Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Night We Met, version 2

My vision adjusted to the dark entryway of the intimate restaurant. The heavy glass door shut behind me, all but hitting me in the backside. My backside, still tender from the red pen lashings of an unforgiving agent hopped up on caffeine, Snickers bars and power.

Evil has appeared in human form and its name is Janet Silton.


My sole reason for seeking out the elixir I so desperately needed, the amber liquid that could banish her from my mind, albeit temporarily. Just the thought of that wicked woman caused me to shudder, the motion propelling me forward, each step leaving behind the faint imprint of rejection.

Closed off from the chaos of the New York street, I was welcomed to a serene world reeking of lost love, far off lands and, if I wasn’t mistaken, the heavy aroma of garlic.

I could see from the appraising eye of the barkeep that he was hungry for a spark not found in this city since Carrie met Big. I'd bet my first advance check that he would be wanting more than a twenty at the end of his shift.

“Tequila,” I said, as I slid onto the leather barstool, draping my New York knock off on the seatback and tossing my AMEX on the bar all in one motion. “I’m here to drink, not dance, Max, so throw your come hither looks in another direction.”

“Fantastic! Can I use that line?” Her laughter sparkled like the crystal stem of her wine glass as she tipped it to my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “Took me forty five minutes of bar chat before I realized his belt needed another notch and I looked like a good tool.”

There was something faintly familiar about the well put together redhead at the bar. Perhaps she reminded me of an inspired, more naïve version of myself. Me, before the curtain was pulled back revealing the Great Oz for who he, or she, really was. I turned from the mirror for a better look at my new companion.

Oh, that's why she looked familiar. The darling of the conference was sitting right next to me, the after burn of the collective agents' praise still lighting up her cheeks like Rudolph’s nose.

“Scusi senoras, for special tonight we offer Roasted Silton," Max crooned in heavily accented English,"a fully cooked agent, filleted and prepared with an inky reduction sauce. I must warn you, the meat is quite tough this evening.”

We both ordered the pasta.

“Taking no prisoners, Boston?” Kilt Guy settled between us at the bar as I shot back, I mean sipped, my tequila, his deep baritone carrying to the bartender. “Scotch neat. Roasted Silton, rare.”

“Tough day, Kilt Guy. Have you met Red?” I provided the introductions before excusing myself in search of the powder room.

“Effen, eff, eff, mother effer. I’ll teach you who’s the effen boss here, you effen sh#*.”

“Well, if you’re going to have a potty mouth I guess this would be the place for it.” A stall door was open, revealing the source of such colorful language.

She was on her knees, elbows to the floor, blonde hair falling precariously close to the open toilet, one shoeless stockinged foot braced against the wall. The source of her frustration was wedged between the wall and the throne – a four hundred dollar patent leather Pedro Garcia. “I’m not even going to ask how your shoe got there. Here, let me help.”

We fought diligently, retrieving the shoe with nary a mark on it. Standing, we smoothed down our skirts and our dignity. “Ms J." she offered a well-manicured hand. "Backspace?”

“Indeed. I’m Boston. And tomorrow’s another day, right? Hopefully a kinder, gentler day. So the shoe. How did you – “

“We agreed not to mention that, right? Hmmmm... Royal Shoe gets eaten by throne. Or maybe why Feet and S#*t don’t mix. Oh I know, Pedro Garcia, meet John… yeah, that’s it. That’s good stuff right there.”

“Excuse me?” I watched in fascinated horror as Ms J kicked the stall door open like The Karate Kid meets Devil Wears Prada, whipped a laptop out of her bag and  perched on the edge of the shoe-eating toilet, fingers flying over the keyboard.

“Wedgie? Love that word but no, wedges get wedged… shoe of sh#*… Boston and I gave a rallying cry… mmph, funny stuff!... almost as good as Christmas poop. Can't make this crap up. Crap! Hilarious!” I tiptoed backwards, silently making my way to the door. She looked normal enough. But what does crazy really look like anyway?

I froze as she called out. “Hey! Don't go! I’m just posting a blog while the humiliation is still fresh in my mind. My followers are going to ell-oh-vee-ee this.”

I watched in silent awe as she shut the laptop with a flourish, flashing a smile and rising from the toilet like she had just been called from the green room of The Letterman Show. “Now about that drink?”

We rejoined Red and Kilt Guy at the bar, our spirits lifting as the night grew longer. We toasted each other cheerfully, mocking our characters, killing our darlings and licking our wounds.

Max began to stack chairs around us, his bedroom eyes bouncing from me to Red to Ms J, his ego not too bruised for one last questioning look.

"You get points for trying, I'll say that, amante." I laughed, signing the check and standing a bit unsteadily.

"Here's to us!" Kilt Guy drained his glass and slammed it on the bar."It’ll all work out. I just know it. And if not we can always publish feline erotica, right?" Red said in all seriousness. "I hear there’s a big market for it right now.” She winked at Max as she slid off her stool.

“I don’t know about you, but every one of those mother effing mother effers is going to get a copy of my book. And the inscription will read “Told you I could write, b*tch.”

I looped my arms through theirs, knowing that fate had put the four of us together for a reason.

One hit wonders?

Literary world dominion?

Feline erotica serial writers?

I didn’t know but I sure was looking forward to finding out.

Kilt Guy held the door open as we braced ourselves against the cool New York air. “We’ll show them, won’t we girls? And whoever is published first, well, dinner is on them next year. Deal?”

We shook hands solemnly, pausing in front of the public library, knowing with a cool certainty that someday our books would grace the shelves of this sacred place.

I spoke the words we were all thinking. “It won’t be long, my friends. You’ll see.”

“You know it, Boston.” Red's smile was genuine. She did know it. We all did.

Flipping up his collar, Kilt Guy turned against the wind, his eyes squinting to see the future laid out before us. “Until then my friends, I’ll See You at Arno’s.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Night We Met

"Play Berkeley Square for me."

It was a cold night for New York in May. The kind of cold that seeps through your London Fog, crawls through your pores and settles in your marrow like squatters in a crack house.

I'd stepped off 38th Street into the dark-paneled vestibule of Arno's, rain dripping from my fedora to make starburst teardrops on the cold marble floor. The Muse is a fickle tease. One minute she's enticing you with sultry glimpses that promise rapture, and the next she's forcing a smile on you just so she can kick you in the teeth. Writing's no game for wimps, I knew that. But of late, the dice were weighted against me. I hadn't been rejected so much since Spring Break, 1989.

The lounge singer had just put a ribbon on the last notes of her song, and I asked her to sing mine next.

"Sure thing, Joe," she said with a smile as tired as a mining camp whore on payday. "Put it in E-flat, Tommy."

I thought to tell her Joe was my brother, but once she started singing about That certain night, it just didn't seem to matter.

"Double Macallan. Eighteen," I told the barman when I caught his eye. Anything younger would be illegal. "One ice cube."

"Sure thing, Mac."

Again I thought to correct the name, but the anonymity had the warm comfort of that first sip of Scotch. I nodded thanks to the barman and threw down a fifty. The old sot—Grant, that is, not the barkeep—stared at me through bloodshot green-tinted eyes. I raised my glass to him and took another sip.

And then she walked in.

As she shook off her umbrella and the maitre d' took her coat, she looked about the place. Her eyes had that red-rimmed look that might have come from the urine stench of Gotham's alleys, but I knew better. I tipped my Macallan toward her. She gave a weak smile of recognition then took a place at the bar two seats down from me.

"You were the one in the kilt, right?" she said, eyes fixed on the mirror behind the bar.

Sooner than I could answer, the barman appeared before her.

"Champagne," she ordered.

"Celebrating or forgetting?" I asked.

She slowly turned toward me. Her auburn hair was cut short, the kind of style that gives a vulnerable exposure of the neck, but sports a sassiness that makes you check that your keys, money clip and testicles are still where you put them.


