Each and Every Logical Confusion
"Defenestration" is a
pretty word. Just as pretty as "hematoma" or
"butterscotch." Rico told me he knew a girl who didnít
trust the word "lips." I guess I was auditing my
vocabulary when Rico explained how his dog had jumped off his
apartmentís roof and impaled herself on a wrought iron fence. I
held the phone tighter. I said, "Sure, Rico, crash at my
place. What are friends for? Thatís too bad, Rico, címon,
dude." The right words escaped me, even the ugliest ones
would have been useful, but all I came up with was, "Geez,
Rico, I just loved that dog."
The next Friday night, I came
home from work and Rico was sitting in my hallway reading a
yellowed paperback copy of Carrie.
"P. J., what the hell
happened to your face?"
I put my key in the lock. My
cat, Dogma, was caterwauling behind the door.
"How was the bus ride,
"I took the train."
Rico put his hand on my shoulder. I could smell something on him:
bus-stink, cleaning fluid. He smelled like crack.
"Come on in and take a load
off," I said. "Weíre going out to dinner with Nel.
Mexican. You up for that?"
"Whatever," Rico said.
He stepped over Dogma, who was chewing the plaster corner where
the kitchen met the hallway wall. He threw his pack down. He went
over to the futon and stretched out.
"Your face looks like you
got run over. Who got a piece of you?" he asked me.
"Long story," I said.
I took my jacket off. Underneath, I was rumpled. Somehow, Iíd
lost my necktie between meetings. Strands of my hair had broken
free from the lame-ass ponytail I was still using to cover up what
was getting thin on top. My teeth hurt. I slapped open the
refrigerator door. The interior was maleficent. The bulb was gone.
Shadows of cat food and condiments. Nothing had moved, nothing
But I held up a silver bowl of
cole slaw. Iíd fixed it especially for Ricoís visit. I knew
Rico loved cole slaw. "Want some?" I asked.
"Sure," Rico said.
"Iím starving, actually." He came into the kitchen. He
looked at least thirty-two years old. Heíd done a bad job
shaving; beads of dried blood peppered his jawline, a gaggle of
blackheads flocked across his nose. His glasses were filthy.
"Someone hit you, P. J.,
Jesus!" Rico said.
"Howís New York, Rico?
You keeping busy?"
"I gotta tell you, not so
good. My roommate booted me out. Since Zonkers died, itís hell.
Iím couch-surfing now. Oh, and I got terminated from a temp
assignment for sexual harassment."
"No shit. Pray tell."
We settled down with the bowl of
cole slaw at the kitchen table. We went at it with spoons.
"This chick at my last gig
nailed me. One minute we were friends, weíre going to poetry
readings and stuff. Nothing serious. Sheís a cool girl. Then I
gave her a peck on the cheek one morning, the next thing my
supervisor calls from the agency and tells me to get my time sheet
signed. I told them I would never do anything untoward. Me? Can
you believe it?"
"Impossible," I said.
"She probably wanted you. She had an agenda."
Rico came over and took the
empty bowl. We left the sticky spoons on the table, and Dogma
leapt up and starting licking them. We watched the cat for a
while. We didnít kick him off.
Rico went into the kitchen, and
I heard him try to fit the bowl into the sink that was filled with
dirty dishes. I thought I heard a wineglass implode.
"Sorry about that,"
Rico said, wiping his hands on his jeans. "Iíll do the
dishes if you want me to. Iíll pay for the goblet."
I didnít say anything, and he
came and stood near me. I wanted to rest my head on the tabletop
that was covered with cat hair.
"Hmmm," Rico said. He
tilted his head sideways and pressed his lips onto mine. We stayed
that way for some time, until I remembered I hadnít put the
apples Iíd bought into the cole slaw. We stayed that way until
my door buzzer rang. It was Nel saying she didnít want to go to
dinner, she wanted to go to the health club. Rico and I stayed
pressed into that kiss, pressed into oblivion, pressing into the
jokes he hadnít told me, until I realized that more than
anything, this was something.
"That was something,"
"That," said Rico,
"was an ultimate Band-Aid."
The Mexican joint was dicey. It
was one half of an old menís bar converted into a
South-of-the-Border young menís restaurant. Someone had erected
a barbed wire fence to separate the smokers and the bar crowd from
the diners, except the wire was plastic and wrapped with puce
Christmas lights. We sat on oil drums around a wooden spool the
phone company had once used to deploy cable. We were on a little
platform overlooking a festive sea of bald spots at the bar beyond
The waitress was as close to a
babe as you can reasonably get in a place like that. A blackish
stone sat in a dent in her clavicle bone, hanging from a thin gold
chain. The jewelry rode her breath, it dipped and settled with
"Iím Rico, and this is my
friend, P. J.," Rico told the waitress. She looked me over
and gave me a smile, then scowled at Rico.
"I hope you werenít a
party to that," she said, laying the menus down and
gesturing toward my eye.
"Heís from New
York," I told her. "Youíre sure suspicious."
"I got my reasons,"
she said. She held a bouquet of steak knives and then let them
clatter onto a place mat with a sombrero on it. "Whatís
this?" she asked. She picked up Ricoís key chain. Heíd
attached Zonkersí blue nylon collar to the loop of keys.
"Dog died last week,"
Rico said. "Iím sentimental."
She didnít put the collar back
on the table. She handed it back to Rico. She looked him straight
in the eye.
Rico took a blue bandanna napkin
out of his sangria glass and tucked it into his shirt collar over
his "Client/Server Technology: Enabling Customer
Intimacy" T-shirt. "Whatís good, darling?" he
"You," she said.
"The burritos are okay."
"A woman," Rico said.
"What were you doing with a woman?" He pulled the last
of his margarita up through his straw. The food was horrible, a
huge mound of coagulated beans. It all looked the sameóthe rice,
the chicken, the tacos, the lettuce. It was all brown and gluey. I
felt sorry for taking him there.
"I donít know. She tied
"What?" Rico said.
"She handcuffed me to the
leg of the bed. We were at the Marriott. Sheís, ah, a pilot I
"Whoa," said Rico.
"Really. She handcuffed me
to the foot of the bed. Fine, I said at first. Fine. This could
work. But then things got out of control. She panicked or
something. I panicked."
"Howíd you lovebirds
"Nelly introduced us. The
woman wanted to open a dry-cleaning franchise. She flies for a
company out of Saint Louis, and she was in town."
"Youíre kidding. What
happened to the eye?"
"She bit it. My brow bone,
actually. And then she threw a lamp at me." I prodded my
"On the way to finding Mr.
Right you cry with the wrong person," Rico said.
"Right, mister. Two rights
donít make a wrong if you know what I mean."
"Fuckiní A," Rico
said. "Iím buying this round."
We got back to my apartment
close to one. We were laughing that the bar tab had amounted to
three times what weíd paid for the lousy food. "Youíre
not mad, are you?" I asked Rico.
"Nah," he said.
"But I could use some more of that cole slaw." He
giggled then let his arms dangle at his sides and hung his head as
if he were really depressed.
"Sorry," I told him. I
went into the hallway to get sheets for the futon. He followed on
my heels. The cat was underfoot, too. The cat got nervous and
hooked himself between my legs when he felt he wasnít getting
his fair share of affection.
The hallway was narrow and Rico
pressed against the wall to let me pass. The linen closet butts my
bedroom door and Rico stood shadowed in the entrance. Behind him I
could see police lights swabbing the venetian blinds. The stripes
flickered across my king-size mattress. There was a shelter across
the street and late nights there was a lot of trouble.
"Whatís up?" Rico
said. He was smiling so I could see only his top teeth. "Didnít
you make your bed today?"
"Huh," I said.
"These are for your bed. Youíre on the futon."
"Actually," he said,
stepping towards me. "Just a hug," he said. He pulled
the dog collar out of his pocket and looped it around his right
wrist. It reminded me of the pilot coming at me with the
handcuffs. I pushed a magenta sheet at him. "Poor Zonkers,"
Rico said. "Poor P. J."
