Bank Deposit Zippered Pouch

The Pink Pin in Quito.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I parked the Pontiac in front of a big blue house on Iquem Street
in
New Orleans
 , city (2006 pop. 187,525), coextensive with Orleans parish, SE La., between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, 107 mi (172 km) by water from the river mouth; founded
. I inventoried my luggage (one ancient Braniff flight
bag) and shook my injured hand to test the pain. Not bad. A little
crunchy maybe. And the
Tushie
 also tush·ie  
n. pl. tush·ies Slang
The buttocks.


[From tush3.]
 diaper I was using as a bandage needed
changing–blood had seeped through in a few places and had dried
black-cherry-black. I climbed out of the car. The heat was breathtaking.
I took a deep breath of it. I was now officially as far away from death
and heartbreak as I could get.

In the front yard of the big blue house was a metal desk with an
orange
Igloo
  [Inuit,=house]. The Eskimos traditionally had three types of houses.
 perched on the edge. A man was sitting there, dispensing a
lavender fluid into a
Little Mermaid

 promotional movie cup. The desk, a
government-issue thing, drawer-free, its paint weathered down to
salt-pocked
stainless steel
 see steel.


stainless steel

Any of a family of alloy steels usually containing 10–30% chromium. The presence of chromium, together with low carbon content, gives remarkable resistance to corrosion and heat.
, had clearly been a feature of the yard for
a long time: blue morning glories were climbing its legs. The man
himself looked like he’d been there long enough for morning-glory
scouts to consider climbing him, too.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Is … ”

“Surely it is,” he said, his voice rich and musical, as
though he had extra vocal cords that vibrated in harmony.
“Gatorade. Cold. Want some?”

“No thanks,” I said. “Is … ”

“That a Huggie?” he said, gesturing at me with his Little
Mermaid cup.

“Oh. Uh, no. Tushie. I had some bad luck.”

“I bet what you meaning to say is that one of you lady-friends
stick you, probably over some other lady-friend.”

“Wow,” I said, feeling a little like I’d been caught
at Hide and Seek. “That’s an awfully good guess.”

He had lots of scars. Little and big. Knotted and old. Pink and
shiny and new.

“That mean they love you, chief,” he said. He laughed and
drank some Gatorade. “But you want me to tell you something? You
need to change that thing.”

“I’m afraid to see what’s under there.”

He laughed again. I laughed too. I felt naked, legible. Who was
this guy? An idle seer who specialized in exposing the
heartsick
  
adj.
Profoundly disappointed; despondent.


heartsick
? A
voodoo expert, angling to trade me
love potion

 for my bloody bandage?
I’d always thought voodoo was just a tourist hook, but maybe it was
for real.

“So,” I said, crossing my arms to hide my hand, “is
this the
youth hostel

?”

“Mm-hmm,” he said, tipping the Igloo towards himself to
get the last few drops of Gatorade carafed therein. “They about
full up, though. Half of Denmark here.”

Inside the hostel, beside a pathogenic-looking couch and in front
of a huge pair of barred, painted-shut French doors that led to a
veranda, was a woman sitting behind a low desk of the same species as
the one outside, though this one had not had its paint, a cheerless
smaze gray, bullied off by the clime.

She was hunched over the desk, pulling long dirty-blonde strands of
hair from a plastic hairbrush.

“Hello,” I said.

She stopped mid-pull, without looking up. She remained that way for
three full seconds, then placed the hairbrush on the desk and raised her
head.

“What’s your name?”

“Jerome.”

“Carolyn.”

I smiled. Carolyn smiled back. A tiny dimple formed in the tip of
her nose.

I hated smiling, and didn’t if I could help it–I have curious
teeth, and have been told my smiles are suggestive, if not downright
leering. I’d practiced wholesome smiles in the mirror, but they
just made me look like a cult leader.

“Eighteen bucks a night,” said Carolyn, the smiling over.
“Locker key’s a twenty-dollar deposit, refundable.
Pillow’s on the bed. Need sheets and towels?”

I did. I gave Carolyn thirty-eight dollars. I signed my name on a
clipboard register she dropped in front of me with a
clatter
  
v. clat·tered, clat·ter·ing, clat·ters

v.intr.
1. To make a rattling sound.

