Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Last Day Job in the Unreal City: Part II, chapter 8 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)

Every now and then I would meet Vince and Karen in town. As I didn't know many people in the area, staying in touch with them seemed a good idea, especially since doing so would mean I'd eventually get the chance to fuck Karen. To my surprise I never did, even after they broke up. But soon I realized that the reason they broke up—and the reason I never got to fuck her—was that she liked women more than men. Somehow, during my many years spent going from one woman to another, I had never encountered anyone like her.

But perhaps that was because I'd always lived in small towns. Now I was in New York, where there was a greater variety of people than even I could imagine.

It was here where even the best dressed businessman would spit on the street before stepping into the limousine that was taking him to the Water Club. It was here where the well respected journalist, who had rubbed elbows and exchanged jokes with presidents, would venture to Avenue B to buy heroin from a man who didn't know what day it was much less who the current president was. It was here where bums in the park talked about politics and revolution in their piss stained clothes. It was here where cab drivers were renown poets or composers, where the pink faced girl next door was a dominatrix, beating up on old men and getting paid for it. It was here where the stripper with the huge tits and devil's fork tattoos all down her back was working her way through medical school.

It was here where every week you might cross paths with a particular person you were acquainted with, while with another person you might never cross paths. It was here where an encounter with a stranger might be cold and distant yet at the same time be almost comforting in its informality.

Everything that was impossible or unthinkable, as well as everything that reeked of cliché, could be found here in abundance. As it was, the only thing that was lacking for most people was space—which I had to a certain degree at my home in Staten Island. But for any kind of leisure activity, the place to go was Manhattan. That was where I'd meet Vince and Karen, as they too tended to gravitate to the city in their free time. And sometime later, it was where I'd go for work.

As things had been going slowly with getting regular clients for my guard dog business, I took a job in town with a direct mail marketing company. It was a small company, with only about twenty people in all. They sold costume jewelry: "faux" diamond necklaces, pendants, rings; "faux" rubies, sapphires, emeralds. Everything they sold was "faux." As the manufacuturers were all in Thailand or Malaysia, I imagined that most of it was assembled by child labor or indentured servants working sixteen hour shifts. At least I got to leave in time for happy hour.

My job was to generate sales reports, inventory reports, plugging numbers into their computer to get new statistics. Like so many businesses, they were crazy about statistics, as if the money that was going into their pockets didn't mean anything unless they had the proper numbers to tell them the money was real.

But while the company's president and vice presidents all had a fetish for numbers, the old man who owned the operation boiled it all down to one very simple concept.

"Profit, that's what it's all about," he said, nodding his tiny bald head. "Profit." I'm sure he was making a lot of "profit," but as for me my "profit" was ten dollars an hour.

I was was about ready to nod off when he started talking about "profit." He got my attention because at first it sounded like he said "prostitutes": "Prostititutes, that's what it's all about. Prostitutes."

It was my first company meeting, a few days before Christmas (I'd only been working there a week), and Mr. Gurnsey was giving a pep talk before taking us all out to a fancy Park Avenue restaurant for the annual Christmas dinner and party.

"Money for food, money for your breakfast—your eggs, your sausage, your toast." He went on and on. "Money for dinner—your steaks, your shrimps, your lobster, your caviar. Do you like seafood? I love seafood. And to pay for my seafood I worked hard. I worked real hard."

If you were to read his words on a page they'd look like some sort of rant, but he made these pronouncements in a calm, deliberate voice, punctuating each sentence with a nod of his head.

At the restaurant I ordered the most expensive appetizer and entree on the menu, and while waiting for my dinner I drank several rounds of screwdrivers with the best vodka they had—no rail drinks for me that night. Before dinner was served Gustave, the company president, raised his wine glass for a toast.

"Here's to Chester!" Only he and the vice presidents referred to the owner by his first name. Everyone else called him "Mr. Gurnsey," except on this occasion when, as a response to Gustave's call for a toast, calling him by his first name was permissible.

"To Chester!" we declared, raising our glasses, then sipping. I, of course, gulped down my entire drink and asked the waiter for another. After dinner Mr. Gurnsey went home while Gustave took us to a night club for more drinks and dancing.

I sat at the bar, watching while some of the other workers danced. One girl, when she was finished dancing, came to the bar to get another drink. Since I was the new guy, she thought she'd try to make a little conversation, make me feel like part of the gang.

"The dance floor's so sticky," she said after ordering her drink.

"Yeah," I nodded, "This place used to be a porno theater. But when home video came along porno theaters like this died out. I guess this floor here is something akin to dinosaur bones under the sand in the Arizona desert... You know, traces of what once was."

I was rather drunk by this time. I thought I was being charming, talking about my observations of a certain aspect of the business world, namely, pornography. Needless to say, she wasn't charmed.

"Oh, okay," she said, dropping her jaw. When the bartender brought her drink she quickly walked away.

Most of the people I worked with were my age or younger even. Still, they didn't last very long into the evening, and when they called it a night it was only half past eleven. I took a cab down to Avenue A and First street to the Scorpio bar. It was where I'd go to meet Bino, who, after I'd been in New York for a year, had also decided to move up.

When I walked in he was there—as he was for some portion of nearly every evening—sitting at the bar talking to Sally, the bartender.

"How was your Christmas party?" he asked on seeing me.

"It was excellent," I said laughing. "I had the surf and turf—a shrimp cocktail appetizer, prime rib for an entree. And I drank screwdrivers with Absolut or Finlandia, I'm not sure which, I just told the waiter to put the best stuff they had in it."

"Why didn't you order some Dom Peringon there?"

"Champagne? Fuck that shit," I turned to Sally. "I'll have a Bud."

"Back to the real world, huh?" she said.

"For now. Just for now."

Bino began talking to someone who had just come in the door. He'd gotten to know a number of people in the year he'd been in New York—mostly from a friend of his at his job at a bookstore uptown. It was that friend, Ron, who had just walked in.

Ron's demeanor was like that of a school teacher—a school teacher who was always pulling pranks on his students instead of the other way around. Like Bino, he did some writing—an activity that had yet to pay them much money, which was why they had full time jobs at the bookstore. He and Bino were part of some group of writers who called themselves the Insufferables or the Intolerables—something like that—and were now talking about a reading they were trying to organize at a gallery in Soho.

"Well, I guess we don't have any choice," Bino said. "Phillip Evan Green's the one with the connection to the gallery, so we'll just have to let him read."

"Yeah, that sucks though," Ron said, then turning to me asked, "Hey, how was your party?"

"Well, we had dinner, and then they wanted to go someplace where they had dancing. I suggested Billy's Topless."

"Shit, I just came from there."

"My boss thought it was funny, but some of the women weren't amused, so we ended up going to some kind of disco."

"Hah," Ron said, shaking his head. "Nice try, though."

"My boss did say we should go there for lunch sometime."

Ron started playing with an ashtray that was lying next to his bottle of beer.

"Hey, I heard that Phillip Evan Green tried to rape Judy Mendelson," Bino said to Ron.

"I don't know," Ron answered. "It could be true. I used to think he was harmless, but I've been starting to think otherwise."

"That's that chubby guy with the greasy red hair isn't it?" I asked.

"Yeah, that's him," Bino said.

"Christ, he's creepy as shit. I mean, he looks evil."

"Well, I don't know if I'd go that far."

"But you were the one who just said he tried to rape that chick."

"But I don't know if it's true," Bino said, shaking his head. "It might just be one of those rumors. Like what Carone would talk about."

"What would Carone talk about?" I asked.

Bino was drunk, and when he was drunk he had the tendency to say or report things he would normally keep quiet about.

"Well, after you'd left Ft. Myers he once said that he thought Lily was your sister, and that you were fucking your sister. Of course he was drunk when he said that. But shit, the two of you do look alike."

"We do not," I argued. "We have the same color hair, that's it."

"What's this about you and your sister?" Ron asked, turning to me as he accidentally tipped over the ashtray he'd been playing with.

"Oh, it's just some stupid joke someone Bino and I know is trying to pull on me."

"Well, I do think that's what it is... a joke," Bino continued. "Because he was pissed off at you... Something about you going after his sister-in-law."

"They'd split up. His brother and his wife. What's his problem with that? Besides, I didn't get anywhere with her, because as it turns out she's a dyke. Or she became one anyway."

"You turned her into a lesbian?" Ron asked.

"No, no. She did that on her own." I got Sally's attention. "Sally, a double shot of Jack. This beer is starting to sober me up."

After I'd managed to change the topic of conversation to something other than me I proceeded to get much drunker than I already was. After a while Ron left, while Bino and I stayed on until closing time. By then I could hardly walk. As I was in no shape to attempt to make it back to Staten Island, Bino convinced me to stay at his place.

He was living in a cheap apartment on Third Street between First and Second Avenues, just a few doors down from the Hell's Angels clubhouse. It was one of those tiny studio apartments where you had a loftbed, bathtub, sink and stove all in one room. Compared to his place, my small house was a luxurious mansion. I slept on the floor by the sink.

Except for the nightmare I had, it was the first good night of sleep I'd had in a long time. I'd been suffering from insomnia for a while, and the only time I got any real sleep was when I was so drunk I passed out. And although I woke up after a few hours, it was more sleep than I usually got.

When I awoke it was eight in the morning and I was covered in sweat. I'd fallen asleep with my winter coat on and the heat in the apartment was running on high. With Bino still up in his loft bed, snoring, I stood up, wiped my face with a paper towel, and walked out the door. I had to hurry home, because the dogs hadn't been fed for an entire day.