I was immature earlier drawing a quick fire in this notebook when we had to be quiet. By dropping the picture in the center of our circle it caused huge sober Russians to giggle in spasms that rippled across the wooden floor in waves. My gesture proving nothing replaces reality for ultimate pleasure. Even now, alone, this haunted attic is less creepy and empty with so much other activity having gone on. The book is an anchor kept company, while ceiling patter represents more than just cover from the rain, or mortal aspiration under Mother Nature’s patient care.
I exaggerate? Everyone manipulates language to cloak interests. Even if no harm is meant, what happens can’t be helped. Fabrication becomes weighed down by consequences, as even the best intentions are not true. Moscow had Several First Peoples’ Congresses manufacture an official awareness the totalitarian mask was off. Successive political revolutions were televised. But apparats don’t vote against their livelihoods and the superstructure apparently couldn’t renovate from the top other than dismantle. But the back room is where momentum had to be set in motion in the first place inside the regal Politburo chamber. Which is how the system worked. One man’s political presence had to heave the sedentary force aside that decided to return yesterday by kidnapping the President in his own summer villa. So what if history unraveled their disabled attempt to end exploitation? The empire’s seventy-four year rule couldn’t just disappear. As embodied by The Emergency Committee, The Party found their lost minds in the decayed mantra of exploitation redress. According to The Emergency Committee’s own manifesto opposing greed that at least one read from at the staged news conference. So it appears their pride overlooked that the proletarian revolution dissolved in hindsight. More likely though, powerlessness is a threshold not commonly crossed from that bureaucratic height. The pressure was too great with their game finally taken away by being stripped and flanked by the Union Treaty. Hooked by their precious symbolism, imagery and creed that never altered or mattered enough to them before anyway. What great minds conjured as best for all, communism, became self-righteous slogans on
80medal-adorned chests. Badges labeling the noble intention kicked aside. So these men, the committee, besides comfort’s lure, have a claim to an emotional moral tug that still clings them to the farce. And if not all drunk and their conspiracy holds, what for? Systems are bound by capitalist principles, arithmetic. No committee should ever repeat the ruthlessly vague socialism they inherited from totalitarianism. Stalin’s governance, based on Lenin’s litany of inner-party complaints and squabbles over maintaining The Party’s revolutionary core. Where Junior dug up his slogan Dictatorship of the Proletariat that says it all without any help from the facts.
But even when not feasible, should ideals be thrown away? So I also hope as time expands reflection, we may all some day appreciate our not falling asleep for the dream. And if I also need defending, I offer this justification. If the naive never did anything, nothing would ever be done since smart people know not to get involved. I was just here to start a spark. But inevitably all I’ve done was take long walks, searching my mind in vain for how to fit into the former world’s capital of social diagramming. Countless streets wondering how and when modern times’ promise will be fulfilled. The soles of my feet felt Moscow’s every metric foot. I liked to wander.
Zdrastvootya. Hello. I met Hank, dragging the bike box, wandering in Sheremetyevo International Airport. Passing me, he didn’t acknowledge the green Greenway index card my sister gave me for something to laugh about. Past though, he turned and substituted, “Who paid for you?” for hello.
His suspicion wasn’t surprising. Since early is on time, I saw Interior Ministry spies split up in the parking lot. Dr. Hammer attracted suits. Without one between us I thought we were both suspects.
But Hank said, “Who paid? I don’t usually repeat myself.”
I thought intimidate someone else. See when they hit you. Bow to your own memo claiming nothing to do with Hammer’s money. My sister and I read it to each other twice. Then I admitted I knew we had an account in the hotel’s bank.
He turned away blank.
I wondered if this noble utilitarianism wasn’t a front for a hounded illionaire’s last illions? Delusional or otherwise, ninety-two year old Dr. Armand Hammer had power over the fear of dying too soon to need extra hidden away, just in case in cash. That’s what having a lot of money is.
Still not looking, but as if he heard me think, Hank said, “We’re not another stash.”
But, in fact Dr. Hammer prepared for a much longer life by acquiring a doctor as mistress in his last years. Also noteworthy is his accounted for personal fortune dwindled substantially by the time he died in December 1990. More than a year after Hammer met Hank, and a full four months after our introduction at Sheremetyevo.
Hank even said then, “Money just doesn’t disappear. Hammer’s suspected of spreading his own ample share of bribery across the world. That succulent jelly atop heavily buttered toast. There’s little doubt the doctor shrewdly bought into the oil bonanza extravaganza through that ages-old formula. Not us.”
Currently today, 2013, Dr. Hammer’s vehicle Occidental remains intact due to investors’ self-interest. Ending Hammer’s reign immediately after he gave up the ghost.
Hank stared at the grey restroom wall and said, “Our names are coincidence and his financing is not an option. Our company owes you, so I’m logging this run in the company notebook in my messenger bag.”
So I said to the wall, “What a treat. Why not cash?”
And Hank said, “Funny, money.”
I said, “My sister and I read your memo. Even hearing you in person is hard to believe.”
Hank said, “Yeah? Wonder how it’ll sound in the dag-gum spectacular parking lot?”
He chose an island in the sun from which to fill his messenger bag with things from the bike box. Flipping the assembled bike upside down to true the wheels, kneeling, looking up, squinting from the glare off a terminal window he said, “Seriously man. I know. The maxim is have the means to change the world. But if commerce should reach the bottom, it should exist there too. It’s important to prove entrepreneurialism. Not have Hammer buy our way in.”
I thought he’d slept all night on the plane. How he was hyper piling metaphors as if this was his class. Hank really said, “Here’s a
82stretch. Whatever. I want to hear how this sounds. You have a clue who William F. Buckley, Jr. is? Well Mikhail, he’s an American political figure considered a foremost icon of individualist conservatism.” He sat on the curb. “I see Mr. Buckley as Buddha sits. Except his pen nudges his cheek while leaning to his right on his armrest, reciting his mantra. Receiving a job doesn’t produce as much as having a job to give. Then his eyes signal wide, ah ha. That’s an ideal. Okay to reach with everyone’s feet on the ground.”
Mr. Greenway didn’t seem realistic either. I decided then not to bother him and bill Hammer anyway.
Then after a while he folded his arms on his knees, and eventually said, “As much as I’d love to think here all day, I fit in by moving. Let’s go.” Then he grunted at the unspoken, asking, “Where’s your bike?”
I nodded at my father’s car.
And Hank said, “I ride in the future, not past.”
I said, “It is automobile.”
Hank said, “I know I sound like Don Quixote railing at windmills. But if cars had hearts there’d be extensive train travel too. So you’re telling me I don’t get to immediately jump on, what I’ve heard is a magnificent subway? So as usual your luxurious albatross wins? Confound it.”
I sensed his patience with me was due to his not wanting to know anyone else yet. Not that there wasn’t a bonus to sitting on my father’s trunk and watching a small show I’d organized by re-parking snug next to the driver’s side of the unmarked Interior Ministry vehicle. They could have used the other door, but the insult was a reason to be mad and ignore us from the loading zone. Otherwise they’d have covered us from in front to demonstrate our unimportance.
Hank tapped trumpet notes with his fingers on the trunk hood. Then grinning said, “If only the marketplace had something more useful for them. As it is their sharpness files us down and hurts them only when their consciences come due. Subterfuge jades Society and it doesn’t take much. Have you noticed how polite custom becomes people’s ruts? In New York, ‘Excuse me’ substitutes for get out of my way. Big city life teaches that the pinnacle of self-importance is wasting valuable time on a moment of satisfaction abusing polite vocabulary. Belittling others for causing your temporary inconvenience.
83Sometimes things happen, people stop suddenly. Go around. I’m not kidding, excuse me is commonplace.”
I didn’t say anything. His exaggerating fit in. Argue over what? This business was a lark anyway, right? Carrying packages on a bike. Despite Gorbachev our country’s scars were too open to ever heal with bandages too soiled to ever work. Our country was accustomed to the least compassionate relations.
Tied in his broken seatbelt, Hank insisted on buying gasoline for my family’s “scar.” He actually said, “I remember loving the car. Generations were raised to worship their independence. One summer was the best. I traveled shotgun while my friend Pat drove once comfortably less congested roads, to and from New Smyrna Beach. We surfed that whole summer between morning and evening swim practice. Or as much of the months as his father’s gas paid for our life in the breeze. But. But the internal combustion engine overwhelmed the world. Realizing that pollution and congestion shouldn’t be commonplace, hasn’t dissolved pollutants. Nor has figuring this out not gone on for centuries. We’re long past twice fooled ignoramuses for the umpteenth time over and over, and over, again.”
I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “Everything takes time,” while pushing the accelerator.
Hank said, “Time? Time for not dead yet trapped canaries who refuse to distinguish ourselves from Plato’s Cave? We’re not reality. We live in it and devise the worst shapes ourselves. Such as our cultures’ beliefs in scientists’ insane confidence they can fix anything with enough time. That’s subjective fantasy. I believe refuse should be solved in your own generation. However the solution remains simple scientific deduction, mathematics. Which is, might and always be money.”
I said, “You are shill for Greenpeace.”
Then already, as usual, in our short time, Hank shrugged. “Financial existence needn’t be so difficult.”
So I grinned. “To money. Propaganda never puzzled me.”
Hank stuck his face out in the wind and screamed for me to hear. “You’d think a better world wouldn’t be financial! Except the monster power bites more direct under dictatorship!” Then he pretended to bring his head in and snapped it back out to catch sight of our tail keeping up at the last corner. Back in he said, “I realized long ago we’re closer to organized with money than without. Your country
84never tried going that far, without money. This system was mismanaged behind the false idol simplified price. Exponential results were erased by doctoring minimally waged value. By simply ignoring inflation, stabilized price made supply under bought and demand chillingly undersold. Plus I’m sorry the dollar never respected the communist ruble. Attempts weren’t made.”
I was able to wedge in, “Don’t sweat it. We were authoritarian.”
Then Hank, loosening the seatbelt, slid forward on the seat, casually, as if there was a silver lining to spot through the windshield. Sitting back, with his head turned, looking out his window, he suddenly appeared to me how Cassady must have viewed Paradise. Holding the roof in forward intensity so the wind splashes all over his face. I was scared this had nothing to do with money.
In fact Hank said, “Give the car back to your father. The communist ideology obligated your rulers to build a good city subway system. The right thing while the Far West reacted by subsidizing, I mean pampered ourselves with personal luxury platforms to carry our friends in. Driving ourselves, earlier generations were led astray in reaction to the self-preserving transit robber barons. America crashed into the inability to fully appreciate mass transportation offers the same thing differently. Our economy bulged with satisfaction. Sold en masse on the automobile’s positively marketed façade. The natural prejudice for individualism.” Next mouthful. “Still I’m against running cars out of town. The train will be our car. We’re not trucking. I want to slide under the gangster’s radar. Not run from or by anyone. Will our tails intervene? You know, law supervise? No, no of course not. Everyone must figure out how to get paid. The fact of life is salary, graft, market savvy. Under any name the same, gettin’ paid. A casual criminal once told me ‘it’s all about gettin’ paid.’ His example was knocking over an old lady to spend the weekend with a girl in a motel, followed by long months in prison with other men.”
Hank tapped the roof. “Speaking of formulas for success. These buses are just giant cars! Dag-gum where’s the next generation of rail filling in the gaps? Your culture is overrun too. Anti-socialist bums!” He grinned. “Skeptical they’re listening, Mikhail? We’re all raised on Cold War suspicion. KGB, CIA, the whole assorted scalding alphabet soup wants to be everywhere.”
Which is a normal way to interpret society’s supervisors. Except back then, there weren’t enough devices, yet, for secret police and peace officers, to be everywhere. People who thought so were considered loopy. I could only hope Hank wasn’t completely paranoid. So I pursued that possibility with his terminology. Trying to somehow get the preaching out of his system.
I said, “You said humankind’s best invention is a way out of the mess?”
Hank said, “No question. We personally produce the energy, and whatever pollution is caused by their manufacture is more than offset by the bicycle’s potential. Cover distances on the bus or train with depended on speed, then complete the trip on a bike on safer congested roads. Fulfilled and not in each other’s way so much we’re our own worst enemies, even in this modern age.”
I simply said, “Bikes are in way.”
“Of dangerous impatient drivers,” he answered.
So I said, “Avoiding reckless hazards.”
He countered, “Battling defenseless metal disease.”
I insisted, “There are facts. We are satisfied with efficient comfortable machines. Even congested, our country doesn’t live in road. Neither do you. Roads are for all of us to get somewhere else on our own. You know driving is a pleasure and world full of beautiful cars.”
“Exaggerating economies. Oblomovonomies.”
Aaagh that infidel communista tagged commercial life with literature’s great symbol of the unable to get out of bed, bloated aristocrat, Oblomov, who was destroyed by his convenient comfortable life in bed.
I contended Hank judged too broadly, and said, “We’re not serfs needing led anymore. Nor is it reasonable to expect sacrifice.”
Hank thought, then said, “Cycling might always just be a cult. But a cult that’s right, doing more for others than they’re willing to do for themselves. It’s not my fault I look foolish staring at what’s thought too hard to fix.”
I said, “That name Greenway is your trouble. American optimism rolls you over whatever’s in your path. No wait, stop. Listen to me. Your Bicyclism needs adjustment. An element of pragmatism. Scale. Almost every solution is hopeless because you can’t tell people what to do. Our country is evidence that doesn’t work.”
Hank smiled. “Sound point. Now for argument’s sake, let’s say our fuel crisis is solved. Fine, over, done. You still think catapulting ourselves in projectiles all over the place is a sound idea? Calling collisions and disasters accidents when they’re obviously caused by mistake?”
I brought up, “Computer precision is coming.”
But Hank thought, “Murphy’s law applies.”
So I asked, “Who’s Murphy?”
Hank didn’t know. “But,” he said, “his catchphrase is, if anything can go wrong it will.” Then, jumping out before the entrance to Hammer’s Mezhdunarodnaya, the goofball declared, “Long time till I do that again.”
No one ever talked with Hank about cars. His conversation was always about plotting to get out of them. His problem was nausea because he never rode in planes or automobiles to adapt to motion sickness. He claimed he was anxious to understand where the hotel’s location was and, “Feel the streets before anything.” But really our ride was all about straightening up in an exciting new place. “Wow!” And discovering what he couldn’t do. He loved our city’s circular symmetry. “Garden Ring!” He couldn’t ride. And of course criticized “direct and wide Kutuzovsky Prospekt” as “aristocratic transport for beelines straight to and back and forth from their privileged homes. Dachas plus. The Dacha Express creates more leisure time for them. Unto each according to how others bleed. Your rich teeter on a pedestal as tall as ours. Guardians of the revolution, phooey!”
I lost him when I took a wrong turn, but he turned up by the alley where he thought I thought I lost him. He refused his special map, brought just for him, and ran off laughing on his bike with a head start up the New Arbat to beat me to Red Square. When I caught up he’d already finished his first ceremonial scan of the square. Still breathing hard he talked anyway.
Nodding to me, Hank said, “I’ll be tied to that map soon enough. I want to feel the streets before programming my mind to them. I’ve noticed regimentation can overwhelm the senses. Make capacities we prefer rigid, into ladders of knowledge difficult to jump from to others. Why would anyone leap from security?”
I said, “Я не знаю.” Ya ne zniayoo. I don’t know in Russian.
Hank refaced the Kremlin and spoke normally. “Sorry I’m late.” As if they talked together, all the time, Hank paced, thinking out
87loud. “I meant to get here sooner. But now that I’m here, tell me? I want to know. Why weren’t the Gorbachevs being Socialist for dressing well? Oh yeah right. The great dictator of the proletariat, Uncle Joe Stalin’s mediocrity was overwhelmed with resentment. That meant you never changed? Or gave a damn what happened to anyone. Glorified Stalin’s paranoia how long? In the end it was the doctors’ turn with Stalin. But you, the icon of the dominion, The Kremlin, remain as elitist as it gets. No one is equal to your rewarding of the spoils. It’s for all of you, just as with Stalin. If not caviar, another substitute the country can’t get. The lazy madman spawned more lazy madmen. When asked, Stalin acted ignorant of what individual tragedies his government performed. A fool fooling others. Real egalitarianism wouldn’t have produced the consequences this country endured. Humiliating everyone can’t get a decent suit.”
He yelled louder to scare as much of the square as he could.
“Bastard, your act sucked! Malignant capitalism! No Stalin, no no, no don’t spread rubles. Fashion is evil decadence. Decide backwards what industry is so posterity can blame philosophers for fooling you into wearing that assembly line jumpsuit. A self-presented Oscar winning portrayal of the country’s hallucinatory dream to replace shared servitude with the exact same thing yet more monstrous. Just another way to keep the masses in line. Bullcrap jerk!”
Hank nodded for me to come up with something. But I told him what I thought. I said, “Americans seem to suffer from needing to amuse yourselves. You should be at Stalin’s tomb so spectators know who you’re yelling at.”
Hank laughed and pointed. “Look. The Kremlin wishes to rewrite history again. We know they’ll find the words. Even themselves come to blame Stalin’s resentment of wealth for being blinded by fashion’s glitz. That’s you my humble landmark. Inside you, the fear of the upended apple cart keeps things cozy and self-satisfied for everyone being carried along. Who wasn’t out-dressing the Gorbachevs? Huh? Among the elite, who wasn’t wearing a coat, long and strong enough to be warm all winter? Blinded by what, jerks! You worshiped resentment, but withheld your prosperity from so many people. When fashion was just stunning economic activity, drawing all the economic classes toward what they shouldn’t have to keep their hands off. Consumerism? Yes, there’s an ism we’re stuck with. Did Czar Joseph Djugashvilli portray glamour for no one until everyone could be
88glamorous? Heck no, in name only. He was not a man of real deed, or steel, Stalin. But neither have you, mighty Kremlin, cared to lift the weight of consequences to figure out anything. Just the effort to threaten and preserve rule. So back under the Kremlin Wall is exactly where Stalin belongs in the dustbin of history.”
Walking the bikes the four or so kilometers back to the hotel could have taken all night but I led. At the hotel they wouldn’t allow bikes through the front, so as we came down the ramp the guard yelled, “Outside-ide!”
And Hank played echo too with the parking garage attendant who always hid from us in his box. Hank yelled, “Second class prejudice-dis! Bourgeois humbug-bug!”
Uninfluenced, the guard stuck steadfastly behind hotel policy and locked his door.
Hank whispered, “Voices of such proportion get nowhere.” Then yelled, “Come on man-an! Share-air!”
But the guard kept his door locked, and Hank asked about our office key when the door was wide open. He ran in and searched everywhere, even under the phone and screamed, “The box! I should have made sure!” Then ran up a flight of stairwell and came back to lock his bike.
His stuff was in his suite I hadn’t told him about since he was so uptight and feisty. He canceled the reservation and insisted he owed a penalty fee for the empty night. But we finally took possession of our windowless, underground garage office. He distracted me with a Capitalist Tool sweatshirt, while putting the box away where it always was forming the desk’s bookshelf against the wall.
Hank sat on the plain only desk and said, “This office costs Hammer nothing. Well not nothing, and I owe for that room that’s too late to rent.”
I said, “Nonsense. People are on standby lists all over Moscow.”
Hank said, “Hammer’s money. Straight forward business is diminished by shortcuts. Erasing our debt would be a favor. I owe Hammer enough, too much. I want our games separate.”
I told Hank the obvious. “You did not make reservation. You, and I seriously mean you, do not dent his empire. You will see everyone thinks you are unrealistic.”
Hank laughed. “Everyone?”
I said, “Everyone I see.”
He said, “Me too.”
So I said, “Where does that take us” as if it weren’t a question.
He said, “We’ll make money before I’m the next sucker kicked to the curb. But Hammer’s money gets us nowhere.”
I said, “You said you have none.”
He said, “Food money” as if an accomplishment.
So I obviously asked, “Is office free?
Hank said, “Nothing is,” then kicked the desk for solidness and addressed me as partner for the first time. “Mike, we start by taking steps. Do you personally trust a locksmith?”
The locks were changed, what’s the difference? Our outpost always had the illusion of being outside the large hotel’s maze. But that first time Hank opened the phone and found a bug, he immediately framed it above our doorway, inside four wired together pencils from his messenger bag, sealing our adversarial identities, “which is what’s so wrong with relationships between citizens and their states.”
Just to hang his masterpiece, he shoved the desk to the door and jumped on it as if making an announcement. “See these pencils,” he said and held each one out for me to look at. “They came in these individual, little thin, plastic bags, inside their own hard plastic tube. So apropos I thought of this for the bug in advance. They’re four supposedly authentic Hammer stamped pencils from his factory here in the 1920s. Unsharpened over sixty years later. Hammer knew I wouldn’t sign for anything, so he surprised me using regular mail. After he risked public handling, they were hard to refuse. And since I won’t call him, they’re my responsibility.”
Sitting on the desk Hank leaned on the wall and rolled each pencil in his fingers before tying them together with thin copper wire.
Hank said, “Hammer’s books brag the pencils were produced by experts stolen from their German monopoly’s attempt to destroy competition, before competition could destroy Faber Pencils. I’ll face all four Hammer logos away from the desk. Hey, maybe they’re knockoffs like the inauthentic Faberge Eggs exposed by the capitalist tool Malcolm Forbes. Either way they’re collectors’ items to me. Wherever Hammer got them. Even if fake, Dr. Hammer constructed a commodity I appreciate.” Hank’s finger touched his thumb. “Hopefully I’m only corrupt this much. Now I can include myself among the complainers that free enterprise has too many rules, regulations and
90crowded courts. But the law is all that separates us from authority trusted in pirate, I mean ultimately private hands.”
The phone changed the subject. I was sufficiently skeptical. Who gets this close to money without asking for some? Idiots. Those without ideas and nothing for sale. But we were in the Mezhdunarodnaya? Other than complaining, what was his complaint?
Hank answered in the staccato voice of Batman on the Hotphone. “Hammer, and, Cycle. You, must be, my handler. Hung up.”
Less emotional than the counterpart Robin, I said, “You appreciate sarcasm. Customers require other approach.”
He said, “Then you are salesman. Answer next.”
I acted baffled. “Sales? Remember great worker’s state?”
He said, “Ha! Life is a negotiation. Sleep a deal made with staying awake.” Then he thought a bit and sighed drowsily at the pencils and closed his eyes. Then bam, “Let’s go” and the desk was slid back as we were on our way. After he tried leaping from a personal record distance to tap the pencils. He brought red tape. I jumped from a point he could never reach, and eventually everyone’s mark was past his personal best on the floor.
We took the stairs because he never rode the elevator. Not because it bothered him Hammer’s place had it going on. Western connections and privileges to offset the lack of spare replacement parts plaguing the rest of the economy. Nor was Hank particularly frustrated that, “Everyone shops Mezhdunarodnaya’s hard currency stores for honest social currency. Stuff to trade, locals eat up.” He didn’t begrudge the Hammer corporate enterprise, and appreciated efficiency. But he bragged he wouldn’t ride elevators anymore. “Over forty a day, I’m done.” So once we fabricated a run where Hank was the only courier available and, after thirty-three flights for his age, had to leave a note that we’d gladly deliver from our office when they’re ready.
But despite rejecting technology’s help Hank was like an express to the Front Desk where the manager had waited late to speak to us. He explained the salaried bellhops did the hotel’s legwork but he would personally ensure brochures or a card could be shown to check-ins if they asked.
Hank said, “Check out? News travels.”
For form the manager smugly smiled, then straight away fished for a flat fee. He knew taking twenty percent of our business was
91a break since we had nothing for him up front. According to him, “Dr. Hammer held up his end.” We could “continue using the back.”
Hank rubbed his chin. The manager, Joseph coughed at his opponent.
So Hank pled his case with a waved arm, raising his voice a notch. “Your honor. This atrium’s vast opulence affects my ability to concentrate. The stacking of these indoor balconies reminds me of the spiral ramped interior of the Guggenheim Museum. Ostentatious. I like this. Built for the boycotted Olympics. War took precedence. But as the hotel demonstrates, business was always business no matter what ideology fronts it. Right fellas?”
Joseph frowned. “Yes Mr. Greenway. No one woke to economics yesterday. Let’s settle this. I have work in the morning. Agree and your show starts tomorrow.”
Hank rubbed his neck, then stroked the edge of the desk, furrowing his face into a picture of serious concern. He told, “Joseph. I can’t take your offer seriously. We’re leaving anyway. But until then, this hotel can’t share this pocket of opportunity.”
Joseph practically giggled. “You’re kidding? My bell hopheads’ hands are in every pocket through those front doors.” Then Joseph rolled his eyes and lifted a stack of bound literature to plop on the counter in between them. He cut the string with a small penknife and raised an eyebrow meaning, what else? Then said, “This is how business is done. I don’t see your problem Mr. Greenway?”
Hank said, “I’m afraid our salesmen get ten percent.”
Joseph smiled, “Twenty is hardly anything. And don’t be afraid, you are hotel guest.”
Hank said, “Our enterprises are not connected. That has to be clear”
Joseph grinned. “How do you figure, in basement?”
Three bellhops arrived for the fuss and Joseph turned the page.
Hank said, “I figure.”
So without looking up Joseph said, “Calculate.”
Which Hank did. “The basement is a temporary token donation. Our hammer and cycle name’s significance commemorates egalitarianism existing in spirit if not flesh and blood facts. That noble heritage should not be forgotten. In fact, I read those denied legal identification to work, were still allocated enough nourishment to
92barely not die. Welfare, great, truly beautiful, wonderful, a free lunch without breakfast or dinner.”
Joseph cracked the next magazine’s seam. “Our poetic tragedy from your lips. So what?” Then his nose rose with the bellhops’ satisfied grins when he said, “American corruption is so pure Mr. Greenway? Hardly.”
So of course Hank sounded as if he agreed. “A little vice among friends. Where profit’s been squeezed from for centuries.”
Joseph smiled. “Opportunist. America should be embarrassed its’ juvenile delinquency corrupted this country. No? Let me explain. I work for Dr. Hammer, Mr. Big Business. But Mr. Hank Greenway, this country is different from what your experts’ design. Your free criminal enterprise system has left our citizens unprotected. You will see law and order become foremost again. Authority should prevail, don’t you think?”
Hank said, “Count on it” and eyed the jury.
But Joseph pointed his hand like a gavel, with a judge’s assurance, at his hand picked “hopheads.” Having studied too, sounding prescient, asking, “A plan, Mr. Greenway? You will franchise then? You have brought low to no interest loans for the masses? Or are you here just to pick us clean too?”
Hank turned to the jury. “Diabolical,” he said. “I’m just visiting as a courtesy.”
Joe nodded and picked up a different magazine saying, “Humpf. No. The hotel receives its’ share or your seed withers and dies. And thirty percent if you persist. I can’t lower my level of service.”
That excited Hank. He said, “I’m so glad you raised the point.” Then pointed at the tall stairway to our right. “Look, there goes the scapegoat profit now. Wow! What a leap! Bah, bah. Over the fence running from the corralled economy. So free that staring at it we still can’t see the economic myths.”
Joseph rapped once on the desk. “Wake up dreamer. Use your imagination for business.”
Hank didn’t laugh and said, “I should leave.”
So we walked through the whole atrium, gazing again at “how the stacked balconies rise like the Guggenheim.” He mumbled. “The political art is blending confusion to appear light of day.”
Then for a page-turner, walking back to the desk, Joseph interrupted by telling me in Russian he’s concerned for the little guy.
Hank heard and said, “I saw a swimming pool today that’s open for anyone to use, but no one was paid enough to keep it clean. While this exclusive hotel is efficiently cleansed.”
“Attesting to twenty percent.”
“Which,” Hank said, “would make me happy. Except you don’t intend to do twenty per cent of the work. A useless deal for me.”
Joseph looked at the bellhops as if Hank wasn’t in between.
So Hank interrupted. “But hotel employees can make extra money on their way home?”
Joseph cleared his throat meaning he could afford a loose negotiation. His ilk were accustomed to toying with ours. Joseph said, “Ask everyone. My employees love work. Even approach prostitutki who arrive after I leave.” Joseph himself instinctively laughed at the reflexive lie. So he said, “You see what I tolerate to keep guests happy? Don’t you Mr. Greenway? Your worldwide panacea of commerce already arrived, far short of perfect. Like communism, commercial propaganda whips a broken horse that can’t carry its’ myth anymore either. In fact we know you are not capitalist. We laughed our heads off a year ago over how blind you are to opportunity. The Doctor cleared space for you next to Moscow’s most popular luxury store. You had your own colorful mural facing the street for months. A ready-made revenue stream next to our office now. Not yours, ours. All day into the night, business doesn’t let up. All delivery. No pickup. It’s not possible to print money faster. Anticipating you last year, we made a killing this year. The bellhops already control this complex. Want to negotiate that? Instead you insist on basement so Dr. Hammer said, ‘Dumb ass can’t pay, so he won’t. I don’t care, just keep a record.’ What do you suggest?”
Hank said, “What’s your offshoot’s name?”
“Just messenger service?”
Hank said, “On point.
Joseph said, “I agree. Now I must make a decision. Should hammer and cycle be subsidiary of Messenger Service? No, that’s not necessary now. But let me tell you now about bottom up. Peasants rose under Stalin. This country’s successful are all great grandchildren of
94peasants. The revolution already raised the bottom up. You are just in way, complaining.”
“About the escalating standard of poor?”
“Pitchman. Sources say messengers make half of each delivery in New York, no?”
I lost patience for this basic business tactic – networking. I ignored the court’s request to know that I went to observe their decadent lavatory facility. Where my fist couldn’t produce close to a hole in the fairly well enough built wall, while the rest of our country’s public places were a shame sharing a very specific communal smell. The Mezhdunarodnaya’s public facilities were excellent compared to the crap the country endured, or what was being shoveled at the Front Desk. Straight, clean. Everything shined with no messy hidden little crevices. So the same old question dawned, how what others own is cleaner than what we as a country owned altogether? Economics glistened from the tiles. It hurt realizing how insane our country’s caretaker-racketeers slovenly paid us to feel common and cheap. Just because anybody can do something doesn’t mean anyone will do it well. I couldn’t escape the pain in the throne room and just left without saying goodbye.
Joseph tried to make a dramatic deal of my return, but elitist colors never flew with either of us, so we ignored him and walked off again to stare. Feeling lost understanding each other’s silent scream for space, as severe as any nation’s notion of lebensraum. We all need space assholes.
Joseph signaled he’d made a decision as we approached. He said, “Mr. Greenway. Law requires you to be in Joint Venture. Not Cooperative. Law requires Soviet partner.” Then they both rubbed their chins and Joseph added, “How did you get permission to do more than invest? Why are you, an alien in this country, running a company day-to-day? With possibly fake credentials? We know Americans love to consider themselves resourceful.”
Hank said, “Don’t we? Our company splits everything.”
“Famous Hollywood accounting I’m sure.”
“No sir, strict mathematics.”
“Mr. Greenway, you are politician. You should jump in front of mob and see where that takes you. Workers unite.”
I said, “Business” wanting them moved along.
And Joseph concurred, concluding, “Yes. Messenger Service will allow you in hotel to start. But please, if you loiter elsewhere, don’t mention this hotel. Plus no soliciting business in Mezhdunarodnaya while I anxiously wait twenty percent.”
Hank said, “Huh.”
Joseph closed his magazine as if practice for bigger fish was over. Staring, he meant this was absolutely his last remark. “There are principles in negotiation. I am worth twenty.”
Hank lengthened his, “Su-ure” as he apprised himself of the recent growth of one juror since the dinner break. Hank flatly refused. “We cut the checks. Cutting you out is no problem.”
Circumspect, but smiling, Joseph reacted to the most absurd proposition of all. “Good. Good reason to kick you out. Look? No, closer, in my eyes? Look? See? You see no wonder? No amazement? How convinced I am you’re crazy. There is street person in my basement.” Then Joseph slapped the folded magazine on the desk, and leaned over to exaggerate how resolute his opinion was from the bench. He said, “Nothing is negotiable. The hotel owns everything on this property. But as you Americans say, it is not big deal. You can compromise.”
Hank said, “I’m not a you American. I am Muscovite now.”
The Russians thought that was hysterical. So, with a points ahead grin, Joseph had to wait to say, “Original offer stands.”
Hank didn’t pause. “Okay. Could be fair, but justify twenty.”
“Your office costs nothing.”
Hank said, “The office is nothing. This is not my trial, because this is not your hotel. You’re not entitled to extra value from me. Do you have a copy of my deal with Dr. Hammer? That basement isn’t street level retail real estate, where you charge me a percentage of my profit for the privilege of being where potential customers could walk by. That cushy storefront meant more negotiation with lawyers so I backed out. The Hammer and Cycle Messenger Service owes nothing to your confiscatory real-estate agenda. Our salesmen, you’re ineligible for, receive ten per cent. We won’t associate with more from the courier’s pocket.”
Then Joseph opened Pravda as if he no longer cared about the small fry. We later guessed he was backtracking then, shutting his mouth, in order to still keep tabs on us.
Hank announced, “Deal then” and “we split before more thought could necessitate more discussion” while Joseph smiled behind our backs.
Out front Hank held up a small radio, loud, like a microphone between him and my ear. He yelled, “Spies!” Then turned it off as if his objection was just being heard in front of the Mezhdunarodnaya.
Hank said, “That first call didn’t bother lying. Not a word. Nothing to recognize or confuse with someone else. Obstacles never end.” He sounded tired, and was, and said, “I’m exhausted. I have to eat?”
So of course I had to revive him and his head popped right up when I said, “I will close hotel restaurant account.”
He pretended to jump the river rail by grabbing it and letting his legs fly. “Whoopee! Expense accounts are beautiful. Atrociously priced milkshakes, written off!” He was having fun and said, “No don’t. Nyet nyet don’t. Don’t close that account. Let’s see if we’re honestly charged nothing. Neachyevo.”
I could have told him I was treated to lunch when Joseph outlined Dr. Hammer’s plan. While thought in trouble for a secret was better than listening to an argument.
I said, “Amusing. But you make this hard. Calm down. We need this to work. Partners can be solved. Okay? Maybe this front desk person doesn’t have enough power? But all that is tomorrow. Tonight, you are coming to my family’s home for dinner. I am not to push, but my mother and sister spent weeks preparing.”
Hank said, “Thanks.” Then after dragging his eyes on the ground for a while, said, “If you need to call privately, don’t from the office. Which I suppose applies to the whole tapped country? Anyway, I left another bug in the phone. I didn’t understand it. Ya know I could only read so much about espionage without getting the creeps, even in the library. Like big delivery companies covering routes, there are ways around receiving phone calls. We’ll preschedule early and late pickups. Hey, maybe charge for handling all aspects of orders in person. Until we’re efficient though, we’ll have to buy the couriers’ time from our own pockets.
I said, “Huh?”
I wanted to call my mom. Though I wasn’t familiar with the expression then, I had thought out Greenway’s lofty thinking as
97spending like an American Democrat. Off-key, in need of sleep, he wouldn’t shut up. Passersby recognized the tone and refused to be caught staring and left us alone. Especially through the crosswalks, we were by ourselves. Even without a translation, every ear hurt because westerners couldn’t help reminding us the wall came down. Because from up where we were looked down on from, there’s no way we were actually seen where we were. Details of our suffering weren’t that entertaining to the international audience. No matter how enlightened Hank’s flailing hand gestures were meant to mean, it was just an embarrassing rant. But by coming Hank earned the right to at least be heard out by me. Fellow pedestrians however couldn’t get away fast enough. He couldn’t part seas, but people ran from us as certain as Hank sought to separate himself from Hammer.
Hank said, “Maybe the Cold War superpowers could have forgotten about each other without Dr. Hammer’s interference? Hey-ey. After all countries on completely opposite sides of the globe could have gotten on without his offering help. Who has time to be opposed to anything that far away, anyway? Neither should have been in either’s business. So here’s Hammer linked across the economies with Lenin memorabilia. Plus Stalin fixed any game he was involved in.”
I smiled and said, “Yes, you told me. Hammer was caught in middle.
Hank said, “Doesn’t matter. People worse than him were victims of Stalin’s madness. The revolutionary culture trained that tyrant. All the Bolsheviks had the same learning experience. Last man standing Stalin fought his whole life and never learned different than sporting that smug Mona Lisa smile of a mug was enough. Dead, the evidence concedes he was a rich charlatan. Stalin’s conspiracy is proven to just be a different form of ruthless capitalism. Any zillionare can admit to being less powerful than the richest man of socialist steel. So what if Stalin didn’t reside on some Mount San Simeon. The Kremlin is more famous. The tsar’s police lost and let Stalin go so many times, no one after him got near the chance. His cruel monopoly happened because he wasn’t a broad-minded individual. Stalin collided eras in an ambitiously, truly spoiled, capitalist fashion. All for him. He was so devious letters were found where he sent small amounts of money to destitute acquaintances from his own paltry wages. Everything he touched is historical mumbo-jumbo. No one in their
98right mind wished for another century of Czars. I hope exploitation irons out and breaks the cycle, if that’s possible?”
There was no way off Hank’s political carousel, so I reached for another venue yelling “Mama!” Who proud of her English, popped her head out the kitchen window, five flights up, waving. “Welcome Mr. Greenway.”
My father used English too at the top of the stairs. “Hello,” he said, but their handshake was an inspection.
Mama purposely grabbed Hank’s other hand to bring him to her side of the table facing the door and my sister on cue. Hank later described “a vision, Princess Tatyana, a full agonizing table-width away. I was mesmerized as if electrically drawn across the table.”
But my father saw the moment for what it was and sat Tatyana by him diagonally from Hank. It didn’t matter what either thought. His extremely bright, beautiful daughter wouldn’t be easy. Hank thought no kidding, but just nodded submissively then was humbled by what he knew were not normally afforded delicacies. Mama even cooked hamburgers in case anything wasn’t to his taste. That Hank shared first to get out of the way of “every flavor of blinis possible for coming out the ears.” Food was also a reason not to talk, since his hastily revived, decade-old, pathetic one-year Russian couldn’t kid anyone further than spa-sea-ba, спасибо, thank you. A year later Hank still translated words too slowly to recognize when he was or wasn’t the joke.
Anyway, my father needed something for his handlers. So while refilling Hank’s water I dug a formidable pit for him to jump, asking, “Why does generosity’s purpose always seem to eliminate drudgery for the elite? You only had to need water, for me to get it for you. Abundance is the planet’s burden instead of privilege. You support exploiting water as commodity. Don’t you capitalist? Everyone in your country buys water in bottle. So why aren’t you realistic about what capitalism is?”
I looked at my father after showing Hank scorn for emphasis. “No investor capital? None. What are you really doing? Capitalism is either owning or being owned. Capital is key. From your high and mighty vantage, you know corruption is what people can afford. But you pretend we have to be pure. Dr. Hammer opened doors you slammed shut. Anything and everything was arranged. But you tell hotel manager you are independent. Nonsense. You can’t ignore solvency’s requirements. Here you must shove to not be shoved.
99Capitalist greed will not change politics. Look outside this window. Down below, every night, the experiment with money brings more homeless. There were no poor before unless they chose to starve. They used to hide from command economy in woods. Now they’re transients, a word from your world. They scavenge and disrupt our sleep and peace of mind all night. Government needs to fix that, their business. Our business needs money. That should be your focus. Not negotiations going nowhere.”
Mama shook her head but my father’s granite stare meant his son should speak, if I had more to say.
So I said, “No one buys little trike. This is stupid. We are in business because our name is Hammer. I repeat, you even say, ‘corruption is inherent.’ For better or worse, there’s nothing you can change from the bottom. You are completely out of it. Tainted money is all money is. Afraid it won’t come clean when it gets to you? Boo hoo. What does that say? Streets are swept with fools like you in America? Deal with Joseph, or decide on someone outside the hotel for protection. Usually there’s only one choice to make money. We can’t stagnate in limbo for months. You will fail, and have no ticket home. Suicide Mission.”
My mother, of course, shook her head. But the glint in my father’s eye meant he at least acted as if I figured out Hank for him. The hotel’s Messenger Service was established. Hank was supposed to fail. Jackals, is how I remember the Soviet Union. When the power to compete was restricted to an elite few. Where even your own father answered to people more important than you. Dinner was over for me. Hank finished his water. There was nothing left to do.
My father walked us out to talk in the street, “after vibes wouldn’t allow” Hank’s “hand to touch” my sister.
My father told Hank everyone was convinced he’s baloney and he referred to an obscure Russian vegetable that neither Hank nor I understood. My father repeated what I’d said. That Hank’s destiny was whose hooks were in him. Hank had no choice and his Department could lace Hank in red tape, except we had to unfortunately consider the Mezhdunarodnaya first. Smiling my father said, “Just business.” He thought, “20 per cent, a bargain.”
My old man went in and before we started off Hank said, “Just business will be our epitaph.”
We aimed straight for the Mezhdunarodnaya through the inner ring, while Hank’s eyes were mostly closed until his legs buckled. The meal dropped him further from a conscious reality to hold onto, and the last third of the way back he begged to fall asleep on the road. Refusing to let me hold him up when he apparently hadn’t slept in days.
After smacking into a pole, Hank insisted I take the radio over his embarrassment for not bringing presents. He said he “left town with nothing as a barely surviving relic of the bohemian subsistence ideology. Still I should have brought gifts.”
My mother assumed none were left. Hank even remembered. “Everyone in college knew the thing to do was bring Levis.” But he hadn’t thought with supposedly so much on his mind. Not surprising then, he didn’t imagine ending up in an attic either? Still with just two pair of jeans, regretting how selfish he was for ignoring he’d “face generosity at much greater sacrifice, when even, just, one inflated, overpriced candy bar from Kennedy Airport would have meant something.” He messed up.
Hank woke after one confused stumble and acknowledged the arrival of acquaintances, I’d recruited, who were walking with us. He babbled. Calling them, “Goofballs from lurked around corners. Auditioning on cue for a Moscow version of West Side Story. A far too calculated parade for spontaneous. I’m scheduled for what now? Feel it? How this street is a perfectly cast venue for a business meeting.” Then Hank made a square with his fingers and thumbs. “Picture us posed, aware how futile it is to avoid being recorded like American Mafia conspirators, outside our clubhouse, using the walk, just to talk, technique for our federal surveillance photographs. I wonder how our conspiracy’s photos come out? How much we’ll appear against the grain?”
Then after that outburst, the most heard from Hank was “huh?” But, over the following months, especially through winter, Hank would plant his feet on his desk and constructively cut his life into episodes for our amusement. Usually stories about how fond he was of summer. But once, stretched out, over coffee, he somewhat told us what happened next after we left him alone at the hotel his first night.
One of us asking and Hank saying, “I’ll tell ya. Despite my sleepwalking fatigue, I I was able to pay some attention to the magnificent intricate workmanship I’d only seen and heard about in
101beautiful pictures. Real things are more precious in person. Even with my eyes closed, it was a delight to have confirmed information. It pained me though thinking of the gap between profit and real estate investments’ all too-true fantasy of perpetual inflation. The efficient maximization of every speck of utilizable, exploitable, space. Callousness is the landlord’s burden, though they’re not responsible for the facts of life. Hopefully we’ll wade through someday, eh? Oh yeah. Finally I’m here in the office, after literally days without sleep. I hit the floor, out with the light I’d only just turned on and off to gauge where my hands should land for a pillow. It was the shortest, briefest conscious rest ever mown down by jet lag and no sleep making me skip the entire next day. Poof gone. After a pee that might, or not, have happened, I officially woke, as ya’ll know, the next, next morning. From a dream of myself atop a gigantic monster car, driven by Dr. Armand Hammer. There, next to him, I’m larger than life, too, and from Hammer’s height, looking through his humongous microscope slides for glasses, both our visions were consumed by Hammer’s grin that grew and expanded past my ears cracking my visual screen with an explosion that drove me partially submerged under topsoil where I couldn’t grow. Just watching, in wonder, the roots of nature’s glowing fauna here below. The green was so luscious, except I was under two pair of demon steamroller wheels driven by Hammer himself. Bearing down on me, flattening me, screaming me awake hating the inconvenient tragedy left in the wake of human progress.
“Next, loving to read in the morning, I took my gift, the map, to the Service locker area latrine. No locker but I still had to pay off the woman in charge, half what I had left. Then I located streets for businesses within a square kilometer of here, making sure my focus wasn’t saturating the city, but acquiring an efficient niche. Finding an enclave of printers or some such repeat deliveries was my hope.”
Hank emptied his coffee and spoke as if something inspired him in the cup. “I thought business was the map. How we’re all trained for sales by being required to sell our ideas first to our parents for permission. While those that skipped that maturing step seem to be the grown adult children causing problems. Raised in-alert to checks and mental balances is a conundrum, when what everyone learns can be as important as what each individual knows.
“So then I gave myself permission to pace and find sunlight behind the hotel and found out my parameters, that morning, worked
102out to ten meters to the street and back to the garage. I verified my alloy-steel horse was locked where I left it, and the metallic blue made me realize I’d be cringing inside all winter. One asset to living in a Parking Garage is I can go for short indoor walks. Then I went to the front of the hotel and waited for ya’ll who arrived relaxed carrying breakfast I’d have nothing to do with.
“I said my reward will be finding our first client. I wouldn’t sit for anything. I peddled a little and insisted, ‘Let’s go.’ But the group elected Mikhail, who whined ‘not even tea.’ You said the group was ready yesterday, and not allowed in the garage. They posted a guard and did I let them do that? You said ya’ll were eating now, because I was a day late and dollar short. I said, ‘Dag-gum,’ wondering where you learned that expression. I rolled a little further and made the turn toward the river and put my feet down. Then said, ‘Follow if you want and drink if you have to, but this company’s focus is invigoration from our own business. Food and coffee may be necessary natural stimulants, but they’re not from our farm.’ I put my foot back in the stirrup, and none of you moved. So I got louder. ‘I’m bad at authoritarian leadership,’ I said. ‘But I need you guys to bear with me.’ So the new guy, completely out of turn, Sergei. I hadn’t met yet. Yells, ‘You are bear?’ I said, ‘Bear with me means patience with my compulsions. Sergei whined, ‘Compulsions?’ So I portrayed the emotion of having, ‘Strong beliefs that drive me.’
“Then, as you all might remember, riding off, Mikhail yells, ‘Stop.’ So I stopped.”
“And you said, ‘You understand? Soviets aren’t driven mad American capitalists.’
“So I said, ‘Exactly Mikhail. Sit and enjoy.’ I tried compromise. I knew and said, ‘A successful meal might tease out an idea or two. Or, at least you’ll reason anyone who doesn’t work today is fired.’
“Now I’m still not introduced to this new guy who taunts, ‘You have no customers?’
“Remember? I’m warming up. Doing laps. I said I hoped all of you stay for breakfast. I don’t have time to talk anymore. I said we’re independent in a huge marketplace. Sergei quacks he won’t be paid Friday so I said the custom in America is to withhold the first check. Anyway, we were lucky I didn’t have much experience paying by the month. Then Sergei says, he was told ‘we’re all partners’ but he’s
103special. To bring business he deserves better deal. I said from the salesman’s ten percent you’d make more than all of us. Then you were suspicious and said you’d see how being messenger goes. I knew I’d always fight over customers with you.
“So I stared at ya’ll eating, not really wanting to go by myself. But I said, ‘Don’t be in a hurry. I’ll go hungry till I find clients.’ I remembered that gang near the church and said, ‘by their haircuts, a right wing football club. Surely in no hurry to run their own errands. Nonviolent work might be beneath them. I told you guys opportunity is everywhere.’”
Hank made such a deal out of symbolic gestures. Our first client had to “come lickity-split.” Eventually we covered the square kilometer “as a team.” But, except for nibbles, Hank was “further in the hole” because he wanted “our own lock on the door” from our first client, the locksmith, who’d let us know if he ever had a package he wanted carried.
Hank said, “No more favors. Presents substituting for money. We’re in business period. Now I am almost starting from scratch.”
So technically, early on, Hank made no sense business wise, as early as, the next day when we were all hanging around the office talking business. He was waiting on messages, passed gratis, for our new tattooed clients. Hank only agreed to “be involved, pro bono, with the gang war to not take violent sides.”
Then, 6:00 PM, Hank answered the phone and laughed. “Done. Both teams went drinking so maybe it’ll start later. And neither appreciated my rewording their messages. Seems I contradicted my advertised promise not to look in envelopes.” Hank smiled. “I can’t carry these clients. This business landscape has land mines all across. At least I can try to avoid what I see.”
But much of what worried him seemed just conjecture. Once Hank said, “Remember Brezhnev’s daughter? I decided to look at her legal scrape in the library. It would have been a miracle if she hadn’t been blinded by the sparkle of diamonds. Really. She was just guilty for being used for the crown on her head. She must have left hundreds of entrepreneurs in her wake. I’m sure still tweaking their dastardly mustaches over the damsel in distress, they allowed left and run over by the political train of retribution. Just a grabbed for and let go of peg on the teetering hierarchy. It was Daddy’s fault. Poor little privileged rich girl had no other choice but to go and play with the circus for amusing
104entertainment. She should have just fought for her Moscow discotheque. Something to symbolically crack Daddy’s stone faced personality charade. Reflect that grin of his in a different light. Even now here a decade later, activity, if any, is slow, when it should be go, go go.”
Hank’s hit and miss windbag business lectures filled time. A moniker we might all fit, but especially him, if The Hammer and Cycle wasn’t a beautiful idea. So he was never off his kick of celebrating ideals. Bouncing in, claiming one day, to have “insight of staggering proportions that’ll boost us over twenty runs a day.”
Though we were always hearing the next big one, I still laughed with Sergei because his ideas only got bigger tomorrow.
Hank said, “I’m not joking. It’s beautiful. Once I got to see what’s been controversially thought the most famous silly piece of art in the world.”
Sergei loved showing off that he had outside knowledge. He said, “You are stealing The Bicycle Wheel from the Philadelphia Museum of Art permanent collection?”
Hank was stunned. “Sergei? How did you know it’s the wheel on the chair by Marcel Duchamp I saw on loan to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City from Philadelphia?”
Sergei said, “Modern art. Plus your one track mind. Equals Duchamp’s most famous, useless, ready-made. It is you.”
Hank said, “Thank you.” And, “But what everyone, including Marcel, missed is its not just a bicycle wheel on a chair. Its a bicycle fork and wheel attached to a chair, normally called a stool. It could be called The Forked Spoked Wheel On A Stool.”
I said, “Uh-huh.”
Hank said, “Our propaganda. Art. Our logo shirts wheeling around Moscow advertising our industriousness everywhere.”
I said. “You can’t afford to change clothes and Dr. Hammer already has logo shirt.”
Hank said, “I don’t need more than two pair of jeans. We’ll leave receipts with our logo on them everywhere. The fork shaped from a hammer, and sickle will form half a tire on the completely spoked wheel. And”
I intervened. “You are right. We cannot afford that. You owe us already.”
Hank said, “We need these billboards. I’ll fire anyone not wearing one.” He pitched on adrenaline. “We need them now. We’ll sell shirts when they catch on. Then covering the country we’ll be too visible to manipulate.”
“Or function,” I said. “You’re imagining yourself, Alexander the Great, waving troops ahead from the front. But take closer look at your own contemporary example. No one is more visible than your hero Gorbachev, yet he’s all tied up. What happened to being under radar?”
Hank said, “Whatever works, and shyness can be an excuse. I have to be flexible and work with what is. At a certain point this country has to break open. We can’t afford not to have a good campaign. People always need something genuine. Hammer’s gimmick is polished. But they’re his uniforms. Our image has something more to think about.”
“Hank,” I said and Sergei smiled.
But Hank continued. “Hopefully we’ll pay before the copyright owners find out. We can get away with this for a while. It’ll be a cute shirt.”
Sergei dropped his pen. “Capitalists gamble, apparats hope.”
Sergei said, “Americans ignore law. Why your courts are full of disagreements and more language than necessary.”
Hank grinned, but withheld whatever sarcastic remark he had as Leonid came in to train on the phone. So Hank took a lap by himself in the parking lot, then came back and sat on the floor to watch the phone with Leonid as if something might happen while there was just one wrong number the rest of the day.
Sergei finally came in, that day, smelling more like a rat. My apologies to that animal. But Sergei “met” and arrived with Colonel Srilenko. I recognized his as the eeriest shadow Hank eyed at the airport. Sergei’s testimony was they bonded over watching an exact younger looking Solzhenitsyn twin shopping in the hard currency store. They shared their common disdain for the Englishman’s advantages. So it was in that superior socialist tone that Srilenko came in. Nor can it be repeated often enough that this infectious spy shit is unfortunate. It bothered me Hank wouldn’t speak. But I was Russian without an American or British passive aggressive temperament. I didn’t wait for a vote to point to the door.
I told the colonel, “This office is private.”
But he just blocked the door and sniffed at Greenway while surveying the office and acting amused.
I recited the spiel. “Here is credit application. Pay rubles for first job. You are client when messenger brings this back. But office is private.”
No one ever saw Srilenko’s firm’s solid line of credit. Just envelopes that appeared to be empty since Greenway insisted we never look. Our guess was flat cardboard covering something thin or not.
Then the spy left just before my sister Tatyana brought lunch. After which Hank Greenway was led away as too good a catch for a beating heart to ignore.
She rationalized, “He has to learn to take care of himself before piranhas catch his toes by the shallow edge of the stream.”
This notebook probably isn’t the best place to leave this said. But Tatyana is so beautiful, if she and Mekka Restaurant Terry stood side-by-side, God could burn my eyes out for that without my feeling the difference. Life is melodrama.
I got to escort Tatyana the first time she brought lunch timed when her father couldn’t get away from a meeting to bring her. She said her brother was right. I was just sarcastic and she was too when I told her she’s successful while I’m a poor investment.
She said my “way with words must talk women off their feet.”
I insisted I was a terrible catch and mentioned I heard an idiot call messengers ‘scum of the earth’ once. A regrettable choice for women as far as security goes.
But how couldn’t I smile when Tatyana said, “Fabulous deal,” apparently aware she was served soft soap. She grinned. “Who is your woman? What is she like?”
I said, “There’s no one.”
But the firmness in Tatyana’s gorgeous browns meant what she said. “This conversation means there is someone.”
I honestly said, “I think our time passed. But you, you’re, you, you deserve more than I can offer. Hammer and Cycle is not making
107easy money and I’ll be riding a bike for a while if I have to go back home.”
She said, “Ridiculous, and speak in correct sentences. Does it look like I need you? I am helpless? You cannot hide you are good man.”
Then she simply backed me up, lined with the Moscow River, and instead of facing a firing squad her lips connected so softly I could have rested in peace there forever. Except my heart still thumped for both women, making me wonder why life wasn’t simpler. Why devise complications when there is so much more love to live for? I should share what I could, and, of course, the moment ended then, all my fault.
I wanted her back and called out. “I’m taking you home.”
But she just kept walking with an over her shoulder comment. “Me?” Or maybe by now I’ve even made that up as something I’d want to hear. Because, as her voice faded, I thought she said this at the end. “When your mind is your own. Kiss started good. Dosvedonya!”
And what I thought she might have said, laid me down close to the edge by the river in an exceptionally soft peaceful trance. My open eyes resting on patterns of clouds till I no longer felt as troubled. Then I could have been asleep for an hour but it felt like a minute when my eyes squinted harshly open on three ambitious faces staring down on me. Granite, stone mountain-like, Nikita, Mikhail and Leonid reminding me a real nightmare would be happening if the KGB Trio, Yagoda, Beria and Dzerzinsky had shown up too.
We watched Greenway for a solid ten minutes until his first blink. Then I said, “Daydreaming? So who is idlest Oblomov of all?” And we left and he couldn’t catch up because we had bikes.
I can’t sleep or pace out of the window’s sight. This attic’s limits to physical activity has my brain running anxious loops around the irony that occasions for friends and acquaintances to congregate, is spelled the same as a conspiracy of individuals organized for political purposes. Here I’m afraid Western influence set our Party up for a big letdown because Murphy’s Law is what can go wrong will. And what goes around comes around, while the more things change they stay the same. Take your pick I can’t sleep.
I wonder what they’re thinking back home?
Hank set his own trap. Having lost out on certain social skills he was completely over his head in business. His refusal to make good first impressions because “that’s the moment liars shine their best,” wasn’t a springboard for success. Our acquaintance was due to his avoidance of other lawyers, while Dr. Hammer could only communicate with either of us through messages. None of us made time for the other. I was inconvenienced when Hank’s plane ticket arrived at the office making me two minutes late for a paired pianists’ concert at Lincoln Center I had to wait for first intermission to enter. Because Mr. Greenway had held out for other last minute financing, he called my home at the last minute asking if I still had his ticket. He pestered someone at the office for my home number. All we knew of each other was from his rude office visit, so I’d meant to destroy his ticket in the morning when his flight was scheduled. A little ceremony for Dr. Hammer’s friend.
Instead I had to become his friend for a sense of compromise with accepting Hammer’s small contributions. So, coming up my stairs, that night, Hank worked on melting away my dissatisfaction. The same care that should have been applied to how business was done in the Soviet Union. Even then, before he’d left, his problems were in the air. He sounded oddly naïve, curiously introspective, examining the street,
109from my window, but he described a whole theory of how business evolved.
Staring at the street, Hank said, “Imagine the Nineteenth Century’s hustling gangs career-eening that little Franklin Alley shortcut to White Street. Shrewd entrepreneurs incorporated from last century into this as some agreement probably born right down there from honor among thieves. Going straight for the money, so to speak. Incidents that stepped up the evolution of modern salesmanship’s hustling. While up here with the same strategic calculating, sweatshop supervisors blocked the floor’s only light. Watching urchins underneath them squirt back and forth that short spurt. Because the men entertained a level of comfort, they could joke about the suspiciously hidden faces, under tilted forward hats, that wouldn’t admit to seeing anything being taken over on Broadway. The smaller kids compelled to wear their caps with the same defiant pride in desperation’s corruption. Mr. Treynor? A lot of action congested that alley in petty crime’s heyday. Poverty we can solve, but criminal satisfaction is more troubling.” Hank shrugged, sighed and said, “That alley was a grand thoroughfare before becoming your neighbors’ parking lot. I can contemplate those cars disappearance as our navels’ central representation of this neighborhood’s evolution from the Five Points’ Era impoverishment into their, near here, proud replacement, Foley Square courthouses. Our fine justice system carving out our malignant tumors, inspiring me to further wonder if living on Franklin Street works on Wall? Are you really in on the head’s resolutions or, a mere satisfied limb, executing the ruling elite’s natural impulse to be effectively seen as erasing sin’s desperate motivations? Judging our evaluated margins as what’s out of control. Because, after all, law and order wasn’t the criminal’s idea. Or was it mob rule?”
Yes, that was something else Hank said that night staring out my window. I forgot till now, recalling his habit of speaking outrageously to push the line. Speaking of imagination, my legal work for Prodigy, one of the pre-World Wide Web Internet providers, is how I exposed Hank to e-mail. He loved “letter writing’s revival as a way of life. Technology resuscitating what the phone previously crowded out of most of our lives.”
One evening though, sensing spring stretch 1991s legs, I wasn’t in the mood to turn my machine on. I ignored Hank’s next urgent e-mail asking if I’d clarify some loose end in Hammer’s story. He supposedly didn’t care, but loved hearing what any old-timer came
110up with. But I’d convinced myself indoors was clouded over while outside was much more clean, clear and pure. I rode my new bicycle, wearing my new helmet, but somehow couldn’t help but duplicate our old route from City Hall’s circles and the Woolworth Building’s illumination to The Brooklyn Bridge. What a sight. There was no doubt from up there that Hank was right. “We’ve almost progressed past pirates, robber barons and bureaucratic straightjackets.”
I still felt F. W. Woolworth’s pragmatic nickel and dime capitalism ruled the world. As Hank had said, “Today citizens own more means of production than ever before. Does stock produce a dividend or doesn’t it? Can everyone own stock or not? The class war should have outlived its’ use.”
It was easy, from Greenway’s mountaintop, to appreciate his belief efficient capitalism is socialism. By 1991 the Chinese were commanding their economy to be free and the world was getting down to business. But on that same bench at the LaGuardia Houses, I thought of what Hank wrote to me in December. About “the feuding economic contradictions” that “aren’t quite as dead yet as recently deceased Dr. Hammer. Because as staged the class war isn’t just dying with any one death until all the Cold War’s props are removed.”
He also, sitting on the bench, said, “The economic partitions between classes could lift if we’d just see ourselves from the past’s point of view. Understand how profit’s logical straight line set this century out to become a corrupt utopia. Following history, just north of here, little Lucky Luciano street-wisely grew up within the sophisticated criminal enterprise system’s shrewdness for opportunity. Surrounded by the poverty stricken, the lucky tike started in business feeding spoonfuls of laudanum to addicts lined prone along Delancey Street. Cooperating individuals and an independent connected businessman. Tact and ruthlessness is the formula for the criminal enterprise system. Every facet and element in our beautiful brutal capitalism is for capitalizing on. So this world is really only as corrupt as it thought it had to be. Our system of justice drawn into retribution substituting for solving crime. We hardly question stable government is justified drawing financial support from the enforcement of criminal enterprise? Because in a lazy way we are smart about finance, not justice. Felonies and misdemeanors evolve hardened contestants, trained morning to night, so lawyers have a piece of us all. Pardon me. Though I’d like to think the legalgentsia cares if the world were more
111civilized, my dream is we’ll find another way to make lawyers as much money as we think they have. Then wonder if we’ll be happier then.”
I asked Hank how much he thought I pulled in?
He said, “An actual figure doesn’t matter. You don’t make what the poor don’t have. My belief is the problem is successful capitalism is positioned to surf inflation and has no incentive to solve finance’s corrosion that destroys the working poor. Inflation. And look how far out ahead your position is than those poor fooled, tricked Soviets. Now that was a crime.”
I said, “It’s easy to sound an alarm. But inflation is reality.”
Hank said, “I accept. But when the world figures itself out, there’ll be no more use for your reality inflation.”
So I asked if he ever took an economics class?
He said, “A couple. Enough to see the extra fittest survive extra better. That communist crap about receiving what you deserve.”
He said, “Debate is abstract, Mr. Treynor. There’s always concealed positions not to concede.” Then he put his foot on the bench to retie his shoe. “Is the financial system’s addiction to inflation the only way? Markets depend on fluctuation. But fluctuation from unstable money seems irresponsible. Why can’t that be figured out? To contend money is not made from inflation is naïve about our money handlers’ capabilities. Welcome to the circus my friends. Yes, where ultimately Dr. Hammer is ruthless enough to be capitalist pure. But I want my money, not his. Did you hear? One of Dr. Hammer’s law firms made serious money developing an advertising campaign I turned down. I wouldn’t talk to anyone but they kept the project going. Curiously, after six one night, I was messengering in their building and recognized the name. I snuck down a hall to a conference room and surprised a Cleaning Lady who ignored my looking at the display. The folio listed four lawyers who registered themselves as an ad agency. I remembered their names from the door. I’ll bet they pulled six figures each from the old man. I felt bad. He put people on it right after he left my hospital room and they put on a show for him. The print campaign was built around Dr. Hammer in front of the Hammer and Cycle office as you enter the Mezhdunarodnaya lobby. For major newspapers the two full page centerfold spread was from behind Hammer’s back of him looking at The Hammer and Cycle storefront mural as if he was in an art gallery. Hammer’s caption read: ‘I’ve waited my whole life for
112this moment.’ Moment, I gagged. They could never reach me by phone and didn’t really care. Quick in and out money. However this business isn’t vanity for me. That campaign could have gotten us a lot of crap to carry just so people could say they tried us. Mr. Treynor, don’t look at me goofy. I know the reality of economics is attention. Money a form of voting for what has your attention. I wouldn’t sign anything. I wrote a note on the conference table telling them to use the name with my blessing. But now I have to go to Moscow. They couldn’t find anyone really willing to try. A cousin of Yakov Smirnov used Hammer’s money to fly to New York and he won’t go back. I think he’s in New Orleans.”
Hank laughed. “The name caught the old man’s fancy and he couldn’t let go. I think two years younger he’d do it himself. The one time we were on the phone and I confirmed I was sure I didn’t want his money, it sounded like he actually hit the roof. The top of my head hurt. Of course I’d have rather gone to Moscow last year. But I’m not stupid. It’s a mess either way for me. And probably best if I rode out the gimmick and took his dough too. Except the hammer and cycle is an incredible image and obligation I feel I have to try to really make work.
“So when another ad agency called I picked up my phone on the recording. They called the name a marketer’s dream and I was really hungry so we did lunch on a Saturday. Its hard resisting the temptation to be entertained. They told me, if I wanted, I could be the successful commercial puppet I’m trying to sidestep. You laugh. I know the point is to make money. But I also have to make a larger one. The Cold War’s contrived trauma is too delusionally pure for the truth to slow us down. But we should get past political gurus gearing debate toward simplicity. Frivolous accusations contorting conformed public opinion. Just because politics breeds a lot of money, doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Speeches are just code controlled social discourse to foment activated portions of the population. America’s supposed liberal-conservative political divide occurs, of course, because our conservative friends are right. Government private enterprise can be bad socialism. No kidding. Our most solidly valid dispute with Soviet Socialism was their missing the boat on circulation, growth. Prosperous private armament capitalism destroyed the naïve Soviet lack of having an actual economy.” Then Hank spit. “My mother disapproved.”
I left the LaGuardia Houses a little sore, not yet riding every day. So I used tiredness as my excuse to be hungry by the time I reached the Mekka Restaurant. Before crossing Houston I scanned the
113intersection from the Essex side and it occurred to me how the area’s wide-openness felt like a prairie clearing in the big city. Even as this manuscript finishes in its’ present, 2013, that intersection’s buildings are still relatively low, unlike the rest of the city that doubled over by 2008’s official economic crash. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not confused New York grows for sound prosperous reasons. It’s just I prefer problems occurring in the least crowded way, too, and like Hank I can also be impractical. But I don’t accept that proletarian ideology meant you could live in the park. An independence realized as unproductive today. So I can’t argue, as the city becomes more customers, more stores, more work, more jobs, more. After decades of recovery from acute urban violence, today the metropolis is sharply dressed with just some corrosion underneath.