2. To move with a rattling sound:
. Under
Address I wrote “Massachusetts.” Not very precise, but true.
She looked at the clipboard register, then gave me a key to the front
door, a thin stack of linens, and a short oral dissertation on the
dangers of the city.

“Massachusetts? Nice. Safe. But here? People like to murder
each other. Last year, we were America’s Murder Capital. 421
killings.

And it’s looking like we’ll repeat in 1995. Often
it’s a drug thing, or an unfaithfulness thing, but lots of times
it’s just a flaring temper. A tip: if you, as a pedestrian, get a
sense that an oncoming person is about to flare their temper, cross to
the other side of the street.”

“But …”

“What if there’s a temper on the other sidewalk? Just
walk down the middle of the street. You’ll see that a lot.”

“But …”

“What if there are tempers everywhere, you ask. Well. Consider
acquiring one of these.”

She reached into her backpack and pulled out a black object. It
took my brain a moment to verify the object as a gun. She cocked it and
pointed it at her hairbrush.

“Okay,” I whispered. There weren’t many guns in
Boston. Not that I ever saw, anyway. I wanted to tell her to put that
thing away, but she didn’t look like she stood much contrariness.
She was nearly six feet tall and had long,
springy
  
adj. spring·i·er, spring·i·est
1. Marked by resilience; elastic.

2. Abounding in freshwater springs.


spring
 muscles in her neck.
She didn’t look like she stood anything she didn’t want to
stand. And she was armed.

Then the gun was gone, returned to her backpack.

“One of the residents here got mugged in a cemetery,”
continued Carolyn. “Then, while he was in the waiting room at
Charity a lady dressed up in a nurse’s uniform stabbed him in the
arm with a mechanical pencil.”

“So stay out of the cemeteries,” she concluded.

“I promise,” I said, imagining getting stabbed with a
mechanical pencil. Instinctively I brought my bad hand up to my other
arm to massage the pencil wound I’d so successfully imagined.

Carolyn looked at, but did not comment on, my darkened Tushie. I
hid it behind my back again. She bent over to inspect the room-vacancy
chart on her desk.

“There are four beds in your room–two bunk beds–and three
are taken. You’re the fourth. You just filled the hostel, Mr Jerome
Coe.”

She turned around. On a big world map tacked to the wall, she stuck
a blue pin in the middle of Massachusetts, right in Quabbin Reservoir.
Her hair fell in shallow waves to the middle of her back. There was a
big dry oak leaf tangled up in there.

I was the only pin in the
United States
 officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world’s third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.
. About thirty other pins,
all blue, were crowded into Europe, most in Denmark. There was only one
other pin apart from those, a pink pin in Quito, Ecuador.

Beneath the powerful odors of mold and sweat and magnolia blossoms,
which persisted throughout the hostel, my room also had its own
signature scent: a
humic
  
adj.
Of, relating to, or derived from humus.

Adj. 1. humic – of or relating to or derived from humus; “humic acid”
 musk, like composting laundry.

I occupied the top bunk of the left bunk bed. The other beds were
linenless, and piled with sports bags,
mossy
  
adj. moss·i·er, moss·i·est
1. Covered with moss or something like moss:

2. Resembling moss.

3. Old-fashioned; antiquated.
 bath towels, and Ziplocs
filled with preening gels and disposable razors. Scattered on the floor
and on the bunk under mine was a thin topsoil of European jockey shorts
and funny socks that were likely the source of the paralaundry smell.
There was also a selection of pornographic magazines evidently published
in the low countries. One was called Grosste Pfosten and featured on the
cover a Teutonic Adonis whose Pfosten were indeed signally Grosste.

This was home, for now.

It was January, but the heat was astonishing. I had been issued a
barf-colored blanket and a gray sheet by Carolyn at the front desk, but
it was far too hot to cover up with the blanket, or even lie on it, so I
folded it up and stuck it under the thin,
flaccid
 /flac·cid/ () ()
1. weak, lax, and soft.

2. atonic.


adj.
Lacking firmness, resilience, or muscle tone.
 pillow, which was
really more like an oven mitt.

For a while I lay there, unable to sleep, and listened to insects
bounce off the screen of the only window in the room.

These insects, I’d noticed, were on both sides of the screen:
those outside seeking shelter, and those inside seeking freedom. The
inside ones were numerous, biologically diverