Angel.”

“What?”

“It’s my mom’s favorite show. She cries every episode. You were an angel before, when you were bartending, only I didn’t know it. Now that I’m about to die, you show back up. You’re about to shine a bright light all around yourself now, aintchu?”

“You’re about to die?”

“Well, I figure I must be. How the hell else did you get here?”

“I’ve been following you for over a week.”

“Guess I just can’t dodge the creepos, can I?”

“No…not that kind of following-you. Jesus, no. I’ve been trying to find you, see if you’re okay since you slunk out of my apartment.”

“But how’d you find me here?”

“I talked to Paula.”

Simon sat up and put the back of his head against the wall, “Oh, yeah? She tell you she fired me?”

“Yup.”

“She tell you why?”

“Something about phone calls.”

“Yep, from Robert O. He kept on calling when I told him not to.”

“She said he swore at her a lot.”

“Like I could control him. Like anybody can control him.”

“I told her what happened.”

Simon shot forward, “Why?”

“Simon, I walked into the restaurant, hoping you’d be working—”

“How’d you know where I worked?”

“You let it drop at my kitchen table.”

“Oh,” said Simon, “You got a good mem’ry.”

“I’m an actor. I have to. So, I asked if you were working. She said, ‘He’s not with us anymore.’ I said, ‘Where is he?’ She said, ‘Some things don’t work out.’ I said, ‘When’d this happen?’ She said, ‘Last Sunday if it’s any of your business.’ I said, ‘You know that kid was drugged and assaulted the night before you canned him?’ Suddenly she wasn’t such a hard-ass anymore. We sat and talked.”

“Jude—”

“What, Simon? Why didn’t you tell her?”

“I don’t know. It’s…embarrassing.”

“Nothing to be embarrassed about. You didn’t do anything to make it happen.”

“Didn’t I?”

“What you mean, boy? How could you have ever done anything to bring that on?”

“I stole.”

Jude paused. As gently as he could, he said, “You stole from the guy who threw the party?”

“No! Never from him! No, I stole from restaurants.”

“You stole from Paula?”

“No, I’m talking about from restaurants when Belinda and me were driving up—all the way from Georgia.”

“Um-kay,” Jude said, leaning in like he was trying to follow, “What’d you steal?”

Simon covered his eyes, “Well…once some tip money that was on the table already when Belinda and me sat down. And then, y’know, we wanted to save the money we had on us—which Belinda ended up spending on drugs anyway, but, y’know, at the time, we were trying to get good at saving, so we’d eat-and-run in places.”

“Okay. That’s bad. But what’s that got to do with what that Robert O guy did?”

“Well, it all goes back to that thing you were talking about, right?”

“What thing?”

“That thing you said in the apartment, about where what goes around comes around.”

“You mean karma?”

“Yeah. Been thinkin’ that.”

“Wait, you mean you’re thinking you got drugged and damn near gang-raped because you pocketed someone else’s tip money and beat some checks?”

“I’ll never steal again.”

“Well, that…that’s good to know, Simon, but…it ain’t exactly the punishment fitting the crime, is it?”

“I’ll never steal again,” repeated Simon as he pushed back his greasy head of hair, where the dye had faded and the roots showed like a thicket of parched weeds.

“Oh, Simon,” Bucktrout shook his head.

“You did that a lot—”

“What?”

“You did that a lot when I was at your place.”

“What?”

“Shook your head and said, ‘Oh, Simon…’”

“That’s cuz I got my work cut out for me with you.”

“What you mean?”

“C’mon. Your bill’s all paid here. We’re going.”

“Paid?”

“I paid it. Come on.”

Simon and Bucktrout agreed on leaving Simon’s soiled undergarments and Strand bag behind, though Simon insisted on keeping Euro Boy, which Bucktrout would only let him do if he kept it covered under his shirt, which was going to pieces and turning into one big stain every minute he wore it.

As Bucktrout escorted Simon out Hotel Columbus’s front door, Simon dropped the key off at the front desk and saluted the manager, who didn’t salute back. One of the resident hags slumped against the lobby’s hard stucco wall and said, “Bye-bye, honey. Good thing your big brother found you out. Mine just ate me out. Hahahaha!” Simon wanted to stop and clarify that Bucktrout was no blood relation, but it’d blow his whole deaf-mute cover, so he kept walking.

On 8th Avenue, Bucktrout told Simon to stand on the sidewalk and not run off while he hailed a taxi. He said, “No cab’s gonna stop for us with you looking like that.” Simon recognized he was in no position to take offense or to run off. If Bucktrout had enough for a cab, he probably had enough for a square meal too. A cab came, Bucktrout got in, opened the door and waved Simon in after him.

Simon had never been in a cab before but from the time he shut the door behind him, the experience was already shaping up to be just what he thought it’d be: one big big-city brouhaha. Bucktrout told the driver to take them to Scholes Street in Brooklyn but the driver refused, saying it was too far out of his way and he had to be back up in the Bronx in an hour. After about five minutes of squabbling, Bucktrout waved a cop over from the other side of the street and the cop told the driver he’d have to take them since his roof light was on when he pulled over. The driver gave in, griping most of the way about how he had to drive with his window down, even in this kind of cold, since Simon reeked like a bad case of gangrene. Bucktrout and Simon acted like the driver wasn’t even there, though, now that they’d bested him.

“Paula says you can have your job back,” Bucktrout told Simon.

“I don’t want it back.”

“C’mon, Simon, what else you gonna do?”

“How’d she know where I was stayin’ anyway?”

“She didn’t. The other waitress…”

“Margie?”

“Yep, she told me she was on her way to work one day and thought she saw you stepping into that hotel. She saw you again, about a week later, stepping out of it. She said you looked like warmed-over shit. And you do, mister. You do.”

By the time Simon had returned to Bucktrout’s apartment, even more of his stuff was ending up in the trash, specifically all the clothes he came in wearing. He also once again ended up showering naked in front of grown men. This time it was different, though. After making sure the coast was clear, Bucktrout handed Simon a garbage bag, along with Peter’s bathrobe, and had him remove all his clothes in the first-floor hallway, stuff them in the bag and toss them out with the rest of the trash on the side of the stairwell. “Phew!” said Bucktrout, marching a robed but barefoot Simon up the wooden stairs in the fusty dark stairwell, splinters and debris sticking into the blisters on Simon’s feet, “Mr. Caivano’s gonna be glad to get that bag out come garbage day. It’s stinking up the whole building already.” Simon entered the apartment, where Bucktrout said to his blond-haired, blue-eyed, fellow-theater-artist boyfriend, “Peter, this is Simon. But look away. Look away! Look away for now. This boy needs a shower bad before he’s presentable.”

Peter said, “See you a little later, Simon. Enjoy your shower.”

It was a simple stand-up shower but after life in Hotel Columbus, washing in it felt every bit the luxury he imagined a bubble bath would at the Plaza Hotel, which he’d wandered into and gotten kicked out of more than a few times the past couple weeks. He marveled at how the weeks of dirt and grime washed down the drain thick as sludge. To get clean, he had to scrub and scrub and Bucktrout leaned in from behind the curtain and helped him scour. Bucktrout found that Ivory soap wasn’t going to be enough to kill all the bugs on Simon, though.

Bucktrout brought out the same clippers he’d used years before for when he played the skinhead in Naomi Iizuka’s Polaroid Stories at Wyckoff Theater. He also sent Peter out to CVS for mathalion lotion and lindane shampoo. Peter came back bearing disposable razors and shaving cream and bandages too. They had to send Simon back to the shower right after he got out and dried off. They gave Simon the shaving cream and razor and gave him a chance to shave his face. He also unwrapped a spare toothbrush that Peter had brought back from a Holiday Inn in Philadelphia, where he’d stayed while directing two one-acts at the New Plays Festival downtown. Simon’s gums bled and burned as soon as they came back into contact with a decent toothpaste like Tartar-Control Crest. Bucktrout and Peter said they were sorry to have to get so personal but lice required special treatment. Simon said he didn’t want lice anymore. Bucktrout said there was only one thing they could do then.

They broke it to him that, if he truly didn’t want lice (and they truly didn’t want him to have it either, especially in their apartment), all his hair would have to come off now. Simon felt confident they weren’t Krishnas and they’d been nice so far, leaps and bounds nicer than Robert O, so he let them sit him down in Peter’s robe and drape a towel and a whole bed sheet around his front and back. Every strand of the fancy haircut Robert O had given him fell to the floor, along with the grown-out, weedy roots.

This was the first time anyone present had ever had to treat this kind of problem. They began to consider that the lotion Simon had spread all over himself might not be up to the job either, so once again, they all went back into the bathroom and Simon took off the robe again and they all took part in shaving Simon’s chest, legs, arms, armpits, buttocks, and pubes, where many microscopic dead white bugs had assembled. At first, they used clippers but it became clear that clippers didn’t shear close enough to the skin. Simon let them help him out with the shaving cream and disposable razors since they were better at not nicking him than he was. He did insist, though, on getting the hair on his own scrotum with tweezers and scissors. The whole ordeal still wasn’t enough to take Simon’s mind off food, so Peter fed him orange slices from the other side of the shower curtain as Simon once again soaped up and rinsed, and it seemed like every time he showered more dirt was sliding out of his pores and making its way down the drain. Bucktrout began sweeping and mopping up soapy, shaven hair the whole while.

Simon got back into Peter’s robe and took a seat in the kitchen across from Peter, who inspected the soles of Simon’s feet and determined that they’d have to pop and drain each of the scads of blisters on them. Simon placed himself in Peter’s hands. Peter took out a few sewing needles and sterilized them with rubbing alcohol. Simon wailed each time another blister got stuck with a pin and panted every time the fluid in it got drained and seethed each time Peter pressed a cotton swab full of povidone-iodine on it. As Peter dressed Simon’s lesions with gauze, Bucktrout sat on the windowsill taking in the pages of Euro Boy.

“Peter, sweetie,” he said, holding up a blowjob tableau featuring two tan civil servants on their lunch break in Ljumbljana, “Think you’ll be a while? These Austro-Hungarians are making me a little too hard to keep sitting here.”

“Go ahead and finish yourself off in the bedroom,” said Peter, “I’m busy. But be quick about it. We’ve got shopping to do.”

Simon said, “I can’t go shopping.”

Peter said, “Not you. You’re going to keep your feet up and get some rest. Right after you eat.” Peter stood up and put Simon’s feet on the seat where he’d been sitting. He took a box of Honeynut Cheerios out of the cupboard and poured it in a bowl that he then filled with 2% milk.

“What are you goin’ shopping for?” Simon asked.

“For you.”

“What, what are you buying me?”

“Well, to start, some clothes.”

“Oh, no,” Simon took his feet off the chair, “That’s just what he did.”

“Who?”

Bucktrout looked up from the magazine and answered for Simon, “That scumbag in the East Village.”

Simon said, “He bought me all the finest feathers off the rack. Then he took ’em all back. Left me with nothin’. And, y’know, there was hell to pay for him takin’ me in for free, so…”

Peter handed Simon the cereal bowl, “You can start paying rent when you start working again. And trust me, the clothes we can buy you, I don’t think you’ll want to keep.”

“How much is rent?”

“We’ll talk about it when you get a job.”

“Where will I stay?”

“So, like I was telling you in the cab, our roommate moved out about three weeks ago,” Bucktrout said, “You can have her room. It’s barely big enough to stretch a midsized body out in but it’s better than church steps, at least this time of year.”

Simon began to weep into his cereal bowl but pulled himself together enough between thank-you’s to ask for seconds. Once his belly was full, Peter and Bucktrout lifted up Simon’s chair with him in it, so he wouldn’t have to walk on bandaged feet to the site of his new little bedroom. There was no bed or mattress in it but they’d laid out clean sheets and blankets and pillows on the floor.

Bucktrout helped Simon into a pair of ruby-colored 1920s lounge pajamas that Bucktrout had worn in a production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives and that Bucktrout had laid claim to when the play had closed early due to a plague of empty seats. The pajamas were big on Simon but enough good meals could take care of that. Peter arranged a bolster for Simon’s feet. Simon laid down, got under a pile of wool blankets and asked Jude, “What you doin’ all this for me for?”

Bucktrout shrugged, “For good karma,” and tossed Euro Boy on to Simon’s chest.

Bucktrout turned out the lights and closed the door. Simon felt around his scalp and under his shirt and down his pants. It was like he was a newborn baby—hairless, swaddled up in blankets, unable to walk, dependent on others for care. And indeed it was in this apartment that a new playwright was born.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband Julius and his illustrious felines Marquez and Giuseppe.

 

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – (Chapter Twelve)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 1, 2014

Brooklyn at night

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Twelfth chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER TWELVE:

LUCKY 13

By the time Simon was able to locate a subway station anywhere close to Bucktrout’s East Williamsburg apartment, it was still news to him that he was even in Brooklyn. It seemed this would’ve been the kind of thing Bucktrout would’ve mentioned at his table, but it never came up, somehow. There were overpasses, an expressway, a bridge and a river just like on the Lower East Side, but what spun Simon’s head was, when he looked across the water, he could see Manhattan sure enough but he wasn’t on its shores anymore.

Where he stood, the houses were nondescript, clapboard with aluminum siding, not far off from the kind you might see around Wizard’s Stone, though here they were offset by warehouses and colossal tenements with imposing fire escapes, the kind you might see by Clinton Street. Defacements jumped off the sides of buildings like hatchet men and a lot of the side streets he wandered down were as empty as the shuttered factory towns back home.

The main drags, though, looked every bit the bric-a-brac bohemia that St. Mark’s Place was. The faces were younger and fresher, with not all that many more lines on them than on Simon’s face, but the denim was just as skinny and tight as it was on St. Mark’s, vendors stocked used paperbacks and vinyl records on card tables all down the blocks even in winter and there was one jam-packed, clattery café after another, each redolent with espresso and unorthodoxy, just like in both Villages, West and East. It would have given him some context if he had at least seen a storefront or a billboard or a masthead bearing the name Brooklyn—and there were plenty around, but his bewildered eyes kept shifting right past them. Instead Simon had the feeling he’d been transported to some parallel universe, but he’d already been spun around enough for one weekend to want to go exploring it.

From a distance Simon saw the G train station at Metropolitan-Lorimer, so he ran over to it and down its dark brick stairs to ask a station attendant just where he was and how to get to where he was going. The attendant was an east Indian, Simon noted, maybe even one who worships tens of millions of gods, which he knew Menard would’ve deemed an even more salvageable situation somehow than having just that one god, Allah—except Simon also remembered being taught there are hundreds of millions of Indians who follow only that one god, Allah, although the Sunday school teachers somehow failed to mention that Allah is the same god as God. Simon didn’t see a red dot on the subway agent’s forehead, though, so it was a good bet he was one of those Allah worshippers himself and, if that were so, then he and Simon were heading for the same eternal furnace—in Calvary’s book, if not in Allah’s.

Help was help, though, heathen and hell-bound or otherwise, and the station agent turned out to be a great help indeed. Simon told him he was looking for this one place, a bar called Lucky 13, and the attendant took the time in his scratched-up Plexiglas booth to flip through the newest edition of the White Pages for it. When he found it, he said in a reedy timbre, “S’in Pa’ Slo’.” It took a few iterations before Simon was sure he’d heard him right, but finally the words Park and Slope came through loud and clear, words which rang a bell for Simon from the few chats he’d managed to have with Belinda about her jobs (or about anything at all) these past many weeks. The agent wrote down directions—actually wrote down directions. Not the reputation New Yorkers had back home, but there the Good Samaritanism was in writing on the slip of paper the Indian handed him: “Take Dntwn Bklyn G to Smith-9th—Trans to F—Get off, 4th Av. —Walk S to 13th & E to 5th Av.” It was only then that Simon came to see he was in Brooklyn and the station agent squinched his eyes at Simon for not knowing that much already.

Subway directions still read like hieroglyphs to Simon, but he’d also started noticing how much more decipherable they became once you rolled up to the actual stops. Simon had hours just to wander through Park Slope, where the limestones and brownstones were stately and landmarked, so unlike the rachitic neighborhood he’d just left. Simon had never heard about Brooklyn being any kind of place where there’s money. He’d always pictured overloaded clotheslines, strung between tall apartment buildings, and smudged, barefoot children waiting up on stoops for dads who wouldn’t be home until way past their bedtimes after having drunk or bet away a whole week’s low wages—the latter part of the picture being something akin to Wizard’s Stone back before meth started taking the place of booze and jobs. But here well-to-do mothers abounded, pushing high-end strollers with scrubbed-up kids in the newest Nikes in tow. More and more, though, he was coming to know New York as a place full of surprises, so he was starting not to get too surprised by his own surprise on this end of town.

Simon went to Lucky 13 and saw on the hours sign that it wouldn’t be open until after nightfall. There was a cold snap in the air that his new suit coat was no match for, so he decided to walk around some more just to keep up his body temperature. He found Prospect Park and there he did what he’d become such a pro at doing, just loitering along until enough hours could pass to be where he needed to be. It’s a good thing Simon had remembered to keep his wallet in the suit that Robert O had made him put on at the party and which he was still wearing, and it’s a good thing the wallet hadn’t fallen out when he’d been unconscious and his pants were below his kneecaps. His head still reeled from the mickey Robert O had slipped him and he hadn’t put anything with calories in his stomach besides that one chemically altered Coke for almost a full day, yet he was loath to spend money on food since he knew he might have to shell out most of what was in his account on any cheap hotel with a room for the night.

Hunger got the better of him as more hours crawled by, though, so he stopped into Purity Diner on 7th Avenue (Brooklyn, it turned out, had a 7th Avenue too) and splurged on a tuna on rye that didn’t taste one bit different from the one they made at Chelsea Night & Day, but with the help of some fries and Saltines, it did the job of filling him up so he could go back out and keep on walking in Prospect Park.

He had to make it work, this life up north. Walking past the endless species of trees and across the Lullwater and Fallkill Bridges and the vast lawns in the park, Simon vowed to himself that, even if he were winnowed down to protruding ribs and a French fry a day, he’d never call down like a prodigal for a Greyhound ticket back home. Who knew whom there was to rely on for help out in the elements, though? Maybe Belinda knew of better options than sleeping on the streets like those dead-end kids Simon would so often give money to. He knew he was too out of the know to take asylum among roofless punks and goths like Belinda could; he had a feeling he’d be too white and inept to cut it with the kids he’d sometimes see break-dancing for loose change in Times Square or Union Square or on subway cars, and he couldn’t see himself making a good Krishna, though he’d once overheard some Chelsea Night & Day customers say they have a yummy buffet at their temple and if there’s one thing he was good at, it was eating. If only there were an existentialist cult that fed, clothed and housed its disciples, he’d be first in line to join. He could handle wearing an overcoat and horn-rims and studying in libraries, like they all used to do; heck, he’d even take up smoking if he had to! But the Krishnas’ sikhas, robes and tambourine playing, he just couldn’t get with. Alas, existentialists didn’t form a society unto themselves—at least not officially—they were typically loners, and besides it was an outdated 20th Century movement with nobody in it anymore.

Simon walked around until after seven o’clock on this late winter’s day while his headache grew worse. Shortly after six p.m., a policewoman told him the park was closed and he’d have to vacate, so he kept walking within a three block radius of Lucky 13 Saloon warming his hands in his front pockets for the next few hours, hoping Belinda would be working so he could talk to her about what to do next. He had quarters and dimes from the change from his bill at Purity so he’d stop at payphones to call Belinda’s cell phone but she wasn’t picking up.

Yet when Simon walked into Lucky 13, there she was, peeling lemon rinds and putting the mise en place in place for the long night ahead in the dark bar. A guy in a yellow Suicide t-shirt and black leather vest sat on a studded, red leather-topped stool. He had a green and black Mohawk that he hadn’t bothered putting up (but that was a foot and a half high when he did), so it just draggled like toxic slop down the sides and back of his head. He was doing Jägermeistershots with Belinda. No customers had come in yet. They were listening to Johnny Cash’s “At Folsom Prison” for laughs before any sort of crowd could roll in wanting a fast and loud nihilist ruckus.

For a frozen moment, Belinda just glared at Simon as he stood in the doorway. She couldn’t remember ever mentioning to him where she worked, but she had and he’d found her. The Mohawk guy looked at Simon like he was a twerpy nobody and even scowled at how a chick like Belinda could waste her time gawking at somebody who was nobody. Simon in turn looked at Belinda under the overhead lamp and saw for the first time how hard living was going to war on her face, how by now her skin was something no self-respecting burn victim would trade her for. Finally, Belinda slugged down the Mohawk guy’s next shot for him and said, “Kick him out. He’s not 21.”

“Look, Belinda,” Simon said, “I don’t know what you heard.”

“What I heard? What I heard is Robert O could lose everything now.”

“He had it coming.”

“Get him out,” Belinda shouted. The Mohawk guy did a push-up off the bar, kicked his stool to the side and rubbed his hands together as he walked on over to Simon. He was six foot six and was saying something about how they could do this the easy way or the skull-busting way he liked to do it, but by now Simon was too used to threats to pay attention.

“We gotta talk, Belinda.”

Using just the finger pads of one hand, the Mohawk guy pushed Simon out the door by his bony chest. Simon stood his ground outside, though, and before the door could swing all the way shut, he could see Belinda coming out from behind the bar. Next thing, she was standing on the walkway with him in the brisk night air. For a small stretch of time, neither one said a thing to the other, though Belinda’s flared eyes and nostrils made it clear that Simon had better start talking.

“I wish you’d been at the party,” said Simon.

“Well, too bad,” Belinda said, lighting a cigarette, “I wasn’t.”

“You coulda seen for yourself. You coulda stepped in.”

“I was working. And I’m working now. So, quick, what’s your side? What happened?” She folded her arms, the cigarette smoldering about an inch off her black sweater.

“Y’know, down in Georgia, you had all day to sit and jabber,” Simon said, back-talking for the first time in his life, “Get you to New York and suddenly your time is money. You’re practically snappin’ in my face.”

“Take up any more of my time, your face’ll get a fuck lot worse.”

“They tried taking advantage of me, Belinda.”

“Oh, please.”

“Did a lot more than try. They did. They got me in the bedroom.”

“You got two fists. And lungs for screaming in case your arms are too noodlely to fight off a bunch of pansies.”

“They drugged me.”

“Okay, so? You live, you learn.”

“Learn? You blamin’ me?”

“I’m not blaming anyone. I’m just saying that’s life, kid. I had to deal with it. You think my mom’s boyfriends stuck around cuz a her? You think they always woke up in her bed? And I didn’t want ’em. I was just a schoolgirl. I couldn’t help it I was growing tits in my sleep. I couldn’t help it Ma wasn’t home reading me bedtime stories. She was out with them. But a lot of times I’d wake up to one of her scum, with their fingers in me, tellin’ me bedtime stories—about bears playing doctor on Goldilocks. And it was shit and I hated it…but it was supposed to be that way.”

“It was supposed to be that way?”

“Yep. Because it’s life. Life showing me its real face, right from the get-go. And the sooner you learn people are like that, that they do that kinda shit, the better off you’ll be.”

Simon looked to the sky, “Makes me want to run screaming back to church when I hear talk like that.”

“Why? You think they’re any better there?”

“They didn’t drug me in church.”

“Only cuz they don’t drink. Sure raped the shit out of your mind, though. And it’ll be a lifetime before you shake that off.”

“I need my stuff.”

“Your stuff? He bought it for you. It’s his. And don’t go expecting more free haircuts either. Your roots look like shit, by the way.”

“So, I’m not getting anything back?”

“You can try. But Robert O is gettin’ out tonight, darlin’. His boss is posting bail. I’d stay well out of his way.”

“He’s not going up the river?”

“We’ll see, but he’s gonna tell the judge a lot of the stuff wasn’t his. He might turn in some names for leniency, do some rehab, some community service. He’s got a good lawyer—that other guy you got busted got the lawyer for him, from his firm.”

“You mean, the Jew.”

“His best client…who you got busted. Don’t know if he’ll be his client anymore after this. Might lose his law license if he gets a record.”

“Oh, he’ll be back,” said Simon, “Robert O’s just gotta hold out some coke and that Jew’s nose’ll be right back sniffin’ at his hair chair.”

“Whoa, Simon, honey,” Belinda said, “Never heard you so hostile before. Chip off the ole bigot.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just—that guy…Look, how long’s Robert O in the tank?”

“Could get sprung any minute. The lawyer thinks he can bargain for house arrest. He’ll have to wear one of those anklets. He can go to work and home but nowhere in between, and he’ll have to do some pop-piss quizzes. I went to see him this afternoon before they shipped him to Queens. He says he wants to kill himself, but I don’t think he means it. He says he wants both us out, though, and he means that. He put a message through to someone to change the locks. And he got some guys to put our shit in bags too, I don’t know who they are, and I don’t know how they know whose shit is whose but I don’t want your paws on any shit that’s mine, got it? Robert O said the bags will be next to the dumpster. He doesn’t want us coming up when he gets home. He wants to be alone to think.”

“Maybe sitting and thinking’ll help him change. Maybe this experience helped change him.”

“That’s the angle you churchies always work, isn’t it?”

A few customers started coming up the walkway. They shouted out to Belinda, who gave them a disinterested wave as she cashed out her cigarette with her combat boot.

“Where you staying?” Simon asked.

“With…friends.”

“Ain’ t you gonna ask where I’m stayin’?”

Belinda opened the Lucky 13 Saloon door, “Nope.”

“Is that all you got to say?”

“You mean, besides fuck off and good luck and thanks for getting me evicted? Well, one more thing: Get off the walkway or you’ll find out what it’s like getting the cops called on you.” Belinda walked back into the bar. Simon didn’t even try telling her it was Bucktrout who’d called the cops. It’d be like talking sense into a badger. She’d only believe what she’d made up her mind to believe.

But even after all that had happened, and even after how Belinda had left things, Simon still couldn’t agree that everyone was like those white-trash lechers she’d talked about, with their dirty lullabies. Bucktrout wasn’t like that. The station agent wasn’t like that. Not even Belinda would be like that if her mom’d had better taste in men. And there was Margie at work, who got Simon the job as soon as he hit town. And the cashier with the big glasses and stringy strawberry blond hair at The Strand, whose name Simon still hadn’t learned but who always gave him a big smile and remembered what he’d bought the last time he’d been in, she wasn’t one of the bad guys. As he wandered away from Lucky 13 in the cold, Simon continued running a counter list of names in his head, comprised mainly of customers who’d say please and thank you and treat him like an equal when he’d refill their water glasses or bus their dirty plates. Granted, it wasn’t a roster to rival the “begat” chapters of Genesis, but there were enough people on it from the past couple months to keep him from throwing himself on the F train tracks as he waited on the platform to go back and collect his things from the rubbish pile next to Robert O’s building.

But then he got to Clinton Street and saw the by-now familiar sight of his few meager chattels stuffed in garbage bags; only, in this newest set of bags, he’d found even less than he’d come to New York with. There were only two bags left outside for both him and Belinda and scavengers had already gotten in and picked the best bits out of both—that is, after Robert O and whoever had helped him pack had decided on what they’d keep for themselves and what they’d toss. Not even the tattered orange russet winter coat he wore on his first day was there anymore. Most of the stuff was women’s wear and bondage gear, all belonging to Belinda and nothing Simon would want, though he did recall how much fun it was acting all camp in that negligee during that Bette Davis movie. About all Simon managed to find of his own were a couple pairs of underwear and socks and fortuitously a canvass shopping bag from The Strand to carry them off in.

None of the mounds of books he’d bought at The Strand were in the trash, though. (Who knew Robert O or his packers were such big readers? Or maybe whatever dumpster divers had gotten there before him were?) But his copy of Euro Boy had found its way into the pile, so Simon picked it out and put it in the Strand bag as a memento of being cast out of the Bible belt. Simon knew this was the part where the Prodigal Son had better make that call home before he’s forced to dine on pig feed, but he also knew that if he went back to Menard’s house, he’d be the fatted calf before he could even open his mouth to say father.

Simon looked up to Robert O’s apartment window. The only lights he saw came from Robert O’s HD TV set, which vibrated a frenzy of colors on to a gallimaufry of fine art and conspicuous consumerism, all meant to underscore Robert O’s good taste, though the overall effect was that of a Cockatoo’s acid trip. Simon gathered up his little bagful of unmentionables (not the least unmentionable of which was Euro Boy) and walked back to Chelsea Night & Day to see if Paula might be able to furnish him with a replacement uniform, a free dinner and maybe some flattened cardboard to sleep on for the night behind the leaky refrigerator in her restaurant’s kitchen.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband Julius and his illustrious felines Marquez and Giuseppe.

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – Chapter Eleven

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on June 30, 2014

Wburg apt

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Eleventh chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER ELEVEN:

Scene Study

“So, whose slippers are these?” said Simon.

“Those are actually Peter’s,” said Jude Bucktrout as he poured Simon some Lipton tea.

“Then where are my shoes?”

“I think they’re in that pile of stuff that we scooped off that value-of-nothing guy’s bed.”

“You think my shoes are in the pile?”

“Well, we could only grab what we could. We’re busy hustling you out, all deadweight. Sorry I didn’t organize it for you. I’m no good at putting things in order. Just ask Peter.”

“And my shirt? And my jacket?”

“Maybe it’s in the pile. I didn’t look through. But, yeah, that’s Peter’s robe you got on too.”

“I still got pants on.”

“And underwear. They were both around your ankles.”

“Did they—?”

“I don’t know, Simon. I know you had, like, three guys on you. They were just getting started when we busted down the door. You should be alright.”

“But you don’t know for sure.”

“You were right side up. That’s a good sign.”

“But you don’t know for sure.”

“No, Simon. I don’t. But I think you’re safe. If I didn’t look up when I did, you might not be. They were just dragging you in. But enough of us were there to break it up. We all got fired for it, but we got you out.”

“You lost your job, Jude?”

“Oh, pfft. It’s just something on the side. Still got my regular job. And the show. Don’t worry about me. You’re the one I’m worried about.”

“Because? Why? You do! You do think they…”

“No. No. Not that.”

“I gotta get tested.”

“I think you’re alright, Simon.”

“I…I…”

“Well, if it’ll give you some peace of mind. You got insurance?”

“Insurance? Paula don’t gimme none of that.”

“I know a free clinic.”

“Are you?”

“Am I, what?”

“Infected?”

“Nope. Clean bill of health.”

“Sure? I mean, aren’t we all?”

“All what?”

“Infected?”

“How d’you mean?”

“I mean, don’t we all got it and it’s just a matter of time before it comes out.”

“Got what?”

“You know.”

“AIDS?”

“Uh huh.”

“Wait. Simon, you think it’s something you just have if you’re gay.”

“Well, isn’t it?”

“Jesus, Simon, it’s something you contract. It’s something you acquire. It’s right there in the acronym: Acquired Immune—”

“So, you’re not born with it?”

“Well, some are. There are AIDS babies.”

“And they’re all queers?”

“Simon.”

“I’m just sayin’, I don’t know. I’m new to all this.”

“Simon, AIDS babies have AIDS because one of their parents had AIDS.”

“Well, neither of mine did. My daddy hates people with AIDS. Doesn’t even call them people. Just diseased. Diseased reprobates.”

“Glad to see so much’s changed since I left Georgia,” said Bucktrout, returning the teapot to the sink.

Bucktrout had been able to slip away from home a lot more graciously than Simon. After graduating from Rome High School, he had gone on partial scholarship for theater to University of Evansville in Indiana and went for a junior year abroad to University of Harlaxton in Grantham, England. After college, he acted in Chicago’s fringe theater scene and got into Yale’s MFA program, where he studied both acting and directing. From there, Bucktrout hit Manhattan. He’d had some Off-Broadway luck, better Off-Off Broadway luck but, alas, a lot less luck on Broadway, where he’d only landed chorus roles. Yet all the Yale and Shakespeare under his belt couldn’t keep him from slipping back into a down-home drawl upon exposure to a back-home peach like Simon.

“Okay, Simon,” Bucktrout said, “Let’s take it from the top. What do you know about AIDS?”

“Not much.”

“But what do you know? Let’s talk it out.”

“My parents got a special dispensation from the state to drag me out of health class. And most science classes too.”

“Oh, sweet Georgia,” said Bucktrout, casting a look to the ceiling. “Okay, then, so what you learned, you learned at the kitchen table?”

“Right.”

“And what was it you learned?”

“Just, my dad would lift up a glass to God and AIDS.”

“God and AIDS?”

“Yeah, sometimes he’d have his friends over. And he’d have us thank God for AIDS.”

“Thank God for AIDS?”

“He said, ‘It’s killin’ off the niggers and the queers.’”

“Jesus. Was he Klan?”

“Not officially. Most of his friends were. But he made it plain he could only go so far with them. Some of the churches he’d go speak at sometimes thought less of the Klan, so he told his buddies he could only tip his hat.”

“Oh, Simon.—But didn’t you notice you weren’t sick all this time? I mean, you were who you were this whole time and you never had it, right?”

“Jude, I don’t know what I have or don’t have. I don’t know what I am or what I’m not. I don’t know what to believe or not to believe. I just know my head hurts.”

“I’ll get you another aspirin.” Bucktrout went to the medicine cabinet and, in fact, came back with Excedrin.

“Thank you, Jude,” Simon gulped down the Excedrin, “Let’s see, what else? Um, my daddy said you have it but you also get it.”

“Huh?”

“It’s what he said.”

“From the pulpit?”

“And at home. He said queers have AIDS, right? But then one day there was this kid in the teen Bible study who asked about it. Y’know, this kid, he was this troublemaker-type. He liked to ask about sex in Bible class. Real rebel, you know. And the reverend who proctored the class, Reverend Jones, he hated this kid for it. But once my daddy sat in and the kid asked, ‘If two gays don’t have AIDS but they do it, do they get AIDS anyway?”

“Stupid little fuck,” said Bucktrout, “I mean, hello, zero plus zero equals zero.”

“That’s not what Dad said. He didn’t even give Reverend Jones a chance to answer. Just pointed at the kid, said, ‘Listen here. They both got it already. It’s their stigma, their shame, their curse, their Mark of Cain. Both of them. And if they don’t both got it before they do it, they’re gonna get it when they do do it.’”

“Wait…whaaaa?”

“That’s what I said.”

“And then what he say after you said that?”

“Said what?”

“After you said ‘whaaaa?’”

“Oh, I mean, I didn’t ‘say-it’ say it. I just thought it. You don’t question with my daddy. You just nod and go along.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to break that habit here. There are people in this town who’ll play you till your doom if you let ’em.”

“Like those guys at the party.”

Exactly. Like them.”

“Are they all like that?”

“Who’s they?”

“Queers.”

“Am I, Simon? Am I like that?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

Bucktrout decided to spare Simon the lecture about how Simon himself was one of the they’s he’s so scared of. The kid could only take in so much and what’d happened the night before was too much for any living being to have to go through.

Simon said to Bucktrout, “You sure are cute.” He imagined it’s how a lot of the scenes in Euroboy got started.

Bucktrout said, “I sure am taken.”

“Then why’d you say that thing about me?”

“What thing?”

“That I was some kind of magic out of Wizard’s Stone?”

“I said that?”

“Something like it.”

“Well, I got eyes, Simon. Peter’s got eyes too. But we keep our hands only on each other.”

“So you don’t want it?”

“Want?”

“Something in return?”

“Simon, you got to learn to trust people.”

“What? You just said the opposite before.”

“Well, good for you, Simon. You’re learning to question what people say.—What I meant was, you gotta trust the right people. You haven’t met them yet. I mean, ’til now.”

“How can I know you’re one of them? The right people?”

Bucktrout said, “Good. Not taking anything at face value. Good for you.—Look, you look tired. If you want, you can go back and crash on the bed. I won’t bother you.”

“No thank you,” said Simon as he drank more tea.

A few minutes passed, though, and Simon’s Rufenal hangover grew worse. Simon decided to take Bucktrout up on his offer.

Bucktrout’s boyfriend Peter would be coming home from Pennsylvania and Bucktrout would have a lot of explaining to do. Bucktrout drummed his fingers and drank refill after refill of Lipton out of his Harlaxton mug. Then he saw he was acting too much like he was in scene study, so he bit the bullet and called Peter.

After he revealed to Peter that he’d lost his cater-waiter job and that now there’s a scallywag in trouble in their apartment, he said, “Bunch of us got in a brawl to get the guys off him. I took out my cell and called the police. Told ’em those sickos were all set to rape the poor kid. But when I told them we intervened, the police were all set to dust off their hands and hang up on me, like we just did their job for them. Well, no, they still came cuz then I let them know there was a drug-bust goldmine in there, y’know, case they were a little behind on their quotas.

“Must’ve done some good. When Strasberg called to fire me this morning, they said the host is probably going to jail because of me. Him and a lot of the guests…I don’t know, he had this fucked-name, Robert O. He’s famous for something, I don’t know what. I’m gonna try to get the kid to press charges, take his ass to court. But he’s in our bed now and, you got my balls-oath, nothing happened between me and him….Cute as a newt, but no, nothin’, I swear…I’m talkin’ this way cuz this is how I get when the old south comes up for a visit.”

But Bucktrout was wrong. Simon wasn’t in bed anymore. While Bucktrout was on the phone explaining things, Simon had found his genuine-leather Italian boots in the pile the cater-waiters had gathered up for him, along with his velvet jacket. (The shirt he picked out of the pile wasn’t one of his. It belonged to one of the guys who jumped him and it wafted a heavy eau de cologne. It was way too big for Simon too but he wore it anyway.) Bucktrout continued talking matters over with Peter as Simon tiptoed to the door in his stockinged feet. He’d had enough of other people’s hospitality for one weekend.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his husband and two cats.

A Sorcerer on Montmartre (Chapter 10 – Part III)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on June 28, 2014

LES at night

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Tenth chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER TEN:

Cockatoos (Part Three)

 As Robert O pulled him through the crowd, Simon kept overhearing snatches of conversations, certain words and phrases spouted again and again in reedy, weekend-warrior falsettos: “our surrogate,” “our timeshare,” “this one twink who…,” “we’ll be in East Hampton starting…” and “after I made partner, my salary jumped to…” It all made Simon want to run back out and find some tattooed faces to play cards on cardboard with. But he was being dragged up to a lot of leering dandies who did everything but open his lips and check his teeth. Robert O said, “So, here he is. The host of honor.”

“Host?” said one fellow by the name of Sanchez, who earlier had been making it clear to everyone who’d asked that he came from a mucho-dinero part of Mexico City, not a barrio bajo, and he’d come up even higher in the world since he made partner at S— & C—, thank you.