Its now a decade since the Mekka Restaurant finally closed. But when open, two decades ago, the night of my lone ride, the podium was unmanned and I was enticed by one of the two empty front window tables where I sat to patiently wait for a waitress. But I stood when I recognized Terry, hustling the center aisle toward me with her woman’s smile that can really fry your mind apart.
Smiling, she said, “I’m sorry. A couple reserves this table. A special Wednesday tradition for all of us.”
I felt glad I’d gotten up, because nothing is worse than being made to understand while talked down to in a chair. Feeling flushed as if fired.
I said, “Of course. I don’t have a reservation.”
She said, “You’re taking credit for having a clue.” Then she pulled out my next chair and brought up that we’d seen each other before. I’d hoped she wouldn’t remember, thinking it might be interesting as a fly on the wall.
But Terry said, “You can see outside from here. Hank is big on views, you probably are too.”
I said, “Opinions not as large as his” and that began our first laugh together at Greenway’s expense. Then I was gone, lost in a captivating painting on the wall of lions in awe. Staring in wide-eyed wonder at Daniel with his back to me in their den. Then a menu in my hand brought me smoothly back.
Terry said, “I don’t know if Hank told you, my name is Terry. We’re happy to have you here. What would you like to drink?”
I said, “Just water,” and “I’m glad we’ve now been properly introduced. You wouldn’t know my name either, Phil Treynor.”
“I prefer Phil. And please don’t call me Mr. Treynor. Mr. Greenway ignores my preference.”
“Sure Phil. Contrary to Hank is encouraged here.”
Then a few more of my cells were fried by Terry’s smile from spotting the couple coming to the door. She pulled out their chairs and they didn’t receive menus, and all three thanked their waiter for the crackers, bread and even salads that arrived when the couple sat. Reinforcing my belief in the efficiency a commercial exchange achieves.
But then instinctively Terry locked her eyes on an approaching storm coming from the kitchen, as if fire really protruded from the eyes of Hank’s nemesis. Very uncommon for an owner to allow their whole restaurant to be made into a scene. Even, or especially, if imposing domination over their domain. Though that’s a well-regarded management style one has to respect or get another job.
Terry’s defiant, calm “not here” stopped him and he followed her to the back. But before they made it, the abnormal quiet friction ignited another explosion and the boyfriend yelled, “I don’t care!” As if whoever owned the place would have to kick him out if it wasn’t obviously already all his. The beauty of personal property is free expression’s repercussions. So then maybe, considering consequences are a factor, the restaurant’s owner seemed to calm but his bitter voice couldn’t. Making his growl, “I don’t want him here” sound meaner than necessary when he could have, just as well, yelled as he did again. “We talked about this!”
She still, nonetheless, faced down his anger in an uncommonly tranquil way. “Talk? You’re always telling me. How dare you? Sports nut. Now I can see last night’s seduction was just your mouth dribbling to the basket. Devotion? Love? You cherish George, but you don’t appreciate.” Then she turned.
Still following he tried, “Terry” in an almost normal voice so she stopped. Then he, perhaps, purposely bumped into her, pleading, “What does this mean?” And he wanted her to look in his eyes as he said, “Our warmth wasn’t just my creation. You know that.”
And she flipped back her head. “I’ll ignore your trying to plant more thoughts in me. Come on, be honest? Admit you corral your possessions, cowboy.”
The restaurateur acted confused. “But we care for each other. What happened?” Then while his head drooped, seeking pity, her body went limp as if hit in the gut when she saw his gaze straight at me filled with hate.
So she offered what little was left. “Caring, George? Is enough of a reason to disregard nonsense. But who attaches to that? Memories can’t always replace new facts. This man and Hank have been nothing but polite, while you’re always rude.”
He lost it and yelled, “Stop repeating that name!”
She answered, “Thanks for asking,” but then saw his same clenched fist, hitting his thigh, that I saw in Hank’s face.
Then breaking the silence, his words slugged nearly the same as his fist could. “His name from your kisser Terry, is like the jerk is in front of me now. I’m not his doormat!”
But she was angry too. “That’s it! Nice knowing you.” Then to me, she said, “We’re thrown out” and stepped between us so I couldn’t be reached.
Now, instead of a break to refortify with oxygen, he was convinced she’d understand his polite hand on her shoulder was just there for her to hear him better. That she shook away. He wasn’t her burden anymore. His eyes darted blindly for how to reconcile, what he couldn’t admit was gone. Meanwhile I was unsure of moving too, till George made up his unfinished mind.
George sounded conciliatory. “Stop Terry. I’m not throwing you out. Just him. I don’t want you to leave.”
But she said nothing, and her stern expression directed us out, just before his unnecessarily slammed door reminded us he indeed owned the place. He’d give her that.
We crossed A to calm the couple who, “left when the ruckus started.”
Terry told them, “It couldn’t be helped. We’d been separating for a while. I was blind till he acted out.”
The man shook his head. “No way to treat a business.” Then the couple set out east on Houston, agreeing they weren’t going back.
Terry watched me unlock my pride and joy blue bike and gave it real praise. “Nice.”
So I asked, “Where’s yours?”
And she laughed. “The Neanderthal argued I didn’t need one. He reminded me I never rode my old one in winter anyway. George was my man, so I respected his position. But Hank was never a nuisance. George just saw us look at each other once. Jealousy is a real trip isn’t it?”
Conversing in hippie never appealed to me. What will generations to come idolize?
Terry said, “What a story George had about how my old bike was stolen. After, of all people, a cab driver needs George, his only witness, to phone cops. Right? Grab the guy on the bike. George’s story doesn’t work, so why would he be able to work my lock? The bike’s ripped off, while George shields himself from traffic noise in a phone booth to call the cops. George? George has to accurately report a freakin’ car skirmish, that a patrol car eventually arrives to fill out and file a report on anyway. That’s the event occupying all of George’s attention when two bike thieves pounce.”
Then Terry yells, “All your attention!” across the street at the restaurant.
He screamed something she said was, “Bitch in heat.” But instead of leaving, Terry decides to talk standing there. “Invest his time on my bike? Charity isn’t George’s style. He’d talk his way out of anything. I told him I don’t like living as if lawyers were always involved. Look at the super-sized long brief he made out of tonight’s simple jealousy.” Then she looked at me. “Obviously you’re a lawyer. Your head is always up. An attentive appearance. But George made any conniption a third degree case. Where’s the freedom in a relationship like that? Jackass never rode my bike or anyone else’s. No, his explanation wasn’t suspicious much. Said he chased the thief but the lookout tripped him. Sure, why not? With nothing to gain but trouble, bike thieves generally confront riders standing next to their bike. Why wouldn’t two people spend time stealing what you can’t get 40 dollars for? Why would George even think thieves might be ashamed of stealing to survive? George believes in cars. To him an alternate universe happens after the curb. He even said maybe the thieves were in a hurry to get somewhere. My bicycle was just someone else’s thing to him, like me. He wasn’t in a relationship. He was the relationship. To add reality to his contrived story, he let me run out to St. Marks and Second Avenue to try to catch the bike being sold. I remember how his
117face shined as if his tale was as important as an addict’s, because he desperately wanted me to believe. I could feel sorry if my bike was a poor addict’s score. But I’m really mad at George now. Deception pisses me off. I never saw my bike again. How is it they slip off this planet?”
I started walking west on Houston, but she redirected us, opposite the restaurant north on A. She said, “As long as he’s in the mood for parting shots. Cute how he won’t go inside till we’re gone.”
Clearer this time, George yelled, “You’ll regret this!”
Terry bowed slightly and turned so he wouldn’t see her lips move. “Don’t look,” she said. “Not that anything George ever said is classic, but regret is like a vinyl record. My favorite the flipside, ‘nothing ventured nothing gained.’”
And we laughed again at Hank’s expense at her close approximation of his ear-to-ear grin. Then when just her smile remained she included me in her thinking.
Terry said, “This is almost exactly how I met Hank. Except, nowhere near early 2:00 AM Sunday morning. I don’t remember that night’s argument, but won’t forget tonight’s.”
Then the crowded sidewalk suddenly cramped up and all of us were blocked by a car exiting an apartment complex’s dirt service road on our left. The Do Not Enter sign couldn’t have been less understood or more ignored. The housing project itself is one of those shorter mini-city experiments that ideally intertwine green spaces, or go horribly wrong. While this complex still looks pretty good. But that night the car, that occupied the sidewalk, cut us off with the fence on our left, and green-lighted traffic on our right, so we had to wait. Everyone stared at the driver and occupants looking at us like idiots. Quickly, raise your hand, anyone who still doesn’t understand pedestrians have the right of way? First applies to four vehicles at a four-way-stop, otherwise wise up and be civilized.
I told Terry, “Right here is where Hank said, ‘Civilization is pedestrian right of way.’”
She frowned because that wasn’t so funny now when our group’s self-appointed protest leader expressed his liberty by slamming his fist on the hood. Informing them they hadn’t properly shared. Then he yelled, “Look at em in there! Oblivious! How else would the
118privileged think of themselves? Pile out, I’ll take all of you on!” Then he grabbed the hood ornament, daring them to make it his memento. But thankfully a woman broke up the game by taking the critic’s hand and leading him with us as the crowd reached an agreed political stability of critical mass to properly time our right of way in the traffic lane. Prompting arrogant honking aimed at irritating us. Then swoosh, we were all panicked by a bicyclist squeezing through us too fast. Leaving behind Terry’s wonderful sense of opinion.
She screamed. “Politely moron! Jackasses ram through. Jerks treat everywhere like interstates. Drag strips without red lights. The least we can all be is polite. We expect cars to be cautious. And what do we call drivers who aren’t? Assholes. Assholes pretend they’re messengers beating deadlines. Even they know that was too fast for conditions. Gambling with others’ lives is a disease. If being an asshole was enforceable?”
I said, “Confrontation is tiring” and pointed to reopened Tompkins Square Park. Let’s take a bench near the letter couriers’ congressional friend.”
Entering the park, Terry said, “For some reason Hank and I never sat. We were always moving the few times we saw each other. He should be here now. I hope the world’s worth it to him. We should have sat our first night. Which is what I had started out to do that night Hank and I met because I was always exhausted from standing at that podium. That night after work, I decided, before going home, to sit alone in that big schoolyard across Houston from the restaurant. But it was locked, and I wasn’t in a young, stupid trespasser’s mentally unstable mood. Then crossing Houston, coming back this way, I noticed this guy I didn’t know, Hank, was still traipsing near me on his bike, for God only knows why. I know he thinks he searches for clues, but it’s a shy lonely habit wandering around. In fact, Hank was at the locked park gate. While I shook the chain, he told me, ‘The Park is locked.’ So before I’m back across Houston, I look straight at this person following me so he’d explain himself. Instead of worming his way into a conversation, he asks point blank if he can walk with me. He said he saw I was wound up and might not pay close enough attention to traffic. I joked I was on the sidewalk, and he got sullen like he was rejected. But Hank believed the gimmick, so I was convinced it was okay because people are always on the sidewalk. But I made sure to
119keep his bike between us. You know, just in case, for a while.” Terry smiled.
Turning from the heroic statue, I pointed and asked her if they’d gone “west on St. Marks?”
And that brightened her face. She said, “An adventure. Maybe you can show me the rest of the way where you two went? I heard a messenger went to Moscow, and figured it was him.”
I said, “Sure, but not everywhere.”
She asked, “Why not?”
So I told her about the Meatpacking District incident.
And Terry said, “That’s Hank. Hiding behind his naïveté to pick up a prostitute. She pick his pocket?”
I didn’t like the subject and said, “Hank’s friend got them jobs.”
But Terry said, “I need a job.”
So I thought, “Maybe you could work for me? Hank would imprison me for life if I introduced you to that other job.”
She answered, “Lawyer’s secretary, I don’t think so.”
So I immediately countered, “Has to be better than a sex carnival.”
“Or probably not,” she said.
So I pitched her an appeal to work for me. “No. I’m accumulating a lot of busy work with my new client in the Internet business. Computing digitally just means there’s more to track. Tasks grow exponentially by the second. It’s obvious there’s a good future in it, its the future. You should give it a try, though I’d hate to mess things up. I have too few friends unrelated to business.”
She said, “This is New York, why fantasize we’re somewhere else?”
My new lawyer friend, Mr. Treynor, revived feelings for Hank I wasn’t supposed to have. But I kept remembering our one evening together, walking casually in each other’s eyes. The best part of a lost opportunity because I also did what everyone else had, trying to persuade Hank his lofty ideals weren’t being achieved riding a bike for a living. I grilled the lad over his logic. Telling him choosing failure is
120psychological. That probably most every very early postgraduate dropout stretched that education gig as far as they could. I thought I’d force an uncomfortable laugh from him, but that cracked him up.
I stopped him. “Hank,” I said. “An intellectual and a nickel used to buy a phone call. You’re laughing because its uncomfortable being fake. Defying convention doesn’t exonerate your lack of ambition.” I told him facing things and getting on is the secret of life. But Hank was an adventurer, preferring his family thought him a crazy no account. I said, “Stop mumbling through. Your family is only thinking practical for you. Its time to shape up, thirty-one for Pete's sake.” I even said, “Few step into the dream we have of ourselves. Look around Hank. You’re not so exceptional. Life is compromise.”
