Funny how the mind works, making little things into big ones, finding fault where there is only perfection.
I seemed to be back in the city where the spiders hid in my shirt collar and the monkeys wanted out of the zoo. Ukrainians made the worst zoo keepers. I was sitting in a bar called “The Two Pair”. It was off 8th Avenue and a few minutes from the Show World. The bartender was a functioning addict and a poet which was a walk in the park, for me anyway. His name was Scottie, and I had met him a few years back. He enjoyed complaining about his wife and various girlfriends. The drugs were constantly painting his face, leaching out the moisture, making shaded areas that brought everything into relief. He didn’t talk in the normal way and the words escaped from his mouth like prisoners running down a road. “Couldn’t get started…I never saw the piano falling,” he blurted out. I nodded and sipped my Ouzo and lime. With enough Ouzo I could turn into a slow motion kitchen sponge. My body was sort of a personal experiment in domestic terror. Scottie and I had a lot in common.
On one end of the bar, by the wait station, was a dog-eared notebook with a pen tied to the binding. On the cover was written “Are you living or dying? Talk to me.” Inside were scribbles and lyrics, a joke or two with the occasional poem. I picked it up and wrote: the sandbar was in hurricane alley, I lived on the windward side, a flawless enactment of a dream astray, I slept all day, swam at night in the channel like a big wormy fish, beer dogs with sand in their mouths curled at my feet, dengue dripped from my eyes, I menstruated for the delight of the tropical parakeets.
There was a woman one stool away. She turned and asked, “Whats you writing?”
“Oh, it’s about another life.” She looked pretty good in the red and blue light; our shared slice of regret. “Oh, yeah, I get that…another life…I use to have one of those.” I moved down to her and we started talking. Her name was Alice and she was young in the dark, and could have been seventeen according to the rules of low-lite bars, but in the life outside, she was probably thirty. She wore cutoffs, a men’s shirt, and white tennis shoes. Her face was cut glass, angular and fragile. “What color is your hair?” I asked.
“Purple…I’m a punk, but not in that way. I’m really a punk. I like being a punk.” In an hour her shift started at the Show World. She was a peep show girl. “But that’s only my cover.” We both laughed. “I got other things I’m doing. This is just a way to hide.” We matched drinks and were proud. She was into Southern Comfort without the cold front. “You want to take a quick hit?” We moved to a back booth and she lit a joint. Things were becoming pleasant. “I guess I’m ready enough,” she said. “Stoned is the only way I can work. Have you been to the Show World?”
“Sure. I practically own the place.” When she left she told me to visit door number nine. That was her space. She was off at 2:00 a.m. and maybe we could continue our drinking then. “Okay, why not? I just got paid,” I said.
“Remember, number nine, on the end. Catch my act. I got a few scars.” She laughed, walking out the door, letting in a furnace blast of white light that exploded my corneas.
I returned to the notebook and reread my lines. Yeah, I was writing about another life, but it wasn’t mine. It belonged to a fat woman I had known on an island. I had gone there to recover from dengue and an infected foot that wouldn’t heal. Sometimes things come in pairs. I’d rented a little bungalow made out of sun-bleached wood and tin buckets. When the wind blew, the sand came through the cracks and the wind was always blowing. Brushing my teeth was like eating dirt. The agency that paid me had told me to take as long as I wanted.
“How about four months? Maybe sooner…whatever.” Sandy shrugged his shoulders and looked at me across his desk cluttered with papers and odd-looking little objects. His secretary knocked on the door and poked her head in. “Oh, sorry.” She closed the door. Sandy said, “We can wait on Turkey, but we would really like you to hold Donnie’s hand in the Beruit office.”
Donnie was a dick and I said, “Shit, Donnie and I can’t work together. You know that.”
“Precisely…once you get there we’re going to transfer or maybe fire him depending upon what you find. We can’t do anything now because of his dad, but in a few months the elections will be over, things change, right? It really could be perfect timing for all concerned.”
Sandy had not offered any pay with my medical leave, but fuck it, the free time was more important than the money.
So I went to the island; really more of a sand bar fighting a losing battle. Directly behind my place, which was almost level to the beach, was a new pole house. It had been empty for a few weeks and then the owner showed up. She was a fat nudist, which is often the case, and was living with her brother, who I had heard, was an ex-con. Parsing gossip was my specialty, and whether it was true or not, was of little concern to me. False information was often more important than the truth.
The woman’s face was beautiful, but the most alarming thing was her belly. It looked like a theater curtain and under the overhang she began to screw in wind chimes. She put them in the trees, along the roof gutters, the double-deck stairs, on bird feeders, and an old red boat rudder. It was like a living domino theory and the interminable crash of a collapsing world rode on a hundred or so wind chimes; they were all smiling and attacking my ears. I began to hate the wind and sound in general. In the evening, she would stand naked, screaming at her scuzzy brother, throwing cigarette butts over the railing and down into my mouth. There was no stopping her. I felt like Kafka drinking vodka out of a glass that didn’t work. My effort at medical healing was dead; dragging back and forth in the surf, softly white, untouchable, except with a gaff.
I’d go up on my roof and look through her windows at night. The brother was usually gone and she’d be jumping around without any clothes, dancing with pillows. She’d be smoking and drinking coffee and listening to punk music.
I devised a plan. I would play the role of a gentleman. I took her a baker’s dozen of donuts. They were glazed, chocolate, and some kind of fruit jelly. I pleaded my case, as she eyed the white box. I asked her to take down a few of the dingdongs, say eighty or so? I thought I could live with twenty, but really no more, as I shoved the pastry across the table.
“Oh I’m so sorry ‘bout my chimes. Sure I’ll get rid of ‘em, but I can’t eat them donuts; the emergency docs told me that my sugar level and blood pressure was way high.” I told her no problem. “Well,” she giggled, “why don’t cha leave the chocolate ones…hummm, and I guess five with that raspberry sauce too…is it raspberry?”
On the way out, she gave me the eye and it crossed my mind that she wanted to fuck. I thought about the wind chimes and how sex with her might play into that and maybe I could talk her into a blow job, but then, I decided to keep on going. The wind was coming up.
Later that night I ate the two donuts she left me and drank half a pitcher of doubtful White Russians.
A tropical storm landed nearby pushing over palms and she took down three of the larger chimes, but nothing more. My plan was a disaster and the sound of the chimes was deafening.
I packed that night and headed for the dock. I knew a shrimper who often went down to Turbo. I bunked in his boat and then a few days later I was in Turbo, eating arepas and drinking aguardiente. A tube-top girl joined me and together we walked along the bay, avoiding the snarling pigs, holding hands, and occasionally throwing garbage into the water. The mosquitoes were severe, but compared to the wind chimes, I was on ecstasy.
When I got back everything was silent except for the gulls circling overhead, squawking about mortal remains. Her ex-con brother was sunning on the deck. I yelled up to him and he said a heart attack had killed his sister. He didn’t seem too concerned. “What about the chimes?”
“Oh, that shit? I dumped ‘em in the dunes.”
My thoughts returned to Alice and how she was down the street totally naked, picking up money off the floor. In many ways, the fat woman and Alice were merging in my mind. I was beginning to attach things to Alice: her transitory nature, her boozy good looks, her nakedness, and the scars on her skin and mind. I wondered if she had any lethal problems and what might happen to her as we got to know each other. I was due to be in town for a lifetime, two more weeks. It was an accounting thing and the numbers were like graves.
I walked around, ate dinner, drank some more, and then at 1:30 I went down to the Show World. I bought a ticket for door number nine. Alice and I talked for a few minutes and I told her I’d meet her outside near the entrance. “Don’t get picked up,” she said. After I left her there in the black light, I imagined her as perfect, naked on the other side of the glass, swaying to kill the time. I began to walk in the general direction of my hotel. Along the way, the fat woman came to me. I often think about her when I see a couple arguing like car alarms; when panhandlers get aggressive; out-of-place burning fires; plastic bags up drafting; open blinds on unmade beds; and coffee stains.
I can’t recall the fat woman’s name, but I think about her: how she could have had another life, but chose her wind chimes and my donuts instead. I figured I’d skip Alice and stay put in the Gramercy Park area until it was time to leave. For reasons well known to me, that sounded better than building a series of moments and late nights with Alice.
I passed beneath two enormous eyes far above my head. They were looking down on the street and I kept walking, thinking that nothing was ever finished and then I remembered the 24/7 poker game near my hotel.
Alice was getting dressed now: tying up her tennis shoes, buttoning her shirt, and washing her hands. She had no place in my memory, but my imagination was something altogether different.
I lost that night and was in a foul mood the next day when I finally found myself in front of the auditor and my stack of dirty receipts and cryptic notes. .