StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

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

Image

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.

A SORCERER ON MONTMARTRE – (CHAPTER SEVEN)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on June 16, 2014

soho

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 SEVEN:

LOOSENING-UP

Simon did get a new sweater the next day, more than one (ones that fit), along with a top-to-bottom makeover, starting with his hair. Robert O’s styling credentials in San Francisco, as well as all the hair shows he’d either won or placed in both cross-country and in Europe, had opened doors for him in Manhattan by the time he’d decided to relocate there three years before. He’d had his pick of the litter when it came to finding a spot in a high-end salon, so he took a booth at Copenhagen Essentials, a premium Fifth Avenue salon where head stylists often give $600 haircuts to the kind of A-List clients who can afford them. This is where Robert O took Simon and he quoted the $600 price to Simon again and again, from the time his assistant first brought him to the shampoo sink, reminding Simon just as often that he would be performing his services free-of-charge. Much like the night before, Robert O said precious little else to Simon, who knew too little about the world to know there’s no such thing as free-of-charge when Robert O is behind the chair.

When Simon came back from the sink, his chin-length wet mop of dark brown hair left Robert O with no less than a wheat field of split ends to thresh down. Robert O didn’t ask Simon what style he wanted. He’d already appraised Simon’s face and had a Layer Cut in mind, the kind he had given to male models on catwalks from L.A. to Hamburg for the past few years. Every now and then, from across the room, Belinda would look up from her book—a raggedy paperback copy of The Loved One, which she’d picked up for a few bucks down the street at The Strand—to hear clippers roaring and see whole Gryphon wings of hair flying off the back of Simon’s head. Belinda smiled, wishing she could see his Simon’s face too but Robert O was jumping around like a monkey on a stovetop full of hot skillets, attacking Simon’s erstwhile hairdo on all fronts and monopolizing all his station’s mirrors in the process. In next to no time, Simon’s hair was cut medium short and Robert O was already going in to texturize the top with a razor. Once that process was completed, Robert O’s assistant shampooed Simon a second time before helping Robert O apply tiny foils to a new array of blond and red highlights. After all the color had processed and Simon’s hair was washed and blow-dried one last time, Robert O shagged out the new style with his fingertips before applying Pierre Cardin’s American Crew Pomade and dabbing Simon’s neck with Armani aftershave. Lastly, he dusted off his neck with Taylor of London talcum powder.

Simon had never asked to be Cinderella on her big night out, but this new cut was proof positive that he had been spirited away from Wizard’s Stone every bit as much as the redheaded stepchild had been spirited away in her pumpkin carriage. He kept looking in the mirror, running his fingers through his hair and over his forehead as if to see whether his face had managed to make it out of the makeover in tact. He even pawed at the air where his weighty locks used to be, still taking in how much more than just his hair had vanished these past several days.

“I think you mean to say thank-you,” Robert O snarled, putting his clippers and shears away.

While this transformation was still too new for Simon to be altogether sure he was altogether pleased, he erred on the southern side of telling a polite lie, “I can’t thank you enough.”

“That’s right you, you can’t,” said Robert O, not even looking at him.

Belinda sashayed over, “Thought up some threads to stuff him in?”

“Hmmm…Do we want him warding off angels like you do, Mortitia?”

“Nah-uh, sugar,” Belinda said, spreading out her hands in self-presentation, “Mine is a signature style. Simon is way too nice for it.”

“Fine. We’ll go get him something off the rack.”

Robert O left his assistant to clean up the tonnage of hair on the floor and, since Simon was his only client on what otherwise would have been his day off, he grabbed his coat and Simon’s hand and herded him and Belinda out the door. First, Robert O and Belinda took Simon down to Soho, where they fitted him with form-fitting sweaters from DKNY, black leather zipper boots and a black leather jacket from Kenneth Cole, along with back-in-vogue plain white Nikes and a few pairs of Levis in varying shades of blue. From there, they took him up to Macy’s on 34th Street, where Simon left the various retailers with bagsful of Merino wool sweaters and scarves, silk button-down long sleeve shirts, and even a pair of black silk pajamas, so he no longer would have to sleep in a 1940s nightgown or in the nude, like he had done with Belinda the night before (and he could have sworn she’d gotten handsy when she’d gotten back from the clubs, though he was half-asleep, so he couldn’t say for sure). Then there were pairs of Calvin Klein underwear, dress socks and even a good stock of athletic socks, odds-and-ends that added up to a high-end bill. It was all paid for too, on Robert O’s platinum AmEx card and from over one grand of Belinda’s get-out-and-stay-out stash, which Simon had told her she shouldn’t spend on trifles but she’d told him to shut the fuck up so he did.