“Of honor?” chuckled Brad Tannenwald, who a few minutes before had been saying the only reason he had to wait until his late thirties to make partner at his firm was that he’d been sidetracked with a PhD program in International Relations at Harvard and, after that, had been living in Hong Kong as Head of Asian Markets for two of the big three banks (according to Tannenwald, he was working for one when the other just wouldn’t stop wining-and-dining him until he’d come work for them). Tannenwald gave Simon another appraisal, “What honor? When I was in the chair, you told me you trawled this one out of the gutter.”

“Well, kinda,” said Robert O, “He showed up on my doorstep. Little Bible Boy from Miss Scarlett Land. And it was after I told you that, Brad, that you said he sounded like your kind of trade.”

“Well…” said Brad Tannenwald, looking bashfully away as he adjusted his Swarovski cufflinks.

“So don’t you go dissin’ this monster I created,” Robert O continued, “Or you don’t know what I might do next time you in my chair. Might walk out with one of them lesbian mullets.”

“Oh, Robert O, tell ’im vat you did to da ot’er guy in da chair?” said his Bosnian junior stylist, Elmir, who was done up in a silvery paisley shirt and ruby crushed-velour jacket. Elmir’s style had come a long way since he’d first shown up in Queens as a shell-shocked refugee child.

“What other guy?” said Robert O.

“Japanese guy,” Elmir said.

“Oh,” Robert O started laughing. Robert O’s assembly gathered in closer. “So, this was, what, couple weeks ago? So, yeah, this Japanese business guy, right, or maybe he was an ambassador, anyway, some big-wig, right, found out about me from someone I worked with on this runway show in Tokyo and, so anyway, he made his secretary book an appointment with me, like, a looong time ago. Anyway, the day finally came when he could see me. He came to New York, I dunno, he was here on business. This little guy, right? And he’s, like, no emotions and he’s wearing a black suit and, y’know, like, a black tie.”

“As they do in Tokyo,” Tannenwald affirmed with a nod.

“Right, so. He comes in, bows, sits down. And I’m doing okay so far. I’m Steady Freddy. You know, I bow. So far, so good. But I was up all night. Waiting for this one,” Robert O pointed to Simon, “This one never came home. All night. And I didn’t know where the fuck he was, so I worried, you know. And I was up waiting. And I was tripping hard too. See, Elmir, here…Elmir got me some primo sid from out in Long Island City and he gave me a tab before I left work and hey, yo, Elmir, I swear that shit was cut with speed cos I was like up. Okay? I’m like up watching Animal Planet and shit and they got this special on, okay, and it’s on cockatoos. Muchachos! Ever see those birds?”

Robert O’s audience guffawed and nodded. Even Simon joined in and nodded. He’d seen cockatoos at a fairground in Fayetteville when he was nine years old. He began to lean in closer, hoping the rest of the story might resonate with him too. Robert O’s monologue went on and, with grand, sweeping gestures, Robert O began to illustrate the cockatoos’ plumage for the guests, “These birds, they came in this color wheel, okay, this overload of colors. No two the same. Some of them had this flaming orange hair and some of them wear, like, white and blue, you name it. And these birds all had these Mohawks shootin’ out of their heads, right? And so I started thinking, I could set this trend. Y’know, a whole other signature look, and I already got lots of those, right? Everything I do is signature. But we’re talkin’ career game-changer here with these Cockatoos. I mean, Sally Hershberger, move yo’ ass over, bitch, ’kay? And I could call this new style ‘The Cockatoo.’ But then I thought, no, that’s probably too ahead-of-its-time, the name, y’know, ‘The Cockatoo.’ People who don’t know cockatoos might be wondering why they wanna be goin’ around lookin’ like one. But I thought, no, I’ll work on the name later. First, let’s get the style right. And then I forgot all about this one—” and he pointed back to Simon, “And I’m all into this new style that could at least, at least make the cover of Allure or Us. So, I’m, like, watching these birds…and so I was trippin’, so, like, ’cuz I was trippin’, there were, like, a lot more colors I was seein’ on the screen than were probably even there in the fucking first place, but I’m, like, the more the merrier, so I get up and get my drafting board and color pencils and I start drawing these intense-ass pictures and…next thing I know, it’s the next morning, and Elmir and my other assistant Ambrosia are once again in my apartment trying to get me to get to the salon. I got the Japanese guy waiting for me, they say.

“Now I’m telling y’all, I didn’t go into Copenhagen that day with any kind of cut in mind, girlfriends. No, by time I got to the chair, I was already kind of gettin’ over all this cockatoo shit. But the Japanese guy, he didn’t really tell me what he wanted either. He just sits there. Says, ‘You do.’ I say, ‘I do…what? I do, what?’ I mean, I gave homeboy a chance. At least, from what I remember, I gave his ass a chance. I do remember I said, ‘What, you want it short?’ He said, ‘I hear you…YOU, Robert O-san, da best. So, just give me haircut. Yours. One of yours.’ What can I tell ya, honeys, he left the door open. And the rest of the sid must’ve kicked in ’cuz I still wasn’t comin’ down. And so I took over. I mean, I got out the blond dye. And I got out some fuschia. And I got out the green. And I got out the clippers.”

If Simon didn’t think he was in the hands of a madman before, he did now. And Robert O just kept going on, “And he’s just sittin’ there through it all. At the sink, in the chair, while the dye’s processing, the whole way through, right, he’s just got this rock-solid face, like somethin’ on the side of Mount Rushmore and shit, or somethin’ at a funeral, y’know, like, in the coffin and shit, right? Rock-solid. And he’s all Japanese and shit. And at some point, he even pulls out the financial section of the Times–he had it in the chair with him the whole time, right–and he, like, starts reading it and his hair is fuckin’ bleach blond, green and fire-engine red now. And he’s wearin’ a tie and I’m all blow-dryin’ his hair and making some bouffant-type-Mohawk-type shit out of it with hairspray and gel.”

“What’d his face look like when he saw it in the mirror?” said Sanchez.

Robert O said, “Honey, I don’t know. First rule of trippin’ is: Don’t look in no mirrors. You gonna see too many things you don’t wanna see. All sorts of demons be flyin’ out at you. Oh, no. No. So, I didn’t look in no mirrors at all, the whole time, even when I turned him around in the chair to get him to look at himself. I mean, I was in tact enough to know not to do that. Could you imagine if I did? No, po’ baby’s having a hard enough day already.”

“But…but what did he do?” said Tannenwald.

Elmir answered for Robert O, “He just sit there. Robert O take off smock. Guy stand. He straighten tie. He turn. He bow.”

Robert O said, “He had a red fuckin’ flame—I mean it looked like a fuckin’ rooster on fire—blasting right out his head. The whole back of his head was green. The rest was bleached.”

“He could’ve sued you,” said Tannenwald.

“Sued?” sang Robert O, “Oh, honey, he tipped me. Tipped me plenty.”

“Tipped you?” asked Tannenwald.

Elmir said, “He tell him, ‘Thank you, Robert O-san.’ He walk to cashier. He pay. Come back. Pay more in tip than for haircut.”

“They don’t tip in Japan,” gasped Tannenwald.

“They do when they come here. Number one-ah A-merican-ah custom,” said Robert O, imitating the Japanese with a couple bows, “And you know how they’re all up in their customs, grrl.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have tipped you,” said Tannenwald.

“Of course you wouldn’t, Jew-boy.”

“I would have sued you for every penny you’re worth,” Tannenwald laughed.

“And then who you gonna buy your blow from, snowbird?”

Elmir agreed, “Robert O always gets da best.”

Simon said, “If the Japanese don’t tip, then how do people working in their restaurants survive?”

Sanchez sneered, “Salary, I guess.”

“I couldn’t get by on my salary,” said Simon.

“You can’t get by, period, squatter,” said Robert O.

Tannenwald said to Simon, “So, what do you do, young man?”

Simon said, “I work in a restaurant.”

“A diner,” Robert O rolled his eyes.

Tannenwald asked, “Are you a waiter?”

“No,” Robert O answered for Simon, “Not even. He’s a busboy.”

“And I do dishes,” Simon chimed in.

The whole circle laughed. Simon looked down. Tannenwald came forward and put his arm around Simon’s shoulder, “Oh, c’mon, guys. What were you all doing when you were—how old are you, sweetie?”

“Eighteen.”

Tannenwald looked down at Simon and smiled. The salt-and-pepper hair and easy smile, the crinkle about the eyes, the cozy embrace, the kind Simon used to long for back in Wizard’s Stone, it felt warm but nothing he felt safe hugging back.

“How about we sit and talk?” Tannenwald said to Simon. He signaled to Sanchez and Robert O and the congregation.

Simon shivered. They all pulled Simon in the direction of the couch. Simon said, “There are people sittin’ there.”

Robert O said, “No they ain’t. Not on my couch.” Robert O walked right up to the couch and told everyone on it to get off. Some were passed out and had to be pulled off, but the space eventually freed up and the men pulled Simon over and sat him down. Simon sat sandwiched between them and they all homed in with their stares. A few, at intervals, reached over and fondled him. Simon thought of edging away but there was nowhere to edge unless he wanted to be in someone’s lap.

“Gotta loosen up, boo-boo,” Robert O said. “I’ll get ’im a drink.”

“No!” Simon jolted off the couch.

“You sit back down, bitch,” said Robert O.

Simon tumbled over all the legs on the couch. They all stood up and stared him down. Simon said, “I’ll get my drink. I’ll get it.”

“You even know what to drink?” said Robert O.

“I’ll get it,” said Simon.

“Your ass better be back on this couch in two minutes, bitch. Remember, I know where you live.”

The bartender had green eyes, short black hair and a dimple in his chin. “Hey,” he nodded to Simon, “What can I get for you?”

Simon said, “Um…listen…I’m not so good at this. I don’t know what to order.”

The bartender said, “A martini, maybe?”

Simon said, “I’m not 21.”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” the bartender chuckled and whispered, “But, um, it shows.”

“See, I never drunk anything before.”

“Nothing?”

“No.”

“Alright, then. Let’s start you off with something easy. A beer?”

“No, see, I don’t want nothin’. Just, could I have a Coke maybe?”

“Yeah, sure,” said the bartender, “No problem.” The bartender filled a glass with ice and poured Coke in from a two-liter, “Sure you don’t want something in it? I can go easy.”

“No, please. Don’t.”

“Do I detect a drawl?”

“Yeah,” said Simon. “Guess I ain’t no good at hiding it.”

“Where from?”

“Georgia.”

“Yeah,” said the bartender, “I’m from Rome.”

“Wow. Sound red-blooded ’merican to me.”

“Rome, Georgia.”

“Oh. No wonder you kind of sound like from back home.”

“What part you from?”

“You prob’ly never heard of it.”

“C’mon, where?”

“Wizard’s Stone.”

“Oh! On the way to Stone Mountain.”

“Well, hour or so outside, but, yeah, on the way…”

“I remember the town sign.”

“You do? Don’t know why you would.”

“I don’t know either. We just drove by, me and my family, on vacation one summer. Saw the sign, guess it stuck. Always thought something magical might be comin’ out of there some day.”

Simon smiled and looked down. The bartender handed him his drink.

“I’m Jude,” he said, “Jude Bucktrout.”

“Simon.” They shook hands. “What brought up here, Jude?”

“Same as anyone in this racket. Acting.”

“Still do it?”

“Of course. Ain’t bartending for my health. Starting rehearsals next week. Got a part in The Homecoming at La Mama.” Simon didn’t know the play or the theater but he nodded like he did. Bucktrout smiled, seeing through his ruse.

“What about you, Simon? What brings a boy like you up to the Big Apple?”

“Had to get away.”

“And you had people here?”

“No. Didn’t know nobody.”

“And how’d you end up here? At this party?”

“This is the guy-who-took-me-in’s place.”

Bucktrout stopped and looked at Simon. Robert O stepped up.

“Get him a drink,” Robert O told Bucktrout.

“He’s got one,” said Bucktrout.

“A real one,” said Robert O.

“I got one,” said Simon as he turned to take his Coke back to where he was expected on the couch.

Robert O glared at Bucktrout but other guests started coming up for drinks and Simon had returned to where he’d been expected, so Robert O went back and joined the others.

“Over here,” Tannenwald said, extending a hand to Simon, “This way.”

Simon took Tannenwald’s hand and sat down next to him. Tannenwald had been cutting lines on a hand mirror on the glass table. He had a C-Note rolled up tight between his thumb and forefinger and made his way up the first line. Tannenwald jittered a little as the powder burned on its way up his nostril. “Here,” Tannenwald said, holding out the rolled-up bill to Simon. Simon shook his head. “What, are you afraid of my boogers?” Tannenwald pretended to look up the aperture. “I can’t see any in there, son.” He smiled some more at Simon, “Take it. Give it a try.” Simon had been used to seeing this stuff in Robert O’s funhouse, but Robert O and Belinda never tried pressuring him into using. For one thing, they didn’t want to waste their share on a newbie who’d do it all wrong. But the more Simon shook his head at Tanenwald, the more Tanenwald pushed.

“Or maybe you just relax,” said Elmir, who held out a smoldering joint. Simon shook his head again.

