Comes in stinking, thumbing
his jean pockets, a crucifix tattooed on his forehead. People stare. He
doesnt care. He may be small but he knows some things. He may look puny
and beatable but there exist companies of men, hard men, who will show you the
white and blue scars of encounter and share memories of pain and emasculation
that would make you turn your head.
Whats your poison, boss? the erstwhile barkeep,
sleeve-tattooed and barnacled about the eyes barks out.
The small sinister newcomer lifts his eyebrows and rises on his toes.
What does this mean? asks the barkeep for everyone.
The newcomer lifts his thumbs from his pockets and glances at them before
letting his hands fall to his sides. He tilts his head right, then left. In
another incarnation, hed be wearing a black, ill-fitting Stetson. In this
one he is green-garbed like a man from Ireland and red-haired also. The
toothpick dangling from the side of his mouth was a character-defining prop
decided upon before the first shoot by the producers, the writers, and the
See, if you use the toothpick, said one spectacled executive,
people will think youre a tough, from the streets and so on.
Another executive, wearing no shoes and socks, had suggested an eyepatch.
Thats a no go, responded the director right quick.
Careful you dont swallow the toothpick, offered one of the
stenographers. The wisdom of the choice remains to be weighted.
A boilermaker, said the newcomer with the crucifix-tattooed
Who the fuck drinks boilermakers anymore? queried the barkeep but
more to the air than to anyone within earshot.
I do, said the red. My name is McQuinty. My family hails from
Limerick and Ill hear no jokes about that, I will not.
Admittedly things get weird in these stories. Not deliberately so. Adhering to
the principle of one sentence following another, with no blueprint, no
schemata, no floor plan, no script, and not a single explicable idea operating,
we move on.
McQuinty, heres your drink.
He gulps it half down and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
Thats me name, he says.
Where are you going with this, sir? the barkeep inquires.
Going with what? says McQuinty.
Agh, never mind, says the barkeep who towels up the counter.
McQuinty looks to the hammered tin ceiling and points his right index finger
upward. Its all up to the man up there, he says.
The barkeep nods and looks down as he wipes the counter. Indeed he polishes it
to a rich sheen.
McQuinty points to the counter. Thats what Im talking
about, he says.
Aye, says the barkeep, darting his eyes.
I thought Demarco had died
last year. Of colon cancer. But when I saw him in the food concourse at the
Eglinton Centre eating a plate of beef teriyaki, I figured it was one of those
Mandela things. I could even remember reading Demarcos obituary and being
asked if I was attending the funeralwhich I did not for some reason I
cant recall. Then I thought, It cant be him. He died. Hes
dead. Its just some dude who looks like him. A lot like him, yes. But
its not him. I shook off my momentary loss of sanity and started walking
away. Then I stopped again and took another look. Damn if he didnt look
exactly like the guy. And damn if he wasnt holding his fork the way
Demarco didclenched in his fist like a knife intended to stab. I decided
to get closer and determine how far this likeness went. I walked slowly toward
As I got within a few feet,
he looked up from his food and popped his eyes when he saw me.
Buddy! he cried, rising to his feet. He looked genuinely happy to
see me. I should have been shocked perhaps, but I wasntI was just
as happy to see him. We had spent a lot of time together when we were wild
young men. We had lived together briefly, had driven across Florida on an epic
road trip, had been in each others wedding parties. True, wed
fallen out of touch for years, as happens with friends, each caught up in their
own orbit. He gave me a bro hug and clapped me on the back. How the
fucks it going? he asked.
I said. What about you? He told me had been divorced since we last
spokeluckily no children, though he had to give up the dog. I was going
to say, I heard you were fucking dead, bro, but obviously I had
been mistaken about that. The mind plays tricks on you when get older and have
been a stoner for most of your adult life. Still, I couldnt shake the
image I had of his obituary in the local newspaper, complete with a recent
portrait that showed his thinning hair.
Come on, sit down
with me, he said. Im just finishing some lunch. I was
famished. Im up here for a doctors appointment. What about
I glanced at his plate of
food. What I thought was beef teriyaki turned out to be black spaghetti. Was
that squid-ink? In the concourse? It seemed odd. I tried not to dwell on it.
You cant question too deeply all the bizarre and fucked up things that
happen in a life. Lets start with the fact that we are here at all,
living and breathing on a tiny blue dot in the gargantuan expanse of the
universe, using sounds to communicate, one consciousness to the other.
Demarco smiled. His eyes
looked strange, his pupils so dilated they blotted out his rises.
Well? he said raising his heavy eyebrows, though I noticed that,
disturbingly, he had no eyelashes. I told him I lived in a flat nearby and was
still doing my journalism thing.
Is everything okay
with you? I asked. I mean health-wise?
He said hed had a few
intestinal issues and was seeing a specialist. I dont think
its anything serious, he said.
I noticed that his teeth
were gray, an oddity. He had never been a smoker and I recalled him having a
terrific smile. Also, his neck looked very thinby which I mean abnormally
thin. It seemed barely capable of keeping his head erect. And if I wasnt
mistaken, Im pretty sure he was wearing a hairpiece. And the closer I
scrutinized him, the weirder and more decrepit he looked. I had to wonder if
hed become a junky.
Are you hungry?
he asked. I said I had already eaten lunch. He finished off his food and we
exchanged a few more banalities. Then, as we made to leave, I asked him to give
me his telephone number. Ah, I forgot my phone, he said, and
I couldnt tell you my number haha. Ive never dialed it! Just tell
me yours. Ill remember it. I told him my number and had him repeat
it back to me and he had it down. We bro-hugged and parted ways. I felt
ebullient, quite frankly. I had always been fond of Demarco. He clearly
wasnt in the best of health, but at least he wasnt fucking dead!
