StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

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.

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