Garibaldi Square smelled like lox. I didn’t care anymore. I had business to attend to.
I admired my newly minted ringfinger.
From there forward, when good things happened to me, I promised myself, I wouldn’t tell anyone. I’d keep all fortune tethered, burrowed deep, in the recesses of my forgetfulness, until, from its vantage, even the halo of my flaming spirit would not be espiable.
Steeple bells tolled. Just after nineteen o’clock. My essence sulked restless. Maybe I’d feel better if I told someone about my good fortune. I resolved to mosey down to the Seaweed Projects.
I passed the Gallery Quarter, the Whole Apples flagship, the New Museum, where they sold Casio watches for fifteen-hundred dollars apiece.
Some of my favorite hard up people were having a spitting contest on the sidewalk outside. I wanted to pound it with them. Bump elbows, bounce souls. But I was afraid.
One, who the others referred to as Petroleum Mike, lifted their pant leg, displaying a waxen trunk of shimmering limbness. I was impressed. They lifted it further.
―Petroleum Mike, somebody said. ―That’s a bulbous protuberance.
―You’re damn right, Mike barked.
―Petroleum Mike, you’re the best.
Like the rest, I agreed. These mortals used to be my friends. But everything was different. What if they’d heard of my housing status. I splintered, permitting my countenance to dissociate, its features decontextualizing into a mien of anonymity. I passed thru their tourney unseen.
I bought a magazine, Nose Coner’s Monthly, and rolled it into my sleeve. Dusk air breathing down my windbreaker like a jejune camel surrounded by wellsprings.
Outside the Seaweed Park library, I watched children playing fog machine. They jumped thru the atomized liquid, imitating rodents and poisoned legionnaires.
I fed the urinary kiosk a fiver, and, as usual, the process nurtured a compromise between easement and distress. Hot churn thru chemical hood. I examined my glans. Each crevice and discoloration. Unique folds of purest dermis. Patternless.
I carried out a quick testicular deformation assessment and shuffled to the edifice cluster, which soared developmental, cranes ever-wavering in the moon cloud, their ancient grind a reminder of the Promise of Progress, as auxiliary story-suffusion ensued.
A brick fell off a swing stage and exploded against the side of Building 33, raining clay fragments and mortar upon my hat. Four or five window washers leaned over the side of the scaffolding.
I buzzed 23F.
The intercom sputtered. It expelled a puff of dust.
―What, I said.
―Pfffffffffffft, it replied.
―Is Alexander there, I asked.
―Fuzzy wuzzy, the intercom said.
―Was a bear.
―I know, I said. ―I know.
―Had no hair.
―Had no hair, the intercom said.
―Alexander, I said.
―So’s far from where I’m standing, it doesn’t exactly appear as tho Fuzzy Wuzzy were, as a matter of frank…
The intercom petered into quietus.
I buzzed again.
―Very catacombed within a layer of insulationary pelage.
―It’s Drywall, I said.
―I mean… Wait, the intercom rasped. ―Wait.
―Drywall, Alexander. Drywall Fishkind, your dear familiar. Can I come up?
―Uh… Can you?
―I don’t know, I said. ―You’d have to let me try.
The intercom transmitted a prolonged belch. Behind which, I could detect faint clicking of the electronic door’s effort to unlock, and I rattled its frame to submission, my scant bodyweight falling full flesh forward into the drizzling atrium.
A cardboard sign on the elevator read, Shaft being reoiled. Check back again after you forget.
A titmouse fluttered into a stairwell. I followed it up twenty-one flights and into my friend’s open entryway.
The titmouse was practicing free throws on a miniature basketball court. It was struggling with form.
Intermittent paper lunch sack lanterns littered the floor. The apartment had been modified with a series of cardboard partitions, diverging the space into a complex of delusively infinite smaller spaces.
―I’m in here, came a voice from darkness.
―Bro, I disseminated, folding my grip along the fortifications. ―What happened to your door?
―No idea, Alexander echoed. ―Woke up one morning and it was departed. Divorced solidly from its hinges. Sanded clean. An assignation.
―Is that what you purport?
―And the portent?
I found my compatriot crouched in a convergence of down, pillows and blankets abound, stained yellowing, with Clipper flicked, heating a spoonful of goopy.
―I mean, he continued, eyes fixed ahead. ―Good would be better. Food, even. But I’ll take benignity.
He dropped a cotton ball on the spoon, rigged up and shot before I could offer to assist. Alexander went stiff and tilted back into his pile simpering.
―How do you feel?
―Gaga googa, he answered.
―Nice, I said. ―Mind if I spark a toke?
I twisted up and blew a brume in his direction, observing the flare and drag of the young veteran’s nostrils.
―Holy reefer, he hissed. ―Bring that some of to me over would mind you here?
We passed the joint back and forth until it was crumblets. After a while, Alexander loosened. He reared to his slippers and kicked over one of the bulwarks to reveal a kitchenette. Together we prepared vegan tagine with gluten-free couscous. We sat on the floor, absorbing it.
―I’ve got some news.
―Think I don’t scan the airwaves, Wally?
―Then you know.
―I know what I know, Alexander said. ―I’ll sing what I said in the back of my head.
―Old Eelykind. Married on the lava slab.
―To the blood-tied beneficiary of the acclaimed shaving cream fortune at that.
―Clarissa Barbasol. Boi-oi-oi-oi-oi-oing! If we’re being really real, tho, who wouldn’t have thunk it?
I presented my platinum-clad digit.
―I’m a sell-out.
And moped at the balmy haze spiraling from the plate before me. Alexander sprang to and vomited in one of the lunch sacks.
―It all happened faster than I could wrangle, I sighed. ―Two nights ago, we were breezy blithe as bushbabies. Now she’s bobbing for a brood of our own. I’m about to fall off my horse.
―Don’t I know it.
I slurped a spoonful of the tagine. It tasted funny. I ingested another.
―Wait a second, man. Did you… Am I…
Alexander hiccuped laughter.
―Damn it, dude. You know I don’t like spider milk.
―I’m sorry, he gasped. ―I’m sorry. It’s just… It keeps the goopy riding high. You’re going to be fine. Just breathe thru your nose.
―When did you find time to slip it in?
Alexander gazed into the distance.
―It was always there.
―Some vegan you are.
―Hey, I served my time. I don’t need any judgment from Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Warbucks Shaving Cream Junior over here.
―Okay, okay. Look, ese. I’m eating.
―Bon, I agreed.
When we finished, Alexander threw the plates out a window between two of the cardboard walls. We awaited the crash. Squat, half-frozen in anticipation. After twenty or so seconds we gave up.
―So… How have you been?
―Really good, Alexander said. ―Really, really good.
―What are your plans?
―Eh, you know. Nothing for a while. Then prob reenlist. I heard the fracas’s over anyhow. Just sort of stalling till the rest of the surplus mines detonate. May as well make a little use of my VA benefits before they expire or get commuted to international humanitarian law violations.
―Hey, that reminds me. I brought you something.
I shimmied the arm of my windbreaker. The magazine flowed out, and I extended it to Alexander.
He hesitated. Then took it in a gloveless hand, sidelong gaping at the periodical’s icy lacquer with concussive guilt.
―It’s Nose Coner’s Monthly, I said.
―Slick! Is this the one with the profile on the new Psychodespinalator Nano-guided Missile?
―I think so.
―Wow, will you, uh…
He furled the magazine into a tight, conical gestalt. The trooper’s intuition was never in question.
―Do you think you’d mind reciting me some of the article?
Alexander retired supine on his feathery roost, and I held up one of the paper lanterns, enumerating the many idiosyncrasies and unparalleled innovations of the freshly patented weapons tech.
When I looked up, my whoadie had entered those seizing throes distinctive to the land of nod. Careful not to make physical contact, I covered his face with the glossy spread.
―Don’t stop, he groaned.
―Remember when we were only unfledged pupils? Verdant disciples of the New York University core curriculum?
―No, Alexander monotoned.
―I was studying the ethics of music. And you were pursuing a lock-stock funded dual bachelor’s and master’s in reverse particle physics.
―You 4-F bastard.
―Technically, I think it was 4-J. Something about not wanting to get the semitic element entangled… Not that that’d pose problems per points prospective…
My glove wandered toward my crotch.
―Comme ci, comme ça.
―Still got your wits about you.
―I remember when there was roaches in my bed, Alexander yawned. ―Now I’m smoking meth on an island in Tibet.
―You should start rapping again.
―That’s the plan.
―I thought the plan was to deploy.
―Sure it is. Back to the Persian Crater. Witness the unfathomable and grisly limits of human indignity, then become a famous rapper. Figure I’ll barter forty hectares without much trub. Grow some goopy plants. Milk goats, marry wives. Get me some of that gut gut. When my mixtape drops, there won’t be a soul between me and top seed on the RapRoe playlist.
―Exactly. Start a Bible club or something. The possibilities are endless.
―But isn’t all that land, like, neutronalized? I don’t think you’re going to have much success cultivating it.
―Goats eat cans, idiot.
I took my phone out and pretended to scroll. Truth was, the thing had exhausted its battery hours earlier.
―What will you do if someone tries to steal your sunshine?
―I carry a sack of nickels on me for every occasion, duh.
He lifted his hairless palm in the air and feigned a prodigious Baltimore chop in my direction.
Even lacking a sizable hunk of prefrontal cortex, not to mention his ability to read and retain information, Alexander could get the best of me yet. It was a shame his research on galvanic proton amity had never amounted to anything.
Plus he’d fallen back asleep.
And I still low. Perhaps more extant souls persisted, to whom I might inure my conjugal bonanza…
I pushed a high-five in the poor vet’s direction and retraced my steps thru flickering shadowlight and past the doorless arc, into a hallway swarmed with termites.