I spoke to Hank like that because he’d shown a real interest in me and I wanted to reciprocate a little care. “We’re not all coordinated superstars,” I said. “A lot of depressed people eventually learn to participate in real life. Life is nuts and bolts, Hank Greenway. But if you want to be a nut, make yourself a bolt too and fit your talent in.”
I mocked Hank’s exaggeration that he’d come to New York as the capital of the world. Though he also said he didn’t “like being represented either. But, as an institution, the UN is us nonetheless, and could evolve beyond irritating speeches and mere economic codependence. Its political evolution, the concept thought through by Herbert Spencer, a Charles Darwin contemporary. And basically Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution. The only thing certain is change.
I laughed and told Hank to, “Look in the sky. It’s the balance beam scale of justice now.”
Hank said, “Doubt sounds so much like genius because that’s where knowledge begins.”
I said, “Dazzling. But if reality balances us, why aren’t we already?”
“Because the process of civilization takes a while,” Hank said.
I said, “Duh,” and asked, “Are you sure?”
He said, “Exactly. It’s both our flaw and the solution that conspiracies of individuals rule the world. Can’t you feel how everyone is tired there’s still more crap. The future is coming like a steamroller to flatten all the nonsense.”
I highlighted the obvious. “Fascist. The future was like that before.”
Hank grinned. “Freakin’ smart Terry. History changes while staying the same. It’s as if resisting and questioning authority is the only way.”
Then Hank discussed how technology defined the modern era. But I’d apparently stared dreamily at the Samuel Cox statue long enough and Mr. Treynor woke me from my stupor, asking what Hank said about the letter carriers’ friend? Then realizing I’d been elsewhere in my head, Mr. Treynor nodded, repeating, “letter courier’s friend.”
I told Mr. Treynor, “No. No, we didn’t stop. Hank just looked around. I even told him he wasn’t bothering me but he remained quiet through here till past First Avenue. Then guess what Hank said? Oh, and by the way, Hank would get a kick out of my telling you this. Hank said, ‘Believe it or not,’ his ‘first year here, on First Avenue, half a block above Eighth Street,’ he and Allen Ginsberg smiled at each other while passing on the sidewalk. Hank said his rural hangups intervened and he looked away because a homosexual and he smiled at each other. So to apologize Hank remains silent whenever he passes through Ginsberg’s church, The East Village.”
Mr. Treynor said, “Hank is silly.”
And I made my confession, saying Mr. Treynor, “I made fun of Hank too. Told him the time may come when Allen’s ghost even hits on him. I used a little girl’s voice and said the park is locked. Let me escort you little girl. So now I’m usually silent in Allen’s Church too. But good ole Hank was decent and didn’t miss a beat, or I’d feel worse. He said, ‘Mr. Ginsberg never meant any harm and did a lot of good. Had the guts to shout about how society should understand self-righteousness’ role in fostering criminality. Ginsberg advertised the cultivation of an American cultural revolution. Shook everyone up by shocking the establishment with spontaneous spur of the moment life.’ Then Hank paused and said, ‘Terry? Who achieves what they want? Gets satisfaction? Mr. Ginsberg’s attempt to expand freedom was on everyone’s behalf and should be appreciated by everyone. That night I knew right away, Allen was just being respectful passing on the street.’
“Hank said he felt worse every time he told this story. But he hoped Ginsberg would laugh with him, so he tells the story as the least he can do. And now I’ve told you.” Then I looked at Phil and said, “Phil. Some tale huh? But most of his time was spent staring at me when he could get away with it.”
Phil said, “That’s a shocker.”
So I said, “Alright Hank, Jr.”
Phil apologized. “Sorry. But Hank watched out for you? Had an instinct for unpredictable streets.”
“And cheerleader apparently,” I said, realizing, “Hey, you must be hungry?”
But Phil said, “It doesn’t matter. I came outside because I was bored.”
I laughed asking, “Because you’re human?”
He said, “Yeah. How about Indian food? Tell Hank, make him jealous.”
My face expressed a question.
So Mr. Treynor explained. “Your job offer is official. My secretary is swamped. E-mail him after you organize my electronic mail.”
I said, “E-mail, cute.”
So we went back to Second Avenue for Indian Food, and talked about how Hank’s preposterous life fit his puzzle. How Hank kind of went with the flow without fighting back. His story was that when he was in the sixth grade, his grammar school gave a vocational personality test that interpreted he loved history and being outside. Hank admitted he’s suspicious too, that the educational system drilled in his head what he wanted to believe anyway. He didn’t think that was a job description, so he asked their teacher Mrs. Trosper, whose name I remember, because he did. He said she said his result meant what it said and everyone around the teacher laughed. But Hank silently agreed, and kept it to himself for years that that, was exactly what he’d do. Go outside and think about history. Even as late as the late 1960s, limited to racers, riding a bicycle wasn’t a career. So for Hank the development of the bike messenger job was a miracle. That’s why he was a silly bike messenger. So I pestered him that he’d already done it. Time to reason out a real career and move on.
The waiter took our order and while Mr. Treynor sipped tea, he looked over First Avenue and said he “hadn’t thought Hank fell into messengering by accident.”
I said, “Hank joked someone had to carry the world’s oldest professions’ messages. He believes messengering is purposeful. I couldn’t convince him otherwise. I wasn’t his wife.”
Mr. Treynor said, “Uh huh.”
I said, “Hank wasn’t confused. He knew bike messengering is cruel work and he’d done it. But he became one of those maniacs that can’t go cold turkey from the adrenaline. He’d absorbed the job as if it was a grail. But you spent more time with him than me. You probably know?”
Phil smirked. “Sounds like he spent more time with you.”
I looked out the window. “I’m afraid I just told him if he didn’t become serious, he’d never be more than a messenger. Wow. Moscow, right? Wow. But I am worried. Tell me the truth?”
“He’s learning,” Mr. Treynor said, sounding coy, making me anxious Hank was already in the middle.
Learning, huh? When what journalists uncovered had echoed out giving even me then the idea the forces of history unleashed cowboy capitalism. Learning? Something had to unnaturally fit for Greenway to survive. Nice guys finish last isn’t a cliche for nothing. I decided to be patient and let our conversation come to me, since no one can tell me more than I find out for myself.
I said, “Phil? I feel guilty for lecturing Hank. What is so wrong with a simple life? To think so little of ourselves ambition can’t include lesser achievements? I kept sniping at him, telling him to be serious. He even flailed his arms and yelled, ‘I’m career-eening benefit-less!’
“So I told Hank. ‘Yeah, for what?’ I thought I had him at, ‘You’re stuck if you believe that freedom crap about that job. If you make money, dispatch controls every moment of your life. Your job is hanging around between errands.’
Then Hank cut me off laughing goofy, ‘tee he’ and said that the in-between time doing nothing was for thinking and part of how he felt he was paid.
“So I nod. You know, Phil? I tell Hank to listen. Told him his cute myth is just a bubble burst. Hardly a job. He called messengering a nice simple task that kept him young and in shape. I told him women who bother finding out, told the rest of us bike messengers are exhausted and good for nothing after work. I told Hank, ‘Aspire to think about anything you want, just become something else.’ I was harsh, I’d seen people hurt. I had him, right? I asked him if there were no grudges in his business? No advantages of priority or seniority, flexibility, or especially dependability? No competition? Dim wad. I told him office politics don’t change just because you’re outside
124playing in the street. Messengers are funny. All they ask each other, all day long, is where they work and for how much. What’s the deal? Office politics. Plus, they’re all over the place in the way. Idiots can’t share.’
“After my tirade, Phil, Hank just said, ‘Ditto.’
“So I said, ‘Oh ditto. You don’t want to associate with dumb bastards.’
“And he said, ‘I am, but admitting to dumb is a stretch.’
“I stayed on subject change and told him his people complain about jaywalkers but don’t slow down in crosswalks. Messengers are just ridiculous and overdramatic about a routine occupation.’
“So Hank says yes, he’s romantic, and I told him he’s tiring like politics. Like democrats,’ I said. ‘Riding that same old burro change. Both of you should give it a rest. What is there to rebel against? What’s the point, being a penniless critic? Our system is good. From the top, the President is elected and you know it.’
“And of course Hank disputes anything so he said, ‘Multiple choice candidates selected by Ruling Parties is cronyism and somewhere between control by authority and authoritarian control.’
“I laughed. ‘Cute Greenway.’ I said he must want ‘everyone on the ballot with the winner achieving the difficult task of convincing a spouse plus a neighbor to vote for them. Polls open at 6:00 AM projecting New York’s Hank Greenway the popular three vote winner.’ I said, “You’re suggesting a lottery. Do you realize that? What a victory, not to mention campaign though. Everyone excited by the opportunity to convince just a few other people. More noise for how much money?
“Hank blurted, ‘Yeah yeah brilliant. What else?’ Then, ‘Oh! There’ll finally be enough commercial revenue to secure security for those poor families of the media titans. Isn’t an actual participatory democracy worth a try?’
Hank was ‘at least willing to try it as conversation’ and both Phil and I smiled at how goofy Hank was.
Then Mr. Treynor said, “This is where Hank tripped himself up on St. Marks defending hippie family values.”
I objected. “Greenway’s not quite a hippie.”
But Phil said, “Hank defended them.”
I said, “Hank told me when he was a kid he resented hippies for monopolizing change.”
Phil said, “Glory hog” and seemed satisfied by that.
So I said, “Great name for a band.”
That brought Phil’s chuckler, “Headlining the dead Electric Circus across the street. Hank was full of praise for that place, even believing hippies started the rehab facility.”
I said, “Phil? That place also housed what everyone’s addicted to. It used to be a Polish Hall called The Dom, that means home. Something everyone needs. We talked about that place too. Hank described how Lou Reed’s entrepreneurial team, The Velvet Underground, maintained the site’s name, The Dom, for a short time before the Electric Circus stole their lease while they were touring the West Coast. Mr. Treynor, you resent hippies too, huh?”
Phil put down his fork and said, “Mister huh? Well, hippies were a damn cult that needlessly upset people.”
I asked, “Upset comfortable security?”
Phil said, “No, hippies defied law and order,” then reached for his tea.
I said, “Hippies appreciated order. They even made personal sacrifices for more reasonable laws to come about. Haven’t you seen Dragnet? This country was in a more repressive state of mind then than today. Hopefully?”
Phil said, “Yeah, your and Hank’s concern.”
I said, “Lou Reed said hippies were too Gandhi when there’s only one. Still I agree with Hank. ‘Hippies took a bigger gulp of history than we’ve digested.’
Of course Phil wanted the floor, but I preferred to be certain of my two cents. I said, “Something else Hank said at the other end of Eighth Street. We were passing Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland Studios when he said, ‘Hippies were scapegoats for a convenient train of thought control. Hippie was meant to casually break and dethrone some of our culture’s molds.’”
Phil grinned. “Culture mold?”
Now I hadn’t yet realized how nice my new job would be so I ignored Mr. Treynor’s poor face slowly reflecting a woman with a ‘tude. I told Phil, “Greenway described the public as a huge canvas. An advertising enterprise run by a pretty penny for the minds of America. Settling debate as dispute won in proportion to budget.’”
Phil said, “You’re confused by free enterprise?”
I said, “Impossible. You’re aware, aren’t you Phil? How the influencing of public opinion is an ever-present, ominous strategy. How purchasing what people think is not a vague reality. Ah, I remember Hank saying, ‘Attention is hard. Ideas reverberate as echoes across the country until what people hear repeated becomes common knowledge.’ Hank tell you Phil?”
“Tell me what,” Phil said.
I said, “Hank tell you what he thought about our country’s campaign to patriotically shroud Vietnam’s loss as miscalculated public support? He said it’s the public relations illusionists’ trick of hiding behind logical fact. No? What’s not true, Phil? That facts don’t belong to whoever has an advantage?” I raised my eyebrows. “‘Sometimes its bullshit’ like Hank says. ‘If we can’t, how can Russians retool for peace? Or religions realize God could never be a real reason for war?’ He also said, ‘Its this duty to protect the world that’s foggy and confused.’ And also, ‘Of course we lost Southeast Asia because our respected military didn’t go for the Asian communists’ jugular by ripping the landmass off the planet. Not for lack of spending money, but because we didn’t really try, boo hoo. Hindsight spent on talking heads repeating the trademark until it sticks. Then when they test this brand of patriotic public opinion, a new generation won’t have felt war like the previous and, as has happened for centuries before, we’re in trouble and at war all over again.’ Hippies be damned, I might add.”
So that’s when Phil chimed in for the team. “But people understand supporting our troops. This is a strong country, and there’s nothing wrong realizing our potential.”
“Satisfying our military industrial complex?”
“Aren’t we astute?” Phil quipped, even adding, “The business of war still circulates money throughout the world.”
He was making fun of me.
“Okay Phil,” I said, “then the real problem is just when weapons are actually used? No doubt you have stock connected to our albatross. Money has so many options you don’t even have to know.”
Disappointingly Phil sounded satisfied. Even saying, “Modern weapons are so lethal we have to protect ourselves.”
“Threat for threat,” I said.
And Phil agreed. “Barbaric. But multi-giant corporations are not at war, and not black holes where money disappears. In fact the Soviet Union dissolved precisely from the weapons race. By refusing to
127define profit, their economy fell flat. Learn from history. We’re lucky exploitation didn’t delude our whole country. As it had your hippies, for instance. Benevolent internationalism aside, Terry. Would you prefer countries conquer us?”
I said, “I don’t care which uniform tyranny wears. Gentle giant neighbors would suffice.”
