Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Streak - 96

We descend an escalator on the other side. For a moment I wonder whether we got turned around up there, in that passageway, and are going back out from where we came.

“Where are we?” I ask Matt and Joe.

“You’re OK now,” one of them replies, oddly.

“Was I in danger?”

“This is the other casino,” the other says. Matt, I think.

“It looks just like the first.”

“It’s a perfect mirror image,” says Joe.

We walk across the turquoise carpet, past a bank of slots, under a shimmering Jaguar convertible perched on an oval platform that seems to hang midair. All around us it’s the usual parade of raw humanity. Sometimes I try to look into their eyes.

There’s a bar over in the distance that looks just like the bar I came from. Except no Kyle. Joe turns to me as he walks.

“Buy you a drink?”

“Can I say no?”

We settle at the bar, me in the middle, and order. Matt and Joe drink dirty martinis. I get the same old same old. The All-Star Game’s in extra innings now. Seven-seven still. Occasionally a news crawl intrudes upon the action, like a flash flood warning on the Movie of the Week:

UPDATE: EVAN BENJAMINSON STILL MISSING; BELIEVED ABDUCTED

“What if I’m recognized?” I ask.

“You’re not quite yourself. I wouldn’t worry,” Joe replies.

“I still have questions,” I say.

“We thought you’d never ask,” says Joe.

“Tell me about Moo.”

“There’s been some speculation that they’re a front,” Matt says.

“A front for what?”

“A terrorist organization.”

“Are they?”

“Are they what?” asks Joe.

“Are they a front?”

Joe winces. “The simplest answer is usually the correct one.”

“Meaning?”

“That the evidence we have before us points us in the right direction.”

“So they’re what they say they are?”

Joe nods gravely.

“Where are they?”

“Out there somewhere,” Joe replies. “In the rocky, barren regions of distant lands.”

“Hard to pinpoint,” adds Matt.

“But that just sounds like a story. That sounds like a fairy tale.”

For once neither one of them says anything. We sit awhile in silence, drinking. Watching the longest All-Star Game in the history of baseball.

After a few minutes it occurs to me I’m about to say something, but I don’t know what it is. My God, I’m going to speak. I can feel my heart thumping. When am I going to open my mouth? Now? Now? Now?

“So wait.”

“Uh-huh?” says Joe.

“You’re telling me that this Moo, these terrorists, they’re killing celebrities from each, uh, area of, uh, endeavor.” I’m sweating. I feel like a man running down a hill.

“That’s correct.”

“And they need one from sports—”

“Maybe many from sports,” Matt interjects. “It’s unclear whether they’re doing one sport, or one from each of the four major sports, or something deeper. More ambitious.”

“People from the other sports,” Joe adds. “The lesser sports. Also known as ‘world sports,’ or ‘miscellaneous.’”

“Soccer. NASCAR. Tennis,” says Matt.

“Cycling. Track. Horse racing,” says Joe.

Matt turns to his colleague. “They wouldn’t shoot horses, would they?”

“I wouldn’t put it past them,” Joe replies solemnly, shaking his head.

A noisy group of well-dressed, youngish men invade the little area beside the bar with the shiny table framed with couches.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” Joe says warily. “What do you figure the story is, here?”

I gaze at them for a few seconds. They look like rich men from the second world, wearing ostentatious watches and rings, fine Italian loafers, suit jackets over loosely buttoned shirts.

“Cricket players from Pakistan?”

“Mobile minute resellers?” says Matt.

“Maybe they’re terrorists.”

We all stare a little while, trying not to appear to be staring.

“Do you smell them?” Joe whispers to me.

“I can’t fucking smell shit.”

“They smell like Kyle Boyce.”

“They do?”

The four of them are laughing. Bantering vaguely about God-knows-what. Joe picks a moment to interrupt.

“Excuse me!”

No reaction for a moment. They don’t seem to know we’re there.

“Excuse me! Guys!”

They look toward us, their laughter dissipating gently. Their swollen, sweat-sheened faces indicate that they have been drinking for many hours.

“Yes man!” answers one.

“Are you terrorists?” Joe asks brightly.

Matt swivels on his stool, disgusted. Joe turns to him and makes a kind of What? expression.

The man’s face goes blank a moment, but just a moment. He smiles again.

“Yes. So am I but what are you?”

Joe’s mood shifts. What the fuck is going on?

“You’re what?”

“You said it, my friend. You know what you just said.”

“You’re terrorists.”

“Look at us,” he answers, indicating the length of his body with a sweep of his hand. “This is what we look like to you. This is what you looked like and you said: terrorists.”

At that he and his companions burst into laughter.

Joe turns to Matt and me. “Are they kidding? Tell me they’re kidding.”

