StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

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.

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