"Get over yourself," I
told him. I brushed past and locked the bathroom door behind me. I
lifted the seat on the toilet bowl. The last time Rico had used it
heíd put it down. I pissed and got an idea and forgot to brush
my teeth. I returned to the living room. Rico was sprawled on the
futon, the folded sheet over his face, Zonkersí collar on the
floor by his outstretched arm. He was snoring.
We were standing near a bank of
phones waiting for Amtrak. Rico had forgotten a lot of stuff at my
place: his paperback, his toothbrush. He was complaining heíd
have nothing to read. The station was jammed. They had some
problem announcing the tracks and things were backing up. "Weíre
having difficulties," the track announcer said.
"Technical difficulties with the signals. You know the domino
effect, folks? Well, we got it and weíre paying for it. We ask
that people please sit tight."
"I think itís funny how
you slammed the door in my face," Rico said. "I think itís
a riot what you said." He whipped his backpack strap around
in a circle until it made a whistling sound. He massaged the
buckles against the green khaki. "So much fits," he
"What did I say,
"You said, donít even
think about it. Rico, donít even think about it."
"Weíre friends. Weíve
been friends forever."
"So, why ruin it?"
"Why would sex ruin
it?" Rico said.
"You know," I said.
"Youíve got a point, but itís a dull point. Youíre
"Fuck you," Rico said
grabbing the receiver of a pay phone and pretending to talk.
"Fuck yourself," I
said. "Okay. Maybe I was thinking dogs donít jump off
roofs. Maybe I was thinking Zonkers was pushed."
They called the track for the
Patriot Express and people mobbed the sliding glass doors. It was
like a molten river of anxiety; there was no reserved seating on
these trains. A little girl was pushing her own plastic stroller
toward Track 4. Where was her mother? Plastic bags full of Pampers
hung off the bent handles and she pushed hard, with determination.
People cut her off, but she kept zigzagging through them, driving
the flimsy stroller at top speed toward the exit. The stroller
finally tipped, and she went over with it, in slow motion,
crashing onto the linoleum. The crowd just steamrollered her.
Rico was gone in a flash. He
kicked the stroller off her, picked her up and smoothed her hair.
Her mother came up out of nowhere, put her in her stroller, and
wheeled her away without saying a word. I shoved my way over to
Rico. He was standing in the middle of the frenzy, like a log
jammed between rocks in some rapids. Things were accumulating in
the still pools of his eyes. He looked up from his inspection of
his yellow basketball sneakers. I noticed his face was wet.
"Did you freaking see
that?" he asked. "Whatís going on here?"
"I saw it," I said.
"Yeah," he said
smearing the tears into his sideburns.
"Yeah," I sighed.
It only took a moment for him to
squeeze my hand. He still had six minutes to hold it, but he let
me slip away. His palm was greasy, like an unwashed bathtub.
"Your hands are dirty," he said.
"Hang in there," I
said. "Iíll wash íem."
"The thing is, P. J.,"
he said, "whether you know it or not, youíre exactly the
"The same as what?"
"As what?" he snorted
and picked up his pack and turned away. Then he spun towards me
again. "As you were, soldier," he said. He saluted meóa
quick hacking of the air near his right eye. I saluted back, and
he gave me a mealy grin and was gone.
The station cleared out fast. It
seemed as if everyone in the world had found his seat, and I stood
in that echoing public place while a third-shift janitor bent to
his knees in the cleaning solution and held up a bill. I wanted to
see better so I put on my glasses. He waved the hundred dollars
around. Nobody was around to see, not the other janitors, not the
conductors, not the signal crew, or a single late-night commuter.
I mean it was just me and him, and he was calling out fiercely,
with something in his voice you just donít hear every day,
"Hey, somebody, look what I found!"
There are situations where the
word "carnality" should never be invoked. You shouldnít
sleep with your mom or dad, friends or shrinks. That was all I
thought as the weight of my body parted the automatic doors and I
walked onto the street.
It was a windy night and
everything was getting twisted and flying apart. Flags wrapped
around flagpoles by the Federal Reserve, pieces of trash scudded
down Atlantic Avenue like nervous animals running away from
something bigger that might kill them. Even though the wind was
strong, I felt if I just walked into it, kept plowing right into
it, everything that was getting blown around would straighten out
and calm down. I turned east into a fresh blast of it, and started