The outlay of this new haul put Simon into a greater state of shock than anything that had transpired up to now, although he did manage to say thank-you a plethora of times but his thank-yous were not met with you’re-welcomes but rather with stony silence and a lot of cursory up-and-down looks. Simon had become a clotheshorse and he didn’t know why, but rather than questioning it, he just decided to go with it and, in the meantime, admired his sudden style reflected back to him in store windows as he walked to the subway home with Belinda and Robert O.

Simon said, “I don’t know how they’ll like this at work tomorrow.”

Robert O said, “With any luck, they won’t.”

“Why would that be lucky?” asked Simon.

“Wise up, Simon,” said Belinda, “You think you can get by here just picking up dishes and washing them?”

“I’m gonna have to.”

Robert O blew a stream of smoke from the Dunhill he’d just lit, “A little loosening up’ll set him straight.”

That line hung around in Simon’s mind a lot longer than Robert O’s cigarette smoke did on 7th Avenue. The “set him straight” part, Simon could understand. He was the first to admit how much he didn’t know and, looking in any direction of this newfound Babylon, he knew he was getting only the faintest intimation of how much was around to school him in the things he ought to know. But “loosening up”? Simon thought all that was over and done with now that they were actually paying for the stuff they were walking out of shops with, yet it seemed Robert O and Belinda had other practices in mind too. But Simon said nothing, nothing at all the whole rest of the night, which wasn’t hard since Robert O and Belinda just went on talking to each other, about old times—which mainly consisted of times they’d gotten wasted together and what they’d gotten wasted on—as though Simon weren’t even in the room.

Meanwhile, he just sat saying silent prayers—though he wasn’t sure whom he was saying them to anymore now that he was doing his level best to be a nonbeliever, Sartre-Beauvoir-style. Nonetheless, he prayed that he could toe the line at Chelsea Night & Day Diner so he could wean himself off Robert O and Belinda’s meal ticket, especially now that his keepers had made it known that what they had in mind for him was a lot of loosening-up, whatever that meant to them. And whatever it meant, somewhere in between the after-dinner bong Belinda and Robert O smoked and the lines of coke they did, Simon had decided he wasn’t going to join in any of their kind of loosening-up, lest he become the prodigal son, booted back home to a shotgun-toting daddy who’d do to him what the daddy in scripture did to the fatted calf.

When Simon walked into his first day of work the following afternoon, Paula greeted him at the hostess stand with a few menus in hand, “Hi, sweetie, how many of you will there be?” Simon said, “Paula, it’s me…Simon.” Paula said nothing but peered closer. Simon said, “I came Saturday. I’m here to start work.” She looked at his ensemble. It wasn’t anything like what he was wearing Saturday and it wasn’t anything a busboy would wear.

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 Six)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on June 12, 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 SIX:

CHELSEA NIGHT & DAY

Once past Canal Street, Belinda and Simon were well on their way to Chelsea Night & Day Diner, courtesy of Mapquest, which they had logged on to one night at an Econo Lodge in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, while they both had been wearing Nuetrogena mud masks and a couple Rita Hayworth-era nightgowns that Belinda had picked up thrift-diving in her days out west. If that weren’t enough, they also had been watching All About Eve on Turner Classic Movies. It was one of the first movies Simon had seen that didn’t involve either Bible patriarchs or Charlton Heston, so he had scarcely been able to tear his eyes off the TV screen long enough to map the best route from the Holland Tunnel to 7th Avenue and 14th Street.

No matter how hooked he had been on the title character’s cunning, though, it wasn’t enough to keep his mind off all the drag on his own body. The letters where St. Paul inveighs against the Romans doing these kinds of things had scrolled through his mind on continuous loop, but he’d told himself the second-hand, crepe-de-chine nightgown was all there was for him to sleep in since he didn’t have pajamas (they weren’t in either of the Hefty bags he’d snatched from Menard’s lawn). It hadn’t been long, though, before he was flouncing around the motel room like Caligula in his seashell-collecting phase, doing Anne Baxter and Bette Davis impressions from the moment the end credits had rolled, and Belinda, guzzling New Amsterdam Gin straight out of the bottle, had been thrilled to see he had it in him—he’d need it for where they were going.