“Or have a drink,” said Tannenwald, lifting his own rum-and-Coke.

“I already got one,” Simon said.

“But that’s a virgin Coke,” said Sanchez.

“Simon, my dear, that’s not a real drink,” Tannenwald said.

“It is now,” Robert O said, nodding to Tannenwald. Tannenwald sat back. Robert O said, “Alright, Liza. If you don’t want to do no coke, I’ll give you special permission to go ahead and sip your Coke, so long as you relax. Okay. Relax and be friendly with the guests.”

Simon took a gulp of his soda, unaware that, when his head had been turned toward Tannenwald’s hundred-dollar bill, Robert O had gone to the trouble of transubstantiating his Coke into a double Rufenal-and-Coke.

Simon sipped his drink and it didn’t take long for him to go under. And as Simon went under, he returned to a space that was familiar to him, to that dream he’d had where he’d made love to Noah Saber on a tent-bed while taking opium smack in the middle of what in real life had been Chelsea Night & Day Diner. But that tent-bed was gone now and so was the first tent-bed he’d arrived on, the one that had been on the sidewalk, haloed in incense smoke. Noah Saber was gone too. All the fornicators were gone—they must have picked up their Arabian cushions and trundled off to some other party.

In the reprise of the dream, it was still the dead of night, but all the candles were blown out now. The whole front of the room had been removed and street pollution and after-hours traffic noise swept in from 7th Avenue. Simon saw that the white silk pajamas he’d been wearing in the previous dream were gone off him now. He saw himself lying naked on the floor, shivering in a fetal position. The Chinese host was crossing to the other side of the street, past some cabs and cars zooming by, with his back to the den of iniquity, as if he’d never even been in it in the first place. Simon imagined Noah Saber had gone back to China by now, either for more opium or to start preaching again or both.

The music had stopped playing. The room was all dark, except for one light from a small bronze lamp that was fastened on to a small lacquered oak table, where Simone de Beauvoir was sitting. Beauvoir was writing in an ordinary notebook with an ordinary pen as she observed Simon’s wretched form. She was not old yet. Her hair was in a bun and there were only a few gray wisps peeking out. No longer did Simon hear Noah Saber’s chant—“brothels, iniquity, opium.” Now he heard something Beauvoir was writing again and again in her notebook, a line Simon remembered from The Second Sex, chanted in a woman’s voice: The clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.” It was something Beauvoir had actually written about housework, which she characterized as a Sisyphean task, but Simon felt sure she was saying it about him now and maybe she even meant it about all life, given Beauvoir’s penchant for generalizations. The clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”

The Top Cats from the stairs to the New York Public Library sat on either side of Beauvoir, the one representing Patience on her left, the one representing Fortitude on her right, and Fortitude was wearing bandages on his head and legs. Patience stood in tact, though. The clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.” Beauvoir continued observing Simon and continued writing the same quote from her manifesto over and over again in her notebook as Simon lay shivering naked.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn with his husband Julius and his cats, Marquez and Giuseppe.

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – (Chapter 10 – Part II)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on June 27, 2014

Washington Square

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Tenth chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER TEN:

Cockatoos (Part Two)

So Simon stalled on the night of the party. He worked a double and, after knocking off at about eight, proceeded to walk through Greenwich Village. He shambled along the sidewalks in the dark and squinted to read all the plaques on all the buildings and houses where all the famous authors and artists had lived. He pretended the streets made up a gigantic, open-air museum, a rarefied sanctum, even as people came spilling out of jam-packed bars or lined up to get into restaurants that were too in-demand to accept reservations. He sauntered in zigzags across cobblestones, splotched with streetlights, from the West Side Highway to Waverly and MacDougal, all in an attempt to run out the party’s clock.

When stopping to contemplate Washington Square, Simon’s love of literature was still too new and his education too rudimentary for him to have discovered the likes of Henry James or Edith Wharton, but as he bided his time on a park bench and looked over to the Washington Arch in the flood of night, he imagined some pretty important people must have lived in the area and written about the place. He wasn’t so green as to think he could be the first to discover it. After all, it already had two statues of George Washington, so at least one founding father must have dropped by at some point, and then there was the likeness of some Italian guy from the nineteenth century who must have done some pretty important stuff too, hence the statue.

And across the park was New York University, which seemed to have left its stamp on all the buildings surrounding the park. Simon thought about what a treat it must be to get to go to school there, how it probably grooms you to be as good as all those people whose names get their own plaques. Simon knew working at Chelsea Night & Day or anywhere else with just a high-school diploma wouldn’t put him through school at NYU. As it was, he couldn’t afford to lay his head down anywhere else but on Robert O’s tent-bed. But he began to consider that maybe he too could be up there with the names on those plaques someday if he gave it a good-enough whirl. He could hang out in cafes like Beauvoir and Sartre, or like all those serious types wearing scarves and suit coats at the al fresco tables on MacDougal Street. Maybe it was a good thing he couldn’t afford school. Maybe you get too cozy on your laurels once you get out of your cap and gown and the band stops playing “Pomp and Circumstance.” Maybe you start thinking you know enough already. But Simon was already beginning to envision the city as a much bigger, better and more constant classroom that could teach even the best and brightest a lot more than they think they know.

Simon leaned back on the bench in Washington Square. A whole tribe of men of all colors banged on turned-over plastic tubs with drumsticks. Others were playing chess at the stone tables. In a little amphitheater, some black guys had corralled a whole crowd of spectators—people from all over the globe, a more dressed-down version of the United Nations—for a street show that included improv, break-dancing and audience participation. There were all sorts of things the city could teach you if you let it in, thought Simon. There were all sorts of things the city could teach you, but Simon didn’t know quite what yet. He’d just have to wait and see what.

One thing was certain, though. The night wasn’t getting any younger and Robert O wasn’t going to wait up much longer, so Simon made his way home to Clinton Street, though without too much hustle. When he reached the building, he could hear the party thundering from all the way up the walkway. When he reached Robert O’s door, smoke from cigarettes and sundry drugs was pouring out and disco-diva crooning blared over redundant, high-octane techno beats. Simon had heard too much of this kind of synthetic squall whenever Robert O was home. To him, it always sounded like a cat getting dragged by the tail through some souped-up spaceship. He never knew how anyone could stand it if they weren’t already on something, and Simon had never been on anything, his lips had never even touched alcohol. Robert O’s had touched plenty of it that night, though, and much harder stuff, which was all too apparent when Robert O confronted Simon as he walked in.

“Where the fuck you been, bitch? I been callin’ your ass ’n’ callin’ your ass.”

“You called the restaurant?”

“Where else?”

“I told you not to.”

“And I told you to get your ass home. With actions come consequences, Ms. Liza.”

“I might not have a job now. I already got warned when you called the first time.”

“So what? Not like you make enough there to pay me rent here anyway.”

“Belinda said we didn’t have to.”

“Everything’s got a price, baby. And now, you gotta get your ass in a shower and into the outfit I got hanging up.”

“I, I might not have a job now, Robert O.”

“Baby doll, I can get you a much better hook-up at this party. So long as you don’t fuck it up.”

“Where’s Belinda?”

“Workin’. Now move!”

Robert O turned Simon around and pushed him over to the bathroom. Robert O barged in on two guys who were making out by the sink. They both had their shirts off, their belts and zippers undone and each other’s cocks in their hands. They both looked up. Robert O pulled Simon into the middle of the bathroom. “Strip,” he told him. Simon looked every which way. He stared at the two guys who had just stopped their carryings-on. They stared right back at him. Simon looked at Robert O who came over and started unbuttoning Simon’s shirt, “You heard me. Strip.” Robert O walked over to the shower and turned the knob all the way to hot. “You still smell like that stank-ass diner. That cannot be. Not on the night of your little ball, Cinderella.” Simon noticed the two other guys still hadn’t zipped up but now they seemed to be enjoying this disruption. Robert O stood and blocked the open doorway. It was clear this was that kind of party, so Simon thought it best to comply with orders. He took off his clothes and walked into the shower.

Simon pulled the shower curtain closed but Robert O came right back over and threw it open. For the better part of a second, Simon covered himself but Robert O continued holding the curtain back, so Simon got busy lathering himself up with Lever 2000 soap. “Get every part,” Robert O insisted, “Every part. Every part squeaky clean. And use shampoo.” By now, the two other guys had zipped up and put their shirts back on but they didn’t leave. They moved in closer and were still watching.

Simon held back from doing anything but what he was told, yet tears he never knew would well up, tears that hadn’t dropped since the last time he’d heard Menard’s shotgun, suddenly started tumbling down his cheeks. Soon he had to say, “Robert O, can I at least get a little privacy?”

“Oh, so now lil Liza’s into privacy? You didn’t gimme none of that shit when you came frot’ing up to me in bed that night.”

“Came what?”

“You heard me. I was in my hundred and something-th dream and all the sudden I find you beggin’ for some somethin’-somethin’ in the middle of the night—”

“I wasn’t begging.”

“Then why’d you get me in my sleep, bitch? Why?”

“I didn’t get you. Not like that. I…it…it was the first time in a long time we were home at the same time. I thought it was something you might like. You did it to me that way.”

“Because I can. Remember, you owe me, not the other way around.”

Simon continued soaping up. Robert O didn’t know the other guys in the bathroom. They came with friends. But they all introduced themselves and chitchatted with him while Simon rinsed off.

“¿Dominicano?” asked the Dominican.

“No,” said Robert O, not looking at him.

“Hablas como un Dominicano, vato.”

Robert O didn’t answer. He just went on watching Simon’s ablutions. The Dominican’s Puerto Rican lover put his arm around him, “El es un puertorriqueño autentico.”

Robert O said, “I’m from Texas.”

“Ah, Mexicano! ¿Pensé que eras bastante gente?,” said the Puerto Rican and the Dominican smiled along with him.

“Do I seem fucking quiet to you!” Robert O shouted.

The smile dropped away from the Dominican’s face and the conversation between the Spanish speakers in the bathroom stopped cold. Simon’s tears weren’t sexy to look at, and though his physique was taut and lean, it wasn’t a gym body, so the two spectators grew bored and left even before Simon was all rinsed off. Robert O came and brought a towel and, with the door still open and the party in full swing, Robert O dried Simon off. “See?” Robert O said, “How’s that champ? Feeling vulnerable? Feeling exposed? Yeah? How’d you think I felt?”

Simon said through a gale of tears, “I’m sorry, Robert O. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong that night. I just thought we were gonna do what we did before.”

“You ain’t goin’ out there all cry-baby and shit. Dry up them tears.” Robert O threw the towel over Simon’s head and moved him over to his room. Robert O locked himself in with Simon and walked him over to the closet where he had Simon’s new garb hanging up.

The outfit was something pretty spectacular. Simon even stopped crying once he got a look at it. It was a black light-wool suit with an embroidered white chemise. Robert O also got Simon some long, elegant black silk socks, which he could accessorize with the black Italian boots that zipped up the side, which Robert O bought for him on their shopping spree and had shined up special for the night. Simon put it all on and buttoned up all the buttons on the shirt but Robert O came over and undid the top five buttons and spiffed up his hair with some product from Copenhagen Essentials. “Now, look,” Robert O said, “There are people in there—kind you never met before. Where you’re from, people are pretty just for having teeth. But these people are a breed apart, which means…you gotta look the part.”

Simon said, “Why do you want me meetin’ ’em?”

Robert O dusted some lint off Simon’s lapel, “An initiation.” Simon stepped back. Initiation? That’s what kids back home, who were into Satan, put other kids through if they wanted to join up, and they had to do disgusting mutilation things to small, innocent animals and virgins. Robert O dragged Simon into the main room.

The impossible disco screeches were still sounding from an elevated turntable station, where a black guy in a tam was mixing disco, techno and house all together without rhyme or reason. A lot of guys, most of them white, stood around in tight shirts. Some were muscular and others wore Rolexes to make up for time not spent in the gym. Many of the guests grabbed the cater waiter’s asses at will or said things like, “This is a half-ass martini. Take it back.”

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his husband and two cats.

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – (Chapter 10 – Part I)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on June 18, 2014

Lions

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Tenth chapter (part one)  from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER TEN:

Cockatoos (Part One)

And so Simon went back to clocking in as much OT as he could at work. He also got up the gumption to go all by himself to Citibank on Second Avenue to open his own account. He was surprised how easy it was. He just had to ask a lady who greeted him at the door how to do it and she directed him to a glass-paneled office. A guy in a tie got up from behind a desk, shook Simon’s hand, offered him a seat and asked what kind of account he wanted. Simon pulled out a wad of paychecks and tips and said, “Whatever works best when this s’all you got to work with.” The guy chuckled as he counted up what Simon had to work with and nodded like he’d been in that spot before. Then his head tilted a little at how Simon could be all dolled up in Kenneth Cole and DKNY while holding out such a meager nest egg and talking like someone fresh off a bus at Port Authority. But whatever his new customer’s back-story might be, the bank representative was just glad to see Simon opening his own account instead of handing his stash over to a man in a fedora and shades like so many other young hopefuls getting off at Port Authority. It seemed like such an adult thing to do, opening an account, and Simon gave himself three cheers for walking out of Citibank with his very own checkbook and ATM/debit card.

And, in fact, it was an adult thing to do: To be approved, Simon had to produce a driver’s license or state ID that said he was 18. The age on his Georgia driver’s license also ensured that Simon could walk to and from work without fear of milk cartons, unlike so many of the runaways on St. Mark’s Place and around Tompkins Square Park, many of whom dressed like Belinda and some of whom, bless their souls, even had their faces covered in tattoos of cobwebs and black widows and pentagrams and other macabre things you might find in a haunted house at Halloween-time except they were branded on their faces all-year round and for life. Some others had been snapped up by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness and walked around in bright robes and saris, shaking tambourines and proselytizing in states much more euphoric than those of the uninitiated and much scarier than anything in a haunted house. No matter what the kids’ affiliations, though, they were all set to beat it whenever they saw a cop coming who might recognize their faces from milk cartons or missing persons’ blotters. But Simon was free, at least inasmuch as he was in his majority. Even if Menard had decided to file a report to get Simon back down south so he could tyrannize over him all over again, no-one, not even the law, could make Simon go back. That was the good news.

The bad news was that he was hanging by Robert O’s string until such time as he could put together a month’s rent, plus at least one month’s deposit, to go live somewhere else. It wasn’t lost on him that being a busboy wasn’t the easiest way to make this happen in Manhattan and, even though Belinda was pulling down a lot more bills per diem than he was and might have been able to make up for his shortfalls, he’d decided that he would not be living with her in his next place. (For one thing, her rear end required too much clean-up.) He’d been checking roommate ads online at the 23rd Street library and on bulletin boards in delis, along with listings in real-estate brokers’ windows, but right now he couldn’t afford to pay even a fraction of a fraction of even the lowest rents advertised. Robert O’s it’d have to be for the foreseeable future, but if Robert O had another one of his turns, Simon knew he might end up living rough and fighting off Krishnas just like the pariahs in and around the park.

That’s a big reason Simon’s heart went out to guttersnipes. He might have needed every penny he’d be taking to the bank from now on, but he’d still always slip the street kids at least a few dollars a week when he’d see them whiling away on collapsed supermarket boxes or mud-caked duffel bags. And they always looked up with smudged faces and said thank-you and beamed like they weren’t used to getting what they were holding out their hands or holding up signs for, which always made Simon’s heart bleed just a little more for them. But when they’d ask Simon his name, Simon couldn’t bring himself to do what he knew Jesus would have done and tell them. Instead, he’d just smile and keep on walking in his snazzy duds, lest he get roped into a conversation long enough for their lives to rub off on his, for their straits to become his. But whenever Simon felt bad about walking away after tossing a couple mites into their grubby cups or palms, he reasoned that Sartre theoretically would have approved of his wish to remain independent of a group, any group, and its collective fate, however lowly and in need it might be.

To avoid being kicked out of Robert O’s, Simon was now making a game out of making himself scarce at the apartment. This meant now he had to listen whenever someone at the diner said there was some touristy attraction he should check out since he was still so new in town. It meant doing all the things he could do for free, like going to free days at the Met or tailing subway buskers from line to line or going to Times Square and just watching the 24-hour carnival of lights, Jumbotron ads and people or walking from one end of Central Park to the other and marveling at what Olmsted and Vaux did with not much more than one square mile of green. He’d pick up any kind of complimentary New York visitors guides he could find in plastic sidewalk bins or restaurant vestibules and jot down little itineraries for himself in a pocket-sized spiral notebook he’d bought from a catchall bin at a Hell’s Kitchen bodega after seeing that end of town for the first time and being surprised it was no longer full of speakeasies and ladies of the evening like its name suggests. Just walking aimlessly through Manhattan on any given day, north or south, until his legs buckled amounted to an education, to doors of perception blowing open in his mind, down corridors he never knew existed. He started thinking that being run out of house and home, whether Menard’s or Robert O’s, was a good thing since it gave one a chance to walk where they might never have walked and see things they might never have seen.

And then there was always learning at the library to do too, and he found the best of the best of libraries at 42nd and 5th. It beat the one on 23rd Street all the hell. One of the pamphlets said it was a Beaux-Arts building. He knew the term from books by and about Beauvoir and Sartre, the ones that kept mentioning Paris’s Beaux-Arts buildings. One of his new pamphlets said there were a lot of them in Manhattan too and the library was the most famous of them all. It had two majestic lions, made of Tennessee marble, sitting in grand repose above some steps. The pamphlet referred to them as the Top Cats, guardians of the scholars inside. One of the lions represented Patience and the other Fortitude, and Simon wished there were a way to bring both cats to life and have them always walking on either side of him wherever his new life might take him.

Failing that, though, he entered the Top Cats’ den. The entranceway, Astor Hall, was made of all white marble. There were porticos with pagan statues and Corinthian columns so grand and mighty, even Samson with his locks at their longest, at his lion-fighting best, would have had to strain until his heart gave out to send those colossuses crashing to the ground. And then there was all the artwork on the walls that could have given a lot of the oil paintings he saw on free days at The Met a run for their money. The great unwashed sat on the steps outside or milled around in the lobby or climbed the grand staircase in awe like Simon did as he read inscriptions from past masters on sidewalls, but others looked like they were in there to do book work and live the life of the mind—the tweed-wearing types with the elbow patches, sitting at lacquered oak tables in the main reading room, going bleary-eyed over tomes lit by bronze lamps. If Sartre and Beauvoir had been New Yorkers, Simon could have seen them coming here a lot when they needed a break from café society.

Simon started taking the F train up to the New York Public Library at least a couple times a week. He’d spend hours on end in there, reading even when his mind wandered, trying his best to shut out the immensity of the city and the shock of change. It didn’t matter that it was a reference library and he couldn’t take books out. He didn’t have a library card anyway and couldn’t get one until he could show a utility bill with his name on it and there was no telling how long it’d be before he’d be able to show one of those. But he always had books of his own that he’d bought at The Strand and, since spring was on its way, he could also sit right outside in Bryant Park on warmer days and read or just plain muse and watch the London plane trees break into bud and try to make sense of how he had died to one life and was reborn into a new one that hadn’t become clear yet.

Simon still hadn’t made friends in New York but he hadn’t made that many in all his years in Wizard’s Stone either, so life in that regard was no different. But customers did chitchat with him at work and so did Paula and Margie, so there was some kind of fellowship to be had with others. Paula ran a much tighter ship than Desiree. Her kitchen was right behind the counter, not in back behind a door with only a small window to see into, so she could see almost everything that was going on and the kitchen staff couldn’t get away with as much as they could in Simon’s last job. So long as you did your work, though, Paula wouldn’t crack a whip. She was no Menard in drag.

On one of the lunch shifts, though, Chelsea Night & Day’s phone rang. Simon was hefting a tubful of dirty dishes back to the kitchen. He saw Paula pick up the phone and then lift an eyebrow as she said, “One moment please.” She held the phone out to Simon in a hand bejeweled in gold-platinum trinkets and red press-on nails. “It’s for you,” she said. Paula looked at him, pupils like the tips of ice picks. Simon stood at sea on the tile floor with dirty dishes weighing down his arms. “For me?” he asked. “For you,” she said with a lingering nod, the mascara piled-up on her lashes more ominously than the cobwebs or pentagrams on the street kids’ faces. Simon set the tub on the diner counter, but it was only after Paula affixed her fist to her hip that he realized that was a no-no thing to do. But by now, he was already on the phone, saying “Hello?,” and doing his best to pull a face that would express both confoundedness and innocence to Paula.

“Hey, retard. How come you never home?” said the voice.

“Who—?”

“You know who. The guy who’s putting your sweet ass up.”

“Sorry, Robert O. I just been busy.”

“Yeah, busy not being home. You got a boyfriend now?”

“No. No. Just been workin’.”

“Well, you’re not working next Saturday night.”

“Um…yeah…um, yeah, I am. I’m on the schedule.”

“Um, no, um, no, you’re not. Get off the schedule. We’re having a party.”

“A party?”

“You going deaf as well as absentee, bitch?”

“I’ll have to—”

“You’ll have to get your ass home that night is what you’ll have to do.”

Paula stepped a few paces closer and drummed her acrylic nails on the counter next to the tub of dirty dishes that she was making clear shouldn’t be there. Simon held his index finger up to her, the one-moment-please sign, and Paula’s fist went right back on her hip at this, but only after her eyes went popeyed behind her bifocals and she shifted her weight again, and Simon got the point that the finger gesture he’d made was an even bigger faux-pas than the tub on the counter. Simon said to Robert O, “Look, I’m not supposed to get calls at work.”

“Then get a fuckin’ cell phone. And try being home for a change. I’m not runnin’ no fleabag, where you can’t just shove off on that bed I bought for all that money—”

“I’ll be home that night,” Simon told him (and he was careful not to specify which night in front of Paula, who made up the schedule). He hung up without saying goodbye and envisaged his boss. She nodded to the dirty dishes, which Simon promptly removed from the counter. Margie came by with a wet rag and wiped off the space where the tub had been. “Thanks, Margie,” Simon said to her and turned to his boss, “Paula, I’m sorry. I never told him he could call. He looked up the number—”

Paula leaned in, “It was a mistake.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Simon said, curling the tub of dishes back up like a barbell as they ripped and burned his arm muscles.

“People make mistakes, Simon,” Paula said. Then she took a beat, this time pointing her finger upward just like he’d done, “They make ’em once with me.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Simon and, when Paula broke eye contact, he walked back into the kitchen and did the dishes at warp speed. Actually, he noted, he’d made a few mistakes before—the broken glasses; coming in late the morning after he’d had sex with Robert O—but she’d only now put him on notice.

The rest of the week came and went. Simon continued doing his best to keep his head down. He continued working whatever overtime he could and made a specter of himself in the apartment. Even so, Simon wasn’t going to get on worse paper with Paula by asking for Saturday night off like Robert O had told him. He did tell Robert O he’d be home that Saturday night, though, and he wanted to be a man of his word so he resolved to make an appearance—but…later…after the dinner shift, and even hours after that. If keeping his word to whomever he ever gave it hadn’t been such a priority to Simon, he might have slept by the kitchen door in the restaurant all weekend, lest he meet up with the kind of company he suspected someone like Robert O might keep. And who knew what kind of friends Belinda would be bringing home? No doubt the kind that kept her out all night and in bad habits this whole time up north.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his husband and two cats.

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – (Chapter Nine)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on June 17, 2014

Opium Den

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Ninth chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER NINE:

The Imaginarium of Dr. Feelgood

So, here’s what that conversation was all about…

Like the actor said, Robert O had set Simon and Belinda up in a Roche Boibois apartment of sorts and, like Simon said, it was the most spectacular residence he had seen to date, one that Robert O had in fact spent more time sprucing up than the actor had supposed. Most of the furnishings had bedecked the condo that Robert O had shared for many years with his oncologist-ex Andre on Telegraph Hill, where the decor had been even more prismatic than the local parrots’ coats. The sofa, rugs and sectionals, low-slung and exploding with colors, from top designers like Gaultier, Hopfer and Manzoni (to name a few), now occupied the lion’s share of the 400-square foot living room in Robert O’s one-bedroom apartment on Clinton Street.

For his first couple years in New York, when he was sober enough, Robert O had spent many of his days off haggling with artists in DUMBO, the Meatpacking District, Soho and the Bowery for the paintings that now lined his walls—most of them were expressionistic à la Rothko in their bold reds, blues and blacks (his interior-design consultant told him to go for those) or jubilant like Kandinsky in a kaleidoscopic vertigo of pastels and geometric shapes (some guy in a paisley ascot, who looked like he knew what he was talking about, at Södermalm Gallery, told him to go for those), though one was a naturalistic recreation of a Weimar café where a patron has his head between the wide-open legs of a chorus girl, smoking a cigarette between sets (Robert O knew nothing about pre-World War II Germany but he owned the Cabaret DVD and a couple early nineties Madonna CDs and concert t-shirts, so he impulse-bought that one). Also on every wall hung a series of mirrors in steel baroque frames to increase the main room’s sense of space, although its arabesque of reflected colors did more to make one feel trapped in a funhouse.

If anyone had pointed out to Robert O how daunting all this was to a visitor, he still would have felt he’d succeeded in his decorating mission since his presiding motto, especially when dyeing and cutting hair at the salon, was “Too Much is Better than Not Enough.” When Simon and Belinda came to stay, Robert O had added another piece of furniture to his collection, a tent bed, complete with a Stearns & Foster queen-sized mattress under a four-point canopy that had soft, translucent white drapes cascading from it. He installed the tent bed in a side corner near the window, where the two Georgia vagabonds could sleep and where there was no fear of them staining the oriental rugs that Robert O had warned everyone were from Victoire.