Phil, tuned to his smirk, said, “Peace love and rock and roll.”
So I said, “Mr. Treynor?
He said, “Phil.”
I said. “I’m probably not saying what you want to hear. But if we won Vietnam would our conspiracies of individual opportunists done the best for everyone? Don’t be a horse’s ass. World revolution could have continued more violently. As it has where its the only worthwhile business in some countries. As it is I agree with Hank ‘we should have concentrated on becoming more perfect capitalists.’”
Then surprisingly, Mr. Treynor ticked me off less, saying, “Wait. You two did spend time together. Conspiracies of individuals is Hank’s explanation for everyone’s being linked in the capitalist chain.”
I said, “What makes you think Hank didn’t get that from me?”
Phil smiled, lowering his eyes, smug in his assumptions. He said, “I think neither of you understand how irresponsible hippies were. Their bad behavior fostered a poor lazy communal attitude. As if free was all there was to life. I’ll bet you only saw hippies on TV?”
“I grew up around some in the seventies,” I said.
Which agitated Phil more. “Well,” he said. “The sixties were about being cool when the young need to do something with their lives.”
So I said, “Come on, beautiful huh? How we can believe other than we think when our instinct is to cling to conclusions rather than come to them. You know hippies didn’t stop living.”
“Ha,” Phil said. “My generation clung to history’s bohemian debate over how others do the work. Some woke up and got a job and created their own enterprises. But many were too lazy to even look into the excuse of exploitation by the man. Your generation could more clearly see and appreciate the cost and effort to live and how capitalism was just getting off the ground.
I said, “But your generation’s rebels paid a price for all of us to unpopularly disagree.”
Phil said, “Ah, semantics. A lot of us had to work very hard to keep this country’s heads above water. But it’s also true the early sixties generation’s initial point of view was framed by red diaper babies. The children of persecuted and unpopular communist parents, who had a natural grievance against the establishment. Because, for one thing, some were only mislabeled progressives. So the haunting ramifications of this country’s zealotry did theoretically spawn a strong vein of angry rebellion in the antiwar movement. I remember Hank said, ‘It was as if history exploded’ while staring at the Electric Circus.”
“Wo,” I said. “Look at you, communist sympathizer.”
Phil smiled. “No. But Hank and I did discuss some facts. His fascination with using the name Hammer and Cycle is to inject some balance into popular history. There was abuse by the overzealous against many who never meant this country any harm. Progressive socialists were for social investment that government and commercial society neglected. For instance the idea of Children’s Daycare freeing women to work for themselves and not the state, by the way. Of course all liberals weren’t necessarily against private enterprise. As Hank said, ‘In the hysteria of that era’s limited opportunism, good people were taken down just for being commercial opponents. After all politics is free enterprise and freedom of speech took a nosedive in the name of Americanism.’ Hank described to me, the book Loyalties, by Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, about his family’s tragedy. We were a confused country before Milton Friedman was given credit for diagnosing the purity of capitalism.” Phil smiled. “Hank’s socialism.”
I sipped some tea and said, “Phil, as enlightened as you are, I detect antagonism. Bottom line, its obvious government can’t negotiate our lives and, individualism is the honorable conclusion. Everyone knows that. Who doesn’t understand individual initiative and all that jazz? But as jargon, it’s disgusting.”
Phil laughed off the insult and said, “But initiative is the explanation for poverty. Whether we’re farmers or not, we all have to grow something. That’s what profit is. Something for something is reality. Socializing the cold hard brutal facts of life is why economies are in debt.”
I just smiled and said, “Hank said money just doesn’t disappear. Socialism isn’t how the debt occurs.”
“Yeah,” Mr. Treynor said, “Right. Circulation. Just let it flow. Abstract Utopianism is absurd.”
“But how we got this far,” I said. “By socializing capitalism.”
“Ha!” Mr. Treynor replied without thinking. “Liberals like stretching their point. How about this one? What if Soviet censorship were just minor neglects in the process of eliminating what wasn’t very good literature. Editing them was a too expensive labor while censorship offered more dignity than whining and admitting the writer’s last draft wasn’t good enough. Solzhenitsyn wrote a lot. Maybe he could have trimmed a bit before turning in his manuscripts?”
I blinked and said, “Solzhenitsyn wrote short stories too.”
And Phil said, “Who has time to read make-believe?”
“Or fictionalize pure art?” I replied and, “Artists make the time, and editors aspire to improving their work. Remind the writer what they’ve written better. Soviet editors weren’t allowed to let writers say what they meant. Why are you mixing it all up? Conservatives make a mosh pit of politics.”
Phil said, “Call `em as we see `em,” and laughed and asked for more water. And continued. “We’re more sophisticated today. Though police states are wrong, civilized order must be maintained and an establishment obeyed.”
I said, “Did you know anarchy began as the philosophical opposition to monarchy before radical whackiness and conservative convenience latched on to the idea of violence against the state?”
“Yes,” Phil said. “I know my way through that theory of no rulers in a cooperative democracy. I know people in The Village. Anarchy wasn’t supposed to mean a riot. But you understand, to the public the word means disorder?”
I said, “Yeah, I understand you. At least you love your bike.”
Phil smiled. “That Hank agrees is dangerous. Traffic too aggressive. Excessive honking a nervous wreck in progress.”
So I said, “But if everyone biked?”
And Phil, “We’d be in tra-la-lala land.”
Now I laughed. “Wo there goes utopia past us now. If we hurry we can catch it in a car?”
Phil asked, “Hank’s?”
I just said, “Yours, we don’t own one.”
Phil was so entertained he said, “Ah, you’re one of those propagandizers working the population into an ecological frenzy?”
I just looked at my rice and left my fork in.
Phil said, “I don’t completely mean anything. Since you’re Hank’s friend I’m compelled to debate with you. And its hard to leave clichés unspoken. Terry, what if an abused planet is just a token appraisal of the evolutionary facts of life. Fearing the earth’s deterioration might be the illusion, and outer space where we’re meant to go.”
I did a, did I hear that, head shake and said, “Yeah. That explains it. Last century when they developed the technological skill to mess this place up, they just had this feeling we’d live on the moon. Such foresight. And Phil, do you realize when you said ‘outer space,’ you looked up as if you were ready to go? Defending hippies again, Hank even said, ‘Scapegoating the counter culture was used to delay ecological awareness. Deadbeats can’t fill er up.’”
Phil said, “Responsibilities today require speed.”
So I said, “Funny you. Near as I see, we’re all waiting in line.”
Phil smiled. “Don’t worry, conservatives plan to get you out from under waiting on big government.”
So I put more tone in my voice, amplifying how I felt about political shortcuts. “You like popularly constructed history, don’t you Mr. Treynor?”
Phil said, “Wo! You two knew each other more than barely.”
I said, “Bare-ly would have been good. But the truth is it was just a moment.”
“I only allowed Hank to walk me to Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street, the commercial heart of Greenwich Village that I like saying because Jimi’s place is near that corner. I was ducking Hank there to go three blocks down to positively Fourth Street and take the train. I made a short speech, with a stern expression, to make myself final, and clear, that any man I just met shouldn’t follow me home.”
Phil said, “I was thinking.”
I said, “Conservatives have a pulse?”
Phil said, “Huh. So was Hank polite till the end?”
“What did he almost do?”
“Practically nothing of course,” I said. “But we hadn’t noticed George until his car ran the curb in front of us and he jumped out. He must have followed and built up steam the way he was so angry. He yelled and acted as if he just caught us. Screaming, ‘Get in the car, get
131in, damn it, get in.’ His cursing is funny now. He slammed his fist on the hardest part of the hood and that made us jump. You know, I’ll be darned. His fist was balled tight the whole time like tonight. But that night the thumb was outside the way street fighters go after the eye. From George’s perspective nonviolence is just a front to hide behind. He yelled he’d hit Hank. So what else, Hank did what rich comedians say they did to deflect playground bullies. Silly, with his mouth shut, Hank’s eyes ran back and forth from me to misinformed George who thought he was in charge.
“George said, ‘Move.’
“Actually I was dazed and wondered what it would be like watching someone not fight back and be ripped apart. Which wasn’t happening because it was just a conceit-fueled drama. Men defending us for themselves in the clutches of the powerful master jealousy. George’s eyes boiled like tonight, except madder.
“Hank said, ‘Grey-ate, beat me down. If only we’d sold the witnesses tickets.’
“So George cocks his head, reminding me I’m his ally and says, ‘Who’s this little white guy anyway?’ George can portray the sincerest confusion. Poor George pled, ‘Terry who is this guy we’ve never seen before?’
“So Hank smiles like this a goof, to get us through, and that upsets George more. In George’s world there couldn’t be a friendship. So I had to try to explain to get him through the mess he caused. I said, ‘George, I’ll do the introduction. Hank, boyfriend George. Right now George is afraid because he doesn’t have a good reason for being here, other than an unspoken claim to just be driving by. Which could be significant. Except George never bothers to explain himself before he’s asked.’ I stomped my foot interrupting George’s interruption that wasn’t true. That he was getting us something from Balducci’s. So I yelled at him, ‘you always ignore me. And that victim expression tacked to your face doesn’t get it either! This isn’t your way home. And you never pay for anything.’
“So George rears his baffled head, imagining he hadn’t heard me correctly. Because I must be the one exaggerating hysterically. Certainly George must have had time to calm down since I left the restaurant, but not enough to listen to reason. He always had this way of taking in just enough information to rely on his shrewd business
132sense to jump on the ruthless move. He shrugged his shoulders at the crowd, like he didn’t know and I accepted my role as the witch.
“I screamed, ‘You weren’t looking for me when I left the restaurant fed up being bossed around.’
“George was always incapable of listening. Especially when his eyeballs would dart after his internal dialogue, disabling him from engaging with anything I ever said. Exhausting. I told George he’s exhausting. I said, ‘You only followed us because you saw me with someone else. Because when you’re upset with me you always run away expecting me to wait.’”
“He yelled, ‘Terry!’ again.”
“So I yell, ‘Terry Nothing! I’m gone.’ Then, ‘Come on’ to Hank but George kicked Hank’s front wheel with his boot and stared in Hank’s face pretending as if that was his asking me if I was taking Hank with me. And, Mr. Treynor?”
“This bothers you?”
“George was mad earlier. Maybe he’s waiting outside somewhere on Second Avenue now?”
I said, “I’m not looking.”
Whereas Phil said, “Maybe you should, and understand his jealous attitude. Sometimes facing truth requires dodging it.”
I said, “His intolerance? This is my life. He never understood that. My cautious days with him are long gone with the wind. How could I miss that attitude? And he was given many second chances. I saw him the next day while poor Hank didn’t even exchange numbers. Disgustingly polite but I’d had enough of men.”
“So how did you get rid of them, the men?”
“Hank stepped back diplomatically and I raised my voice to drop the verdict on George. I said, ‘I’m doing what I want’ and asked Hank if he saw the police?”
Phil smiled. “I was wondering where they were.”
But, “I wasn’t. George says, ‘Stop it Terry. Let’s not joke. I can take you home.’
“I yelled, ‘No!’ and could feel how the audience was gripped.
“Then Hank said, ‘A good night to pass the hat. We’d be a hit in Washington Square.’
“Of course pissing off George more. But.”
Mr. Treynor had a comment. “Terry, aren’t you exaggerating?”
I said, “I remembering exactly. Not just George’s possessiveness, but his mean child’s attitude. Then George took it out on his tires and burned rubber outta there. And guess what Hank said?”
“I hate cars.”
“He doesn’t hate cars. Or blame drivers who’re the ones that have to change their minds. What’s done is done as Hank said. ‘The automobile conspiracy was just too luxurious for this world’s kings and queens to refuse speedy door-to-door convenience.’ I smiled. “But what Hank said when George left was, ‘Losing you could be the worst thing that could ever happen to a man.’
“So my answer to Hank was, ‘Men and their possessions would crack me up if it wasn’t unfair.’”
Mr. Treynor cracked, “That’s what marriage is?”
I said, “We weren’t married, and isn’t marriage more than a commercial contract?”
Phil said, “Yes, an extended verbal, formal, emotional contract. So then where did you two go?”
I said, “I sent Hank home and I went to mine. My independence mattered. He watched me for a distance, then I assume rode off after I went in the subway. Both probably fantasized how tough they’d be next time, which is why last time I just walked away.”
“Between moving cars.”
“Yeah? Well like a lawyer avoiding surprise, I’m sure I crossed the street when it was predictable.”
Phil laughed, “I think you dropped out of law school.”
I nodded affirming the obvious, and asked what else I did that night?
Phil said, “You ignored George.”
I said, “Hank knew that nonsense had nothing to do with me. What did he say?”
“He said nothing really. Seemed happier if that’s possible.”
I said, “Hank deserved more attention. Thanks, I feel worse now.”
But Phil said, “You did no wrong in his eyes.”
So I said, “Salesman, aren’t you?”
And Phil said, “Lawyers are a little everything.”
“Correct,” Phil concluded and asked which train I was taking.
Then we walked to Broadway and Houston and Phil asked more about my life and why I’d chosen the Second Avenue second-story storefront Indian Restaurant below Sixth Street, whose kaleidoscopic colors I was fond of from childhood before my family left for the South. I told Mr. Treynor I came back because this was where opportunity supposedly was and prejudices not so nearly, fully expressed. I got tired of hating people on the inside and don’t understand how anyone can.
Smart woman, I made a good hire.