Simon could see why they called Sixth Avenue, Avenue of the Americas. It looked like everyone from both American continents—and most of Asia, Africa, Europe and maybe even Antarctica—had either driven in to clog up traffic or had at some point parachuted in to swamp the sidewalks. He had long heard you practically had to rob a bank to pay a month’s rent in the buildings they drove past, but the facades were still as grimy and sooty as the garbage-laden pavement. Imposing as they were in their dirt and dominion from Soho to the Village, the buildings seemed to grow even taller and bolder the farther they edged uptown, and the horizon promised no end of towers. However, just as Belinda turned west to go to Seventh Avenue and Simon wondered if he would ever find any room to breathe in this megalopolis, a parking spot opened up right in front of Chelsea Night & Day and they were able to pull right into it.

“I’m calling Robert O,” said Belinda as she threw blankets over their bags in the backseat. Simon stepped out of the car, fed the meter with a stack of quarters and walked to the middle of the sidewalk as Belinda made her call from the curb. A light snow started swirling around Simon as he stood stock-still among the masses thronging down the avenue on this leaden-sky, late-winter Saturday afternoon. He knew he was pushing his luck by taking up space where there was none, but no one hassled him. In fact, one woman accidentally bumped into him and said, “Oh, I’m sorry,” and he said, “No trouble at all, ma’am,” and she looked back and smiled at his civility. Everybody else just weaved around him like creek water to a boulder. In the course of only a couple minutes, he had already seen several men holding hands with other men, some while carrying shopping bags, and nobody hassled them either. No one made it their business like they would have in Wizard’s Stone.

As Belinda wrapped up her phone call, Simon turned one way, slowly, and looked in the eyes of a man in a camelhair overcoat, who walked toward him and past him. Simon noted, That guy doesn’t want to beat me up. He turned another way and made eye contact with a tough-looking Italian guy in a black leather jacket, who also kept walking past. Him either, Simon observed, even if I am…y’know…the third sex. His soul thrilled at how he was still standing on the same slab of concrete, not getting knocked over. If I knew any songs from that cat show Connie saw at that Winter Garden place, he told himself, I might be singin’ ’em now!—heck, if it’s still in town, maybe I’ll even go see it…once I’m settled in.

Belinda grabbed his arm and marched him to the restaurant door. “He’s meeting us here,” she said, “He works nearby.” Simon left his feel-good moment behind and opened the frosted glass door for Belinda like a gentleman, a hoary patriarchal custom Simon suspected Beauvoir would have abhorred but Belinda knew Simon could never shake as a southerner.

Once inside, Belinda unwrapped her long black scarf and soaked up the atmosphere. In one corner sat a preoperative transgender female with beefy forearms, a mane of goldilocks ringlets and stubble that was only a week or so away from growing into a full beard. She was drinking hot cocoa in a booth with a frowsy old man who wore a blue Yankees cap, a red plaid flannel shirt, and gray polyester pants held up by both suspenders and a belt. The trans woman seemed to be doing all the talking and all the gesticulating at the table as the old man warmed his palms on his cocoa, with his head down, half-listening in the same daze it looked like he’d been in for years. Some other tables were full of much younger men—white, black, Filipino, Puerto Rican—dressed with much more expense and savvy than the old man, many of them with big muscles that showed through their shirts and sweaters as each vied to get a word in at their tables with as much avidity and gesticulation as the old man’s companion, often forgetting all they’d been fighting to say as a result. Over the crackling speakers, Carolyn Johnson from The Exciters warbled something about how she knows something about love. A few old ladies in fuzzy sweaters were having Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger or Darjeeling tea with cherry pie, carrying on like gravel-voiced sopranos doing recitatives in a yenta operetta. A longtime unwashed man in longtime unwashed clothes stood stooped at the side counter and the cashier came by with a bag of leftovers for him from the kitchen. “Here ya go, hun,” she said, “A whole bag. Just take it outside, ’kay? We’re pretty slammed.”

As the stooped-shouldered vagrant shuffled out, the same cashier-cum-hostess came up to Belinda with a couple menus (never minding Belinda’s black-arts appearance, Simon noted, she just didn’t seem to care like places back home did), “Hi, sweetie. Two?”