Simon could not help but notice the jarring contrast between the apartment and the neighborhood itself. No amount of fire-hose water or rent hikes would ever dredge up all the generations of grime that had accumulated on the brick facades of those jerrybuilt walk-ups. Slung down them in black and rust were fire escapes that reminded Simon of cages at the circus or zoo, each linked by black-and-rust iron ladders, and strangers who’d never be anything more than strangers to Simon flickered in and out of sight behind the windows, quick and enigmatic as ghosts. At any given hour, one could find at least one or two people rummaging through trashcans on the block with steely resolve, as though their pride were on its way to the city dump along with everything they’d chosen not to salvage out of the bags on the sidewalk.

Robert O’s building stood apart from everything around it, though. For one thing, it was only twelve years old. There was no grit on its golden yellow bricks yet. It looked more like something on its way to Oz than something that should be rising out of the grunge-caked sidewalk. Unlike anywhere else up the street, if graffiti went up, his building’s super would swash it over with masonry paint the same day. If anyone grubbed through the dumpster, the manager would be right out to tell them to wait till the bags are on the curb on Friday. Neighborhood stalwarts remarked that this building must have slipped right under the Landmark and Preservation Commission’s noses and the more the warhorses looked at it, the more they clung to their landmark and rent-control statuses and petitioned the governor to build more affordable housing and keep their low rents low.

Robert O’s building had debuted in the shadow of so many of the bistros and specialty-cocktail bars that had sprung up like ritzy weeds near Tompkins Square Park. That’s why he lived there. Robert O liked the neighborhood’s boho-chic but always scowled at the garbage-pickers, who reminded him too much of the days when there was no work and his family had to scrounge, scrape and scavenge for food in the dusty roads, highways and fields outside Laredo. Now that he had shoes on his feet, good shoes, and his income and rent were high and his hair and clothes were clean, mostly dry-cleaned, he wanted to see success and nothing but success surrounding him at all times, even if it came in a thin veneer of trash. “So, let’s see what happens with this twink,” he’d told Belinda on the phone before she’d driven out of Whimbrel Creek with Simon.

If it weren’t for all the drugs they trafficked into the apartment, all from right down the block, Robert O and Belinda’s little Pygmalion experiment might have worked. No doubt, Simon made for quite the nouveau Eliza Doolittle, chased out of the Bible belt with a deer-hunting rifle, making his way through the concrete jungle, where he suffers from ice cream headaches because he eats too fast. The right impresario could have trained this babe from the backwoods, trotted him out, made him make some sort of society splash and put him on the circuit with ballads about how he emerged from nothing like Leigh Bowery and, from nothing, managed to set the big-time ablaze. But Robert O and Belinda never drew up any grand plan for Simon beyond getting him up to the big city, getting him in the right hair and wardrobe and seeing how much he’ll get laid and how much he’ll change as a result of getting laid. But the more Robert O and Belinda caught up on old times, the more their drug use escalated until they became more Sid and Nancy than Higgins and Pickering, and all but forgot about Simon.

As Simon’s first month at Robert O’s wound down, he had seen more than he’d ever cared to see of Robert O and Belinda’s booze and their weed and he had seen all too much of the coke and meth and even the heroin they took to snorting on Robert O’s Bassett Mirror table. Simon wouldn’t touch so much as a drop or a speck of it himself, so he spent as little time as possible in the apartment. Otherwise, he told himself, he might end up like Robert O, whose assistant had a key to his apartment so she could come drag him out of bed, sometimes in mid-afternoon, and stand him up and slap him awake under a cold shower, all so he could go tend to whatever high-profile client had been waiting for him for over an hour. Lucky for Robert O he had talent and could do even an emperor’s wedding party stoned, but Simon suspected luck had a way of running out even on the luckiest hophead, and he also knew busboys were more fungible than lead stylists, so Simon stayed clean and made it to work early and stayed late.

As for Belinda, the job hunt had worked out for her almost as well as it had for Simon. She did a quick scan of craigslist’s want ads and went on to land bartending spots at Mars Bar on 1st Street and 2nd Avenue and Lucky 13 Saloon in Park Slope. Both were punk bars, so she never had to pump herself up to achieve any kind of Über-professional persona before walking into work like office people do. Off the clock, she could do whatever she wanted and sleep however late she wanted and still come on strong for the night shift. Afterhours on weekends, she was out with Robert O or any of the number of friends she started making through her jobs while Simon would sit home and hit the books (novels, mostly, by names he remembered from Beauvoir’s index) now that he didn’t have school and knew he needed whatever smarts he could muster now that he found himself so out of his league in the big leagues.

Simon imagined Belinda was more than canny enough to hold her own in the naked city but he lamented how he hadn’t seen her with a book since that day at Copenhagen Essentials, how she was frying away what could have been a great mind, one he wished he had, at least when it came to IQ. Simon often looked back on one night when Belinda had sat in Desiree’s and shown him all her tattoos, at least all the ones Desiree would let her show in her restaurant. She had lots of crazy buddhas from a long time ago that she’d found in a picture book on Mahassidas at Cody’s Books in Berkeley but she admitted she wasn’t a Buddhist and never even meditated so Simon didn’t see the sense in gawking at iconography that only went skin-deep. But he stared a good long time at the tattoo of Morgain, goddess of Avalon, shrouded in Medieval mists on Belinda’s inner right arm after Belinda said she’d gotten it after reading a book called Mists of Avalon and her eyes went wild as she described how the women of Avalon worshipped their own bodies and how having Morgain on her arm was a constant reminder to her to do the same. Belinda still smoked a lot of cigarettes and pot but Simon was thrilled that, somewhere in that wacky-tobacky mist, she at least had the intention of going clean. Then she moved to New York. Now even the intention behind the Morgain tattoo had gone up in smoke.

Simon never expressed his sorrow over this to Belinda, though. Anyway he barely ever saw her anymore, except when he would wake up in bed next to her. He knew Robert O wasn’t going to let them freeload forever but Robert O never fixed any kind of end date either, so Simon held on to his wages (which was easy to do since Belinda still hadn’t taken him up to Citibank to set up an account like she said she would) and hoped Belinda hadn’t been spending too much of hers, though she already was doing a bang-up job of squandering the money Hilda had given them.

As for the mismatch between Simon’s job and clothes, it turned out Margie and Paula had nothing to worry about when they saw Simon donning his glorious raiments on his first day of work. He’d assured them when they asked that he didn’t dress himself, the people he was living with did, but he rolled up those silk sleeves and got to bussing and scrubbing as only a Wizard’s Stone stepchild could. Even so, it took a couple weeks to sell them on what a hard worker he was, but this is where living at Robert O’s helped—not wanting to go back to the apartment, he’d ask for whatever extra shifts were available. Often he’d work a triple. Sometimes he’d work the breakfast shift and hang around in back reading books he’d bought by the pound at The Strand until he’d have to go back on the floor to work the dinner and graveyard shifts.

New York itself was still too much for Simon to take in, so he preferred to stay within Chelsea Night & Day’s four walls instead of venturing out between shifts. Long hours and dishpan hands were never any big deal to him. He needed the money so he was all gung-ho for going into a bathroom stall before work and stepping out of his new glad rags and into the uniform Paula had given him, which was all white cotton, just like at Desiree’s. And Paula couldn’t help but notice the new cache of regulars the restaurant was reining in once word got out about the cute southern busboy with the dyed hair. Soon enough whatever open shifts Simon wanted, he was more than welcome to and Paula let him eat whatever he wanted for free, which meant he didn’t have to spend on groceries and get dirty looks eking out space in Robert O’s fridge.

In short, all habits aside, all three inhabitants of Robert O’s Clinton Street apartment were good enough at their jobs to keep them, at least for the time being, but Simon learned from the gate that even functional users weren’t always so functional when it came to cleaning up after themselves. It was bad enough Belinda left her dirty bras and panties all over the floor instead of putting them in the laundry bag, but a few times, she’d passed out after a night out and had accidents in bed and it fell to Simon to clean it all up, even though every time he’d just come home from working a double or triple and was tottering on his aching feet. Twice he’d even had to drag Belinda’s dead weight to the tub and clean her up like a pig in slop or something just as far down from Simone de Beauvoir, and even though Simon felt no temptation to sin with her, it still felt sinful looking at, scrubbing down and sleeping next to a naked woman who wasn’t and never would be his wife. Then again, Simon started thinking to himself, who’d want to make a wife out of a woman who goes to the bathroom all over herself like that, on top of everything else? Lucky for Belinda, Simon was handy with cleaning products and laundry needs or Robert O might have shown them both the door their first week. And lucky for Robert O, who hadn’t always made it to the toilet either after binges, he had both Simon and a cleaning lady who came in twice a week to keep his sty in style.

The best investment Simon had made in his time at Robert O’s, besides in books, had been in a $1.58 pack of earplugs from Duane Reade. Simon had just started reading Balzac, specifically Lost Illusions, and he was entranced by how the character Lucien Chardon hailed from the provinces, just like Simon and, just like Simon, found himself thrust into too big a beau monde. Simon also pawed a good deal through a 1977 edition of the Webster’s Dictionary, one he’d excavated from a remainder bin at The Strand so he could bone up on Lost Illusions’s big words and esoteric allusions like “aleatory,” “oleaginous” and “Janus head.” Often the translator left in French phrases that Webster’s didn’t have definitions for, but Simon just skipped over those, suspecting he’d know them some day when he got better educated. Lost Illusions was over 650 pages in small print, just like The Second Sex, so Simon felt like he was scaling a whole new mountain of erudition and the abecedarian’s story was taking Simon into a whole other time and country, so he plugged up his ears to stay focused on the story, or, on something other than his roiling belly and quaking hands as the same fire that had burned up his past refused to illuminate a single instant of his future.

Even when Simon had the apartment to himself, staying focused on the book proved no easy task, given all the noise on Clinton Street, but it proved insurmountable the few nights Robert O had decided to stay in too. While cranking VH1 or some equally obstreperous cable station, Robert O would hang on his cell phone, smoking joints and Dunhills and saying things he knew Simon could hear through his earplugs like: “So, our lil Eliza’s in tonight—Eliza-doing-little, Eliza-saying-nothing, Eliza-paying-nothing…Yeah, he’s cute. So what? So was I when I was his age…No, no rent money yet, but there are ways of making lil Eliza—Liza!—pay.” Robert O would laugh after saying these things, so Simon just chalked it up to so much pettiness; plus Menard used to say a whole lot worse, so it was nothing more than white noise to Simon’s ears, which he pretended were too stuffed up with foam to hear a thing Robert O was saying.

But one night—another one of those nights Robert O had also decided to stay home—Simon had a dream. He didn’t know he was dreaming at first. A couple minutes earlier, he had been at least half-awake in the tent-bed, sitting up and reading all about Lucien Chardon’s forays into Paris’s salons. Now, though, he saw that the tent-bed he’d been sitting up in wasn’t in Robert O’s apartment anymore. It was stationed on the sidewalk outside Chelsea Night & Day Diner. He was still in the bed and it was still nighttime but now he was wearing white pajamas of a much finer silk than the black pajamas he’d gone to bed in, the ones Robert O had bought him at Macy’s. Candles were lit all around him and white incense smoke plumed above his head. A couple sewer rats streaked by on 7th Avenue and the pavement was scored with the same kind of encrusted black gum and gook that Simon had espied on the sidewalks to and from work all this past month. His eyes raced every which way until they settled on an old Chinese man, who was dressed in the same white silk that Simon found himself wearing. The old Chinese man bowed to Simon and held out a hand to Chelsea Night & Day’s door as if to conduct Simon through it.

Simon had heard good things about Chinese people, although the first time he’d ever seen one in the flesh had been that time he’d driven out of the Holland Tunnel with Belinda but, ever since then, he’d been seeing them everywhere, except they weren’t always Chinese like Simon thought, sometimes they were Korean or Japanese or Thai or Cambodian or from countries (or at least partly descending from countries) Simon had only heard about in passing. In any event, he saw them all over New York now and sometimes he cleared their plates at Chelsea Night & Day, but if they’d ever set foot in Simon’s part of Georgia, Simon had never seen or heard about the incident.

One time, though, Menard had invited a Reverend Saber to take the pulpit at Calvary to share his experiences of Christianizing the eastern world. Reverend Saber held forth on how people from the Orient were easily redeemable because they were descendents of Noah’s greatest son Shem—unlike the Africans and their diaspora, sons and daughters of Ham, the son whom Saber said “took advantage of Noah in the vilest of ways” and who was “the progenitor of the race who,” according to Saber, has needed all the luck it could get finding redemption ever since “God-fearing plantation masters were outlawed from keeping them in line with the Living Word.” All this said and done, Reverend Saber brought his own son, also named Noah, who had just graduated from Oral Roberts University, up to the pulpit.