I walked home recalling
some of our youthful antics and the fun we had. Demarco always had me in
stitches. Those were easy times compared to the present. Later that day my
sister called. She was leaving for a vacation in Aruba with her new man friend
and gave me instructions for feeding her cat and watering her plants.
Daisy, she warned me. I know you. She needs to lose a few more
pounds before I can get her teeth cleaned. So no extra helpings and positively
We chatted for a few more
minutes. As I was about to ring off I told her about my encounter earlier.
I saw Demarco in the concourse. Can you believe that? Demarco. My
sister was quiet. What is it? I said.
After a long silence my
sister asked, Did you say you saw Demarco?
I waited for Billy in the
Monte Carlo. We went back decades. He came from dirty money. Id never
completely trusted the guy. He rolled like a big shot but lacked talent and his
lack of talent made him psychologically pathetic and needy. And all the money
in the world couldnt address this. By talent what do I mean? I mean,
anything. His only talent was blowing his old mans ill-gotten gains and a
penchant for smarminess and weak counterattacking jokes. But he had boyish
looks and wore a Rolex and thousand dollar shoes. The ladies liked him.
He climbed into the car
reeking of a cologne that reminded me of my old Uncle Franks Hai Karate.
He greeted me with a shit-eating grin. I asked him what was up. He held up a
brown paper bag and nodded. I looked inside. A pair of shoes sat in the bag,
fine black shoes with tassels. A rich smell of leather rose from them. He told
me they were a gift, for me. It wasnt my birthday or anything. I told him
I didnt need any shoes, thank you very much.
Berlutis, bro, he said.
Hm, I thought. Berlutis.
on, he said. Theyre European size 45.
I looked at his oily pale
face to see if he was putting me on as usual. But his eyes expressed sincerity.
I doubted he had dished out cash for the shoes. Maybe they had fallen off a
truck. Maybe they were used. I untied my Merrells, lifted the Berlutisnew
with unblemished leather solesout of the bag and put the right one on
first. It fit ok. A little snug in the toes. Then I slipped on the left shoe,
which fit somewhat better. I laced up the shoes. They had a nice little heel
and filled the car with their new leather smell. I thanked him and tossed my
Merrells in the back seat.
it, he said, offering no explanation.
I drove us to Little Italy
and parked near the synagogue on Clinton. Billy had on a loose leather jacket
with huge sleeves that made him look shifty. And he was growing a light goatee
that contributed to this impression. We walked into Bar Italia and sat at the
bar. Eugene the barista greeted us and asked what we would like. I ordered a
chinotto with lemon as my stomach was a little off. Billy ordered a Heineken,
no glass. The shoes, particularly the right, had begin to pinch. I hated new
Billy chattered away about
a subject that held no interest for me and my mind wandered. For a moment I
imagined myself beating Billy to death with my fists. I mean, sucker-punching
him in the teeth and then just beating the shit out of him. Im not really
a violent person. But it was always near the surface when I was around him. I
pictured the entire sequence, running it through my mind like a tiny movie. The
initial overhand right, the lefts and rights to follow, boots to the body and
head, stomping, oh the stomping. Id get blood on the new shoes.
Theyd be so bloodied up Id have to ditch them, no matter that they
were Berlutis, what douchebag would even think of buying shoes that cost as
much as a used car.
We drank and Billy talked
and I feigned listening. Eugene caught my eye with a knowing eyebrow and seemed
to understand my situation. Sometimes a friend wears out the friendship. Or the
friend changes and is no longer the person you liked enough to befriend.
Sometimes you yourself change and become such an asshole as to be insufferable.
It happens. Were all fallen. Id come to hate, Billy, yes. His
greatest flaw was his lack of imagination, which had become a deal-breaker for
the friendship. I couldnt tolerate his entitled, empty blather any more.
are making me cranky, I said. Theyre too
He stopped talking and
looked at me quizzically. But theyre brand new, bro. Theyll
give a little. Leather gives.
I smiled without mirth.
Eugene, with his severe overbite, stood there gaping at me as though
anticipating a statement. I had nothing for him. My right big toe throbbed. I
could feel my heartbeat in it. I propped my elbows on the marble counter and
rested my face in my hands.
okay? Eugene asked.
Without looking at him I
today, Billy said.
Life can be like
that, Eugene said emptily. He took a rag and wiped the counter though it
I wrote a
treatment, Billy said.
I glanced at him. His mouth
was wide open.
Its a cool
idea, he said. High concept. Maybe you can look at it and fill it
out. Youre good at that.
He wanted me to fill
out his treatment, that is, write it for him because he was a lazy,
terrible writer. I looked around. The place was empty. It often was between
lunch and dinner. The marble counter shone. I untied the Berlutis and softly
kicked them off without alerting Billy. The foot relief was orgasmic. I met
Eugenes gaze and summoned him. I asked if he had any cheesecake.
Or any dessert you
can serve with a knife and fork.
Eugene smiled. You
mean two forks, right? he said.
I said nothing.
tiramisu, he said.
Bring me a
piece, I said, and a knife. Make sure its sharp.
Eugene shot me a
questioning look but proceeded to the kitchen.
Billy noticed my shoes
under the counter. He looked peeved.
They were killing
me, I said.
Billy turned his face away.
At that moment I realized how ugly he was in profile, with a hawkish nose and
cruel lips and a chin approaching the Hapsburgs. Then I saw Eugene swing
out of the kitchen with the tiramisu and a bullnose butcher knife.