“There’ll be three, actually,” Belinda answered, “But my other friend will be a while.”

As they followed the cashier-cum-hostess to their table, Belinda rubbed Simon’s arm. “Good call, kid,” she said, looking around the room. Never before this moment had Simon felt two high-highs in a single day, but now not only had he had his sidewalk epiphany but he-who-knew-nothing-about-the-world had shown something new to she-who-knew-all, she who had ten years on him and had brought him all this way.

Simon took off his rust-orange down jacket (providentially, it was in one of the Hefty bags he’d seized, unlike his p.j.’s) and rubbed his hands together as he took his seat. The waitress wasn’t at their table yet but still he said, “Cocoa, pronto!” with a chuckle and smiled at Belinda who looked up, snapped open her menu and looked down again, not smiling back. He knew that look. She’d given it to him lots of times. It meant he was being a dork again and not in a cute way. The look seemed harsher now than ever too. Somehow it was uncool to say “cocoa, pronto” and everybody was just supposed to know that or be penalized with a glare.

Simon pulled down the hem of the V-neck sweater he was wearing. In Wizard’s Stone, he rarely had to wear winter clothes, so he didn’t have any besides the down coat, which meant that up here he was forced to double up on t-shirts to stay warm—the one he wore on top was an Atlanta Falcons t-shirt, and the name showed, making him out to be an even bigger hayseed among these east-coast sophisticates (the old man in the Yankees cap being the lone exception)—under a holey black wool sweater that Belinda had come prepared with. Belinda had fished the ill-fitting sweater out of one her suitcases in Pennsylvania and told him to put it on. She’d said she’d take him shopping for one that fit later. The sweater clung to his chest, even though she had bigger breasts than he did (she was no Dolly Parton but he was ribcage-flat), it only went down to his navel and the cuffs barely cleared the flesh between his wrists and forearms. Simon looked over at the dandies a few tables away, who spoke as glibly and looked as decked-out as Cleopatra’s court, and his heart plunged at the thought of how much catch-up ball he’d have to play out here. But, then again, all of them also looked to be about Belinda’s age, so maybe there was hope for him cooling out in time.

Simon pored over the menu, which wasn’t altogether different from the one at Desiree’s. There was the chicken club sandwich and there was the double-decker cheeseburger and they had breakfast all-day and he surmised from the picture that home fries were just another variation on hash browns. But Chelsea Night & Day’s prices dwarfed Desiree’s like Goliath did David. Simon doubted he could stick it to Chelsea Night & Day the way the puny future king did the giant, and the way he himself had stuck it to A&W and Applebee’s and all those other restaurants on the way to Manhattan, the ones that had the gall to charge customers money in exchange for food and services. Based on what he had seen so far, it seemed this diner was a microcosm of New York itself and, from what he had seen so far, this city was no place he’d want to monkey with.

Furthermore, even if he were powerful enough, or slick enough or lucky enough, to come out on top in a clash of wills with it, even if he could bring it down with a slingshot, he wouldn’t want the giant to fall or even stumble. It seemed an oddly friendly giant despite rumors to the contrary from people like Connie. Look at all the people who had found belonging here. Look how many people already had had their chance to beat him up on 7th Avenue but didn’t. Look how the lady at the counter gave the beggar food. Suddenly he found himself following the urge to risk looking like a dork again to tell Belinda, “I think we should pay this time,” and he even dared to look at her like he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Belinda screwed up her face and leaned across the table, whispering, “Of course we’re fucking paying. You think I’m stupid? We gotta pay from now on.” For however much Belinda played the stiletto-packing mandarin, she also watched her share of the boob tube on the sly, including almost every season of NYPD Blue. She took the show’s thugs at their word when they said almost—almost—nothing gets past the law casing every joint in this town. After coming this far, the last thing she wanted was to end up in Rikers, which she was pretty sure would make for even worse bondage than the human condition itself. As for Simon, he was just breathing a sigh of relief that, for one thing, they wouldn’t be shoplifting when she’d take him shopping for that new sweater. He was already thinking of retiring his Barabbas jersey, which fit him worse than that sweater he had on.

Belinda closed her menu and flagged the waitress, who was finishing up with another table, “Robert O says start without him. He’s in the middle of a Baylage, plus extensions.”

“I know just what I want,” Simon cheered.