She said the name like that of your first lover who promised to marry you once she returned from her mission trip to Sulawesi then wrote to say she was having second thoughts, so you maxed out your credit card and caught the next flight to Jakarta, then sat in coach for two days, knees-to-chin, only to stagger off the puddle-jumper at Donggala to learn she'd flown back stateside, so you wire home for money for the return flight but your parents think you need to learn a lesson, then you find yourself caught in the middle of the religious riots….

She seemed sad.

I understood.

Noslen's a tough cookie. A sharp broad who knows her stuff and knows what she's about, but pulls no punches with writers she thinks are in over their heads. I closed my eyes, gave a sympathetic nod then raised my glass again. She hesitated but lifted her flute, bubbles streaming through the amber liquid like fireflies on an August night in Michigan.

We drank in companionable silence until a rain-dampened blonde settled in, two seats to my other side.

"Tequila," she told the barman, her Boston accent tempered and weary. "Make it smooth, make it Extra Añejo, and make it quick."

He hurried to obey.

"Backspace?" Bubbles leaned forward and spoke around me.

The newcomer moistened her hand and sprinkled some salt. The barkeep set down Boston's drink and a slice of lime on a saucer. The shot glass barely had time to cool the oak before the dame licked the salt, slammed the tequila and sucked on the lime. She shivered, craned her neck like a wrestler getting ready for a match, then placed both hands on the bar and straightened her back.

"Paulsagh," she said, her voice full of grit. "Says I lack emotional investment. I'll give her emotional investment, right up her—"

"One more on me," I said to the barkeep.

He wiped his face with a towel, nodded, then hurried to pour another shot.

Lightning illuminated the bar like—like—like lightning flashing through the windows on a cold-when-it-should-be-hot night in May in New York. A thunder clap made everyone jump and rattled the bottles of top-shelf liquor on the—well, on the top shelf.

"Stupid shoes."

The three of us turned our heads toward the door like spectators at the US Open.

Another blonde—hair streaming with the late-May rain—threw her Alexander Wang on the coat rack, peeled off her slingback Blahnik's and rubbed her heels. She hobbled to the nearest stool and eased into the lime-colored velour's embrace.

"Cab. Oak. Now."

'Nough said.

An easy calm settled over Arno's as the songstress wrapped up the tune of London's nightingale.

"Would miei signore e signore care for a table?"

The maitre d' appeared behind us, his hands spread in a welcoming gesture. His smile bespoke the warm invitation of Southern Europe.

The four of us looked from one to another. Bubbles gave a hint of a nod, and the rest of us promptly agreed. Before long we were seated at a cozy table in the heart of Arno's, a plate of bruschetta between us and a bottle of Greco di Tuffo breathing on the side.

"You ordered that just because of the name, didn't you?" Heels looked at me under an arched brow.

I shrugged. "How can you pass up a good Mastroberardino?"

Good-humored laughter bounced off the mirrored glazing.

Bottle chased bottle as antipasti and insalati gave way to primi and secondi. Tales of queries scorned and first pages ridiculed were followed by outlines and tag lines, synopses and tropes. By night's end, bonds were forged and hopes restored. The rain dissolved like our agent-induced angst and we wandered in a round-about path toward the Martinique under a cloud-laced sky.

We strolled past twitching tweakers, snoring drunks and the sleeping lions in front of the Library.

"Our books will be there one day," Bubbles said.

"And we'll come to each others' book signings," vowed Boston.

"And give each other blurbs," Heels added.

I nodded, flipped up the collar on my trench coat and pulled the fedora deeper across my eyes. I fished a Dunhill out of my pocket, flipped it between my lips, then shielded it from the wind as I flicked my Zippo.

"'Til then," I said around the red-tipped fag, its light and smoke tracing my words in the night air, "I'll see you at Arno's, kids."

I turned on my heels and stalked alone into the darkness of 40th Avenue. A lone saxophone echoed over the streets of Manhattan, while a nightingale sang in Bryant Park.

Editor's Note: The forgoing are the recollections, real or imagined, of the author and may (read, "probably") have zero association with events as they actually occurred. No merit should be placed in them, or any weight assigned to them with regard to historical accuracy. At all.