“I don’t fucking know,” says Matt. Then he, too, bursts out laughing. Shaking his head.

“This may not be funny, Joe,” says Matt. The guy I thought was Joe is Matt. I have them mixed up. Joe is Matt and Matt is Joe.

“You look familiar,” says another one of the men to me.

“Don’t tell them who you are, E—” Matt warns.

“Don’t tell them who you are, sir,” interrupts Joe.

“So you’re important!”

“No, he’s not important. He’s unimportant,” says Joe.

“What are you, an actor? An actor of action?” asks the first man.

I shake my head.

“Action films? Boom-boom bang-bang?”

“No, I—”

“Don’t tell them, Ev—sir, sir. Mister B. Don’t tell them who you are.”

“Are you music performer? Rock and roll country?”

“No.”

“He may or may not be, fellas,” says Matt.

A third terrorist squints at me and points with a finger unclutched from his vodka rocks. “You are the celebrity chef Bobby Flay.”

“No!”

“Guys, Mr. E—Mr. B—is not the least bit noteworthy.”

“Not the littlest bit, no,” adds Joe.

The terrorist stirs his swizzle stick and squints. Am I busted? I try to change the subject.

“So what do you guys do? You kill famous people?”

“Kill? No. Not much. No,” says the first guy, shaking his head. “Mostly the time we wait for something to happen—”

“For something bad to happen—” another interjects.

“We wait for bad things to happen—”

“And bad things always do—”

“Bad things always do. And we take the credit. For example, did you know that we did not even bomb the plane?”

“What plane?”

“The Bronx plane!”

“No one thought you did.”

The terrorist seems crestfallen. “Didn’t you?”

“No. Fuck no. I don’t know. Maybe someone did. I’m not good at news.” I realize the alcohol has really started to get on top of me. “Someone prolly fucking did. I guess.”

Suddenly I feel like I’m being carried off my feet, as though by a tidal wave. My toes graze the turquoise tesselation as I rush out of the bar area, past roulette wheels and pai-gow poker, through the atrium and down another artery. My armpits hurt. Beside me Joe and Matt are running as fast as they can. Panting. Joe to my left, Matt to my right. No—Matt to my left, Joe to my right. The signs and symbols that adorn this place of shame are bumpy and choppy.

“Where we going?” I manage to say.

“Somewhere safe,” somebody says.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Home Exchange

When you live for a little while in someone else’s home, you think: how can they live like this? With the plates and bowls piled up together and a dozen pots but a single lid, and the misshapen cheese knife, and the bric-a-brac drawer with the rubber bands and the roll of freezer bags and one cardboard-and-plastic package, rent open, contents gone. There’s an old jam jar on the counter with what appears to be a thin layer of little pink plastic flower petals at the bottom. There’s a shaker bottle of thyme right beside the stove, as though it’s their favorite spice: does everything get thyme? Steak and thyme, rice and thyme, eggs and thyme. The dishwasher gloves are out of reach.

In the bathroom the soap is flavored with milk and honey. The linen closet’s in the study. In the master bedroom, one side has a table and the other doesn’t. Who decides to live this life?

There’s a tiny stereo in the living room; the speakers, not far apart, point nowhere in particular. There are CDs piled up on a shelf in another room, unalphabetized—REM, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits. Tracy Chapman. Bob Marley. Who are these people?

The answer of course is they are us. We live like this. We’re now momentarily caught in a mirror world, and the odder it seems the more certain we can be that the mirror is true.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The corners of the streets in Paris are marked with a variety of graffiti tags, glyphs and icons, some affixed, some stenciled, some painted freehand. They look like an array of medals on a military man, or more likely an arrangement of runes. There’s a deliberate quality to them, as though this illicit urban project, begun in a frenzy of outrage and audacity forty years ago, had now settled into some calm, methodical phase 2.

We walked along the canal and two painters were creating a vast mural, the mist from their spray cans blowing into the faces of dogs and babies, wherever the wind might carry it.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Enterprise - 47

I plunged into meaningless pursuits, idle amusements, intemperance. Accompanied by Sean most nights. Pool games, foosball games. Whisky, whisky, whisky. There was a video game, a golf game. Golden Tee. You swung the club by spinning the top of a sphere whose crown protruded from the console. If you jabbed at it, fast, you could get a good drive going, four hundred yards or so, over the pixel trees and water hazard. You’d be rewarded with a crease of torn flesh at the base of your palm. And the chance to putt for eagle.


What were we doing?