The waitress came by. Belinda ordered a cob salad and a coffee, no milk. Simon ordered a Belgian waffle with strawberries and ice cream, home fries and a large vanilla malted milkshake.

“You’re having all that,” Belinda jerked in her seat.

“It’s time to celebrate!”

“He’s a growing boy. Give him what he wants,” the waitress enjoined, “Whatcha celebratin’, doll?”

Simon said, “Moving to New York.”

“Oh, yeah? From where?”

Belinda sat mute with the same glower that had hung on her face when she’d heard Simon’s order, so Simon assumed stewardship of the conversation, “Georgia.”

“Ah, for school?”

“No. Just…look for a job. Start over.”

“What do you do?”

“Well,” he said, “I worked in a restaurant, a lot like this. And on the street, I saw lots of restaurants, so…”

“What are you looking to do?”

“You know, go in for some busboy work…wash dishes, that kinda thing.”

“That’s what you did before?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The waitress gave him a big once-over, “Got a place to stay?”

“We’re staying with a friend for now.”

“Whereabouts?”

Simon drew a blank so Belinda jumped in, “Lower East Side.”

“What’s your name, sweetie?”

“Simon.”

“Simon, I’m Margie. How about you come with me?”

Margie took Simon to Paula, the cashier-cum-hostess who also turned out to be the owner. To anyone looking, it might have gone down as one of the fastest, most unexpected interviews in the history of job hunting. Chelsea Night & Day just happened to be needing a busboy who also could help with doing dishes. All Simon had to do was give Paula a thumbnail account of a typical day at Desiree’s, lie a little and say he’d worked there a year instead of eight months and add he wasn’t just passing through and that his residence (he didn’t even know what street Robert O’s apartment was on) was semi-permanent enough for him to show up to work on time. After telling her everything she wanted to hear for now, Paula paused, nodded and told him he could start training after the lunch shift on Monday. He could fill out paperwork then. She also told him how much he’d be making and it was a dollar more an hour than at Desiree’s, plus part of the tips. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said, gasping like he’d just won the $100,000 Pyramid, “Thank you,” slathering on the southern twang, not just for charm but so Paula would know that Immigration wouldn’t be on her back since no one but an American could sport that drawl. (He also wondered if Paula was the one who, so many years before, had played the antagonist in “The V8 Incident” but she seemed too nice, but then again he also expected age might have mellowed her since the eighties.) Margie the waitress smiled, said welcome aboard and told him she’d be right on over with their food and just this once their late lunch would be on her. Simon thanked both women with Dixie alacrity and returned to Belinda, whose frown was now supplanted by raised eyebrows and nodding.

“Boy, things sure happen fast up here,” Simon said with a lot of huffing and even pinched himself, “And with me looking like this!” Once again, he pulled down the ratty sweater’s hem.

Belinda folded her arms and nodded, “Now we can tell Robert O you got a job already. How’d you manage that?”

Simon threw back his shoulders and puffed out his chest to the point where buttons would have popped off, had he been wearing a professional shirt, “It must be that Sorcerer magic of mine.”

“You’re a busboy. Don’t get cocky.”

“My conjure-man wiles.”

“Leave daddy back home, Simon.”

“Why, what you think it is?”

“You’re in the right place. The Universe is telling you something.”

“You mean a sign?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Belinda Quell, I do declare! Sounds like you think there’s something up there arranging things for us.”

“Even I have my less skeptical moments—don’t get used to them.”

“Oh, Belinda,” Simon leaned in, “I’m sorry. I shoulda got you a job. You want I can—”

“No, Simon. No. I don’t want to work here. I’m happy for you. But no. I’m getting a job somewhere else.”

“Where?”

“We’ll see. But Robert O will be glad to know you’re not just gonna be bumming around his apartment.”

“What’s he like?”

“I think you’ll like him,” Belinda said, “He’s Mexican, so he’s got a certain respectfulness about him.” That’s all she said on the matter and Simon wasn’t at all sure what to make of it, although he did remember the Mexicans in Desiree’s kitchen were all salt of the earth when they weren’t taking time out to horse around and moon each other or pucker up and say uno beso to the waitresses carrying orders out of the kitchen.

Margie brought out the food. “For a new colleague,” she smiled as she presented the dishes.

“Thanks, Margie,” Simon beamed, “Oh, this is my friend Belinda.”