Simon, then 14, had snapped to attention when he saw Noah Saber at the microphone. In a low, sonorous drawl, Noah spoke of how he’d accompanied his father on a Liberty Missionary Fellowship to China. Noah elevated his chin and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down in an even rhythm as he stressed the need for more Christian missionaries to counteract the spread of Islam in X’ian and Linxia Hui. Simon’s eyes had been a lot more open than his ears, though, as they riveted on to Noah’s honey-dark skin, sapphire blue eyes and lean, sinewy body belying the white Oxford Shirt, brown-and-pink striped tie and navy blue suit coat. Simon had to cover his crotch with his arms as he watched Noah mouth the words “brothels,” “iniquity” and “opium.” Simon’s breath caught. It was all he could do to keep his hands gripping his arms and his arms on his lap to further conceal the effect Noah was having on him in church that day. Menard took the pulpit next and invited everyone back to the house for refreshments but Simon never dreamed Noah would come too, not until Simon walked into his own living room to see Noah holding a paper plate and eating a piece of lemon-vanilla cake that Simon’s mother had whipped up from a Betty Crocker box that morning. Not only did Simon get to shake Noah’s hand but, about half an hour later, he found himself sitting next to him on the calico-covered couch. Reverend Saber pointed at Simon and said to Noah, “Think we got a future candidate for a China fellowship here?” And that’s when it happened: Noah put his arm around Simon and said, “Could be.”

Not for all the tea in China would Simon have moved from that calico-covered seat. Noah did not take his arm out from around Simon for the rest of the hour as guests milled about in their Sunday best, thinking nothing of Noah’s half-embrace of Simon, though it went on a full 48 minutes. Simon knew he couldn’t take his arms off his own lap through it all, not even to reach for his punch cup, not if he valued his life. When it came time to stand up, Simon held his King James Bible upright below his belt, excused himself to the bathroom, and didn’t come back out until he could say goodbye with impunity. Last Simon heard of Noah, he was back in China, but the memory of that time on the couch would live in Simon’s cells to the grave, and now it was making its way into Simon’s dream.

The Chinese man in white silk smiled and nodded to Simon. Simon left the tent-bed, whose sheets and curtains rustled in the 7th Avenue winds. Simon walked barefoot to the door and turned around and bowed to the Chinese man before going in. Chelsea Night & Day didn’t look itself inside. All its tables, chairs, booths, dividers, even its kitchen had been cleared out. In their place stood a large, dark room, lit by candles, much like the ones on the sidewalk. Arabian pillows and cushions dotted the floor with people of all races either passed out or fornicating on them. Another tent-bed, just like the one he’d fallen asleep in and just like the one on the sidewalk, stood dead center as the room’s lone piece of standup furniture. Propped up on pillows, smoking a hookah and wearing the same white pajamas as Simon and the Chinese host, was none other than Noah Saber, looking as young and as good as he did at Calvary’s pulpit.

Noah seemed to have aborted his missionary mission. He seemed to have taken to the very things he’d denounced that day at Calvary—brothels, iniquity, opium. Simon kept hearing those same three words, in that same order, whispered throughout the room over a lush string arrangement from exotic instruments Simon had no recollection of ever having heard in real life. Who knows?, Simon thought as the music played and he crawled on to the bed where Noah smoked, Maybe Noah Saber is one of those Muslims now? Noah exhaled smoke and offered Simon the pipe. Brothels, iniquity, opium. To Simon’s own surprise, he took it and imbibed it. Noah put his arm around Simon’s back like he had a long time ago on the calico-covered couch but he didn’t stop there. He traced the side of Simon’s face with his index finger, hooked him under the chin, and brought Simon’s lips to his before inserting his tongue into Simon’s virgin mouth. Simon had heard people did these things when kissing but it always sounded disgusting. Now, though, Simon laid back to take Noah’s tongue in all the more as Noah’s embrace went from half to full and Noah sprawled his tawny, silk-covered body out on top of Simon. Brothels, iniquity, opium.

In waking life, Simon stirred and twisted on the tent-bed in Robert O’s apartment. The dream faded but he wanted to be back in it so he kept his eyes closed and pressed his hand over the space where Noah’s back had been. Simon found, though, that in flesh-and-bone reality he was drawing a real figure to himself, something other than the air he’d been expecting to find, something he could feel, something flesh-and-bone, something that weighed on him. Feeling two tongues in his mouth, Simon opened his eyes and awakened with a start to find Robert O looking down at him. “Shhhh,” Robert O put his finger over Simon’s lips, “Don’t be scared, lil Liza. I’m just showing you how it’s done.” Robert O had already unbuttoned Simon’s black pajama shirt and his lips travelled one kiss at a time down Simon’s chest and stomach as he untied the belt to Simon’s black pajama bottoms. At first, Simon closed his eyes, hoping to bring Noah Saber back to mind, but the Liberty Missionary Fellow and Oral Roberts grad faded from focus as Simon opened a whole new set of eyes to Robert O, who’d always seemed too dangerous to contemplate before now.

Yet Simon noticed that Robert O was even darker than Noah and he had a firm, if bony, body and he knew what he was doing as he took Simon’s bulging erection deep into his mouth, letting it glide from his lips all the way to the back of his throat and back again, and again. Simon arched into his pillows, closed his eyes and took a few long, slow, deep breaths until an oceanic feeling settled into his body. Robert O crept back up, kissed Simon’s lips and with unaccustomed gentleness turned Simon around. Simon could hear a wrapper crinkle open and a light snapping sound behind him. Robert O said, “You’ll feel a little pain, but it’s good pain, trust me.” No sooner did Simon close his eyes and cringe than he relaxed and let it happen, only to find that, whatever the eternal consequences, there was something good about the pain.

Simon was late to work the next morning. Only about 10 minutes late but still late enough for Paula to notice. Paula didn’t feel she could bawl him out for it, though, since Simon was always early, by a lot, unlike everybody else she’d ever hired. Besides she wagered that something’s gotta give when a boy so young is picking up so many shifts. Simon had a whole sink full of dishes waiting for him, which was good because he didn’t want to be out on the floor now. He didn’t want to be around people. He wanted to be steeped in suds and dishes so he could be alone with his memories of the middle of the night and his fantasies of more to come. He wanted to get into some kind of flow with rinsing dishes and loading and unloading the hulking steel dishwasher, a flow that could reinstate the oceanic feeling he’d been up with all night.

As he worked, Simon’s mind kept drifting back to the dream he’d had about Noah Saber and, better still, the reality he’d woken up to with Robert O. He thought of how he’d ended up on top of Robert O. He’d been running his fingertips over Robert O’s ribcage and nipples. It was the first naked chest he’d ever done that to, other than his own. In fact, he’d straddled Robert O. Isn’t that what someone who knows what they’re doing does? And yet he did it on his first time.

Simon got so swept up in these ruminations that, when he went back on the floor to get to clearing and setting tables, he dropped a whole tray of glasses and dishes. A saucer and three water glasses broke. Customers gaped. Paula didn’t have to say much about it. Just, “What’s with you today?” but that alone was enough to snap Simon out of dreamland. He went and got a mop, rag, and broom. As he swept up the broken pieces, he slipped a shard from one of the water glasses into his apron pocket. He silently warned himself that he’d prick himself with it next time he got lost in daydreams about Robert O. He couldn’t afford to lose this job.

Still and all, Robert O had shown Simon something he’d never expected, something that felt good, something hard to keep his mind off. Simon’s conditioning had left him thinking he’d done a bad thing and he’d long been told bad things tend to feel good, at least at first, or else people wouldn’t do them. He also began to consider, though, that maybe the dogmatists were wrong and also maybe he’d misjudged Robert O. Maybe there was something soft under Robert O’s rough edges that just needed a little love and coaxing to come out. He wondered if it might be worth seeing if Robert O was his mission, what fate had driven him out of Wizard’s Stone for. Maybe with a little rehabilitation and encouragement, Robert O could prove a prince among men.

Soon, Simon had stopped volunteering for overtime at Chelsea Night & Day. He started going straight home at the end of each shift. He wanted to be there in case Robert O might decide to stay in too. Night after night, Simon still would find himself all alone with Balzac, though, and any number of other books he could no longer keep his mind on in the motley apartment. Simon would wait up but neither Robert O nor Belinda would come home until well after he’d fallen asleep, if even then.

Yet after ten days of waiting up nights, Simon woke up at about 2 am to hear Robert O snoring in his room. Simon got out of the tent-bed naked and tiptoed over to the bathroom, where he sprayed his whole chest with the Armani aftershave that Robert O kept by the sink. Simon inched open Robert O’s door as bands of moonlight and city lights cast over the slung-out figure of a sleeper, many fathoms under from liquor, drugs and work (but mostly the first two). Simon crawled into bed next to Robert O and stroked himself as he kissed Robert O’s jaw and cheekbone. Robert O lay motionless. He’d managed to struggle out of all his clothes before passing out, except for a t-shirt with a print of a nude Bjork covering herself with a frond as she laughs and frolics through a pastoral fen. By the time Robert O felt a thing, Simon’s tongue was in his ear—and not just the tip but the whole amateur mass of it.

Robert O wrenched up to sitting position. Simon gave a sly smile and said, “Don’t worry. It’s just me.” Robert O gathered up his comforter and blankets and lurched back. “What’s wrong?” Simon said. “Fuck off!” Robert O shook. Simon said, “It’s just me. Simon. Here. Look,” and Simon turned on the lamp revealing the whole scrawny length and breadth of himself. Robert O brought his comforter and blanket in all the more, covering as much of himself as he could. He shot Simon a look that Simon had only seen on cornered raccoons. This wasn’t the same rapier who could yawn and cut someone to ribbons at the same time. This wasn’t the same rake who’d turned up in his bed ten days ago. This was someone or something as ferine, wretched and, for some reason, scared as a baited raccoon. Robert O might as well have been frothing at the mouth for how lupine his eyes looked. Simon wanted to say he was sorry but he didn’t want to be told to fuck off again. And it was obvious Robert O was coming down off something, or many things, so Simon backed out of the room and closed the door behind him as Robert O wept and hyperventilated.

Once in the main room, Simon put his pajamas back on and jumped back in bed, bracing himself for Robert O to come out and tear the place apart and Simon with it. But minutes passed and all Simon heard was some rustling, followed by a cold silence that did not stir as the hours passed. By and by, Simon managed to lie back. He closed his eyes and pulled the covers up to his chin, but it was a full hour before he could fall asleep again and, when he did, he woke up within fifteen minutes with his heart battering like a newly caged bird against his ribs.

By now, it was five a.m., so Simon decided to wake up and get ready to head down to the restaurant to get an early jump on his morning shift. After washing the aftershave off his chest and brushing his teeth, Simon came out of the bathroom to find that Belinda had come home and crashed on his side of the tent-bed with her black Subhumans t-shirt still on and her boots, jeans and panties kicked off. Simon walked up and saw there were now scabs and bruises on the Morgain tattoo on Belinda’s inner right arm. He covered Belinda with their 1,000-thread-count Egyptian cotton comforter while she moaned to be left alone. He hoped that, after work, he wouldn’t have to put all the bedclothes through an emergency wash cycle like those other times Belinda had been at her passed-out worst.

The first thing Simon did when he got to Chelsea Night & Day was ask Paula if he could work overtime. She said, “Sure, hon,” and he went off to clear tables.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his husband and two cats.

A SORCERER ON MONTMARTRE – (CHAPTER EIGHT)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on June 16, 2014

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A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Sixth chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER EIGHT:

RAMSHACKLE

Not six weeks into his new life in the City that Never Sleeps, Simon found himself on his knees in a ramshackle East Williamsburg apartment, kissing the crotch of a blue-eyed, black-haired actor’s blue jeans.

“What are you doing?” asked the actor.

“Paying up-front,” said Simon.

“I didn’t say you had to pay.”

“Everything has a price.”

“Shit. That sounds so canned. Who taught you shit like that?”

“Just learned it being around.”

“Around? Boy, you just got here.”

“Learned it just by livin’ and breathin’.”

“You’re what, 18? 19? You’ve hardly lived yet—and you’re breathing out a lot of hot air in my kitchen, is what you’re breathing. And this is not a good way to start out, especially in this town.—Here. Get off your knees. Just have, have some tea. It’s made now.” The actor turned off the heat on the front burner and took the kettle off it. “This is a shit habit to get into, Simon.”

“You don’t want it.”

“No, I don’t want it. Get up. And my boyfriend doesn’t want it he gets back either.”

“Just trying to pay you.”

“You have no idea the ditch you’ll end up in if this is what you—I told you you can stay for a while. I didn’t say nothin’ about payment.”

The actor poured Simon a cup of hot water and dropped in a bag of black Lipton. He pulled out a kitchen chair and Simon sat down in it, shaking.

“Everything has a price,” Simon repeated.

“You mean he had a price.”

“Who?”

“The Roche Bobois apartment guy.”

“The what?”

“It’s a furniture store. Gotta say, your friend knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, don’t he?”

“You just make that up?”

“No. I wish. Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde.”

“Rush Boo—”

Roche. Roche. Roche Bobois. Stan works there. In Midtown.”

“Rush. Rush Boo—”

“Stan’s getting back from Pennsylvania in another couple hours. I’m gonna have to tell him what happened. I’m sorry, Simon. It’s the only way he’ll agree—”

“Boo-bois. I like that. Is it all French stuff?”

“Looks like your friend just bought up a showroom floor and passed it off as his own nuanced taste. Sure his asshole friends don’t know the difference.”

“I was amazed by it.”

“Oh, Simon.”

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010)He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his husband and two cats.