There was a place we went on the Upper East, frequented by our friend Ron. Nice guy. Ingenuous. Devastating foosball player. He could pass the ball from his midfielders to his forwards, dribble back and forth between adjacent players—even wing to wing, flipping the center up as the ball whizzed by. He could tip, nudge, cajole the ball into control. It seemed to be magnetically attracted to the little stub at the bottom of each man that counted for feet. His signature shot was a deception: he’d jerk the player back and forth, wind him up like he was about to slam it, really slam it this time; he’d watch you with a gaping smile as you made your goalie wide by thrusting him back and forth maniacally. Then he’d tip the ball ever so lightly so it rolled inoffensively toward the goal. It seemed not to have enough momentum to get there. But it did, and you were so nervous and worried and tense with your goalie that you’d let it slip by and hit the bottom of the goalmouth with a derisive, ambivalent clunk. Nothing was more humiliating.


Sometimes Ron and I would team up and play against a portly, middle-aged Indian man named Raj. Sometimes he’d play by himself, sometimes he’d team up with whoever else was around. It didn’t matter. Raj was the best foosball player I’ve ever seen. He’d work the ball up to his center forward and wait there with it, making the tiny statue tremble as though in anticipation, savoring the moment. He’d take a few fake swipes on either side of the ball—or sometimes he wouldn’t. He maintained a light, vaguely taunting banter the whole time. I’d be moving the goalie back and forth as fast as possible to create a blurry barrier, giving myself, I thought, a small statistical chance of stopping the ball. When it came all you knew was the sound it made at the back of the metal goal, an angry crack like a gunshot. He never missed. When the game was over he’d walk away with his Stoli Vanilla and Coke as I wiped my sweaty palms off on my jeans.


We usually wound up at the Irish place on Third. It had a long bar on the left and two pool tables in the back, in a space ringed with Guinness mirrors and elevated flatscreens perpetually showing ESPN. It was the place to be if you were a guy who wasn’t getting laid. The ceiling was covered in a giant tangle of white Christmas lights, enmeshed in some sort of twine. A starrier sky. It did impart a bit of cheer.


I played great for a few weeks. As though my heartbreak had unlocked something new and great within me, something magnificent, and that new, great thing was very specific: it was the ability to lean over a felted table, to aim a stick at a ball, to knock it into another ball so that the second ball would fall into the pocket of my choosing. And to do it many times again. To do it drunk.


What a pleasure it was to destroy other men. To see them approach confidently, maybe even arrogantly. Eager to impress their dates, or girlfriends, or each other. We’d all introduce ourselves and shake hands at the outset. Trying hard to be polite. But I muttered to myself as I went to rack ‘em up. Douchebags.


Sometimes I’d feel guilty, if they were nice enough. For wanting to destroy them. Usually they were nice enough.


Some were nice enough, some were cunts. Telling me how to rack. I know how to rack. Trying to play that head game. I know you.


A guy came in one night with his cue stick from home. Never, ever bring in your cue stick from home. Not the one your girlfriend got you for your birthday, not the one your mom got you. Not the one got passed down from your grandpa. Not that one or any other one, not ever. Don’t bring in your cue from home. Not unless you’re the Black Widow or Minnesota Fats.


He took the navy-blue case out of its protective, zippered nylon bag and laid it on the table. Unbuckled one, two, three little silver buckles. There it lay in two pieces, cradled in velour. He lifted them out, screwed them together, and held the polished, filigreed object aloft a moment, ostensibly to verify that it was true but really to make us look at it in the fake starshine. He lost.


Some were nice enough. A tall, swarthy guy with a moustache, maybe from Egypt or Iran. I was on a run, then I missed and sat back down. Reached up to the shelf along the wall. The feeling of the little glass in my hand, ice chips swimming in the amber fluid. I took a good, cold sip, letting the rubber end of the stick bounce a little on the floor. The guy’s partner missed, then Sean missed, then it was me again. I lined up a long shot. Made it.


The guy got up and approached me with a look of concern.


“That was my ball,” he declared.


“Your ball?” I shouted. “No. That was mine.”


I made another shot and strode around the table, workmanlike, looking for the next problem to solve. What the fuck was wrong with this fucking guy?


“No, no, no, no,” the man protested. “That was my ball.”


“No way it was your ball.” I leaned across the table to line up another one. Just then Sean walked up and whispered in my ear.


“That was his ball.”


“What?”


“That was his ball,” repeated Sean. “It wasn’t our ball.”


I took my shot and missed. Rattled. Angry. Confused.


“What are we? Stripes?”


“We’re solids. Solids, solids, solids.”


“I hit his ball?”


“I think you did, dude.”


I made some words and gestures of apology and invited the man back to the table. He stood now, chalking his cue, peering at the remains of my disordered efforts. Everything was different now. Everything but the feeling of the little glass in my hand.