“Pleasure,” Margie said out the side of her mouth, not feeling the need to extend a royal welcome to a banshee who wouldn’t so much as look up at a middle-age waitress in a burgundy apron giving her free food. Meanwhile, a group of tourists at a neighboring table sat in giggling awe of the mountains of vanilla ice cream, whip cream and preserved strawberries sitting atop Simon’s waffles, not to mention his pearl-opaque milkshake, and he giggled right along with them all as he dug into the squishy heap with his spoon.

Belinda hid her face, “Are you going to be a total spaz-attack when Rob gets here?”

“Huh?”

“All that sugar.”

“I have hash browns too, Belinda. Salt takes the edge off sugar.”

“Remember, they’re called home fries here. Home fries.”

Lifting a fork to her cob salad, Belinda couldn’t break focus from Simon’s wolfish sugar consumption, wondering if he’d be fat by morning. Meantime, he went right on tunneling through his late-lunch, but halfway in, got an ice-cream headache and had to stop. As Simon held his eye with one hand and gripped a chair leg with the other, the long-awaited guest appeared on the door runner, surveying the room as he dusted snow off his gray herringbone scarf, tied in a European Loop that draped down his multi-zippered, black cashmere jacket. A lot of the dandies’ eyes settled on him, setting off highly individualized fantasies all around the room.

“Mortitia,” the swarthy man intoned, “As I live and breathe.” Belinda vaulted from her chair and tore over to him. She hugged him and jumped up and down, and hugged him and jumped up and down, and hugged him again with lots of two-cheek kisses as though Robert O had just come back from war, albeit after trading in his fatigues for haute couture, with red hair dye, not blood, on his hands. Simon thought maybe he should go over and say hi but they were making such a spectacle and he could see his new boss watching the spectacle as though it were nothing but a spectacle, so he decided to stay out of it. Belinda ran the palm of her hand all over Robert O’s tawny shaved head and tiny black Mohawk. “What’s happened to all those gorgeous locks and waves?” she asked.

“Ain’t you been readin’, bitch? The butch is back-back-back,” Robert O said snapping his fingers between each iteration of the word back.

Belinda threaded his scarf through her fingers, “I hardly call this butch, m’dear.”

Margie came by to refill Belinda’s coffee while Belinda was still up front with Robert O. As she poured, she whispered to Simon, “I’m only buying two lunches, okay?”

Simon said, “Oh, Margie, this one’s on us.”

“Yours is still on me. And your lady friend’s. But—”

“Understood, ma’am. Understood.”

Margie patted his shoulder and walked off. Simon looked down at his waffles, fearing that Belinda and Robert O had just blown the good impression he’d hoped to make on Margie and Paula. Once his eyes took in all the ice cream and whip cream dripping down his plate, though, Simon forgot all about good impressions and his fading ice-cream headache and started scarfing everything down again. This, in turn, would become the first impression he’d be making on Robert O whom Belinda had just now drawn up to the table.

“Well,” said Belinda to Robert O, “He requires no introduction, does he?”

“Holy shit balls,” Robert O shrieked, stepping back and wincing as though he were witnessing a python swallowing a rabbit whole, “Does he always eat like that?”

“Good metabolism,” said Belinda.

“Not if he keeps it up,” said Robert O.

Through this whole exchange, Simon had stopped eating and was looking up at them both with his spoon halfway to his mouth. He had ice-cream glaze on his lips and some powdered sugar at a corner of his mouth. A creamy waffle chunk dropped off his spoon as he looked at Robert O, lean and ravaged-handsome, the kind whom even Simon could tell knew how to work a club (and Simon had never even been to a club, much less seen a roué work one). Simon remembered his manners, got up, wiped his palms off on his pants and held out his hand to Robert O, “I’m—”

“I fucking know you,” Robert O said and began futzing with Simon’s hair, “Needs work. It’s almost matted.”

Margie intervened, “Is this your third party?”

Robert O turned to look at her wide-eyed but Simon had the instinct to step up before Robert O could say something smart, “Yes, Margie. Sorry we’re standing here. Can I help clear dishes? Just let me know where to take ’em.”

Margie said to Simon, “Monday,” and she said to Robert O, “Coffee?”

Robert O winked, “It’s the only FDA-approved thing gettin’ me out of bed in the mornings, honey.” Margie turned over his cup and poured, “Please have a seat.” Robert O smiled and sat down in slow motion, like he was easing into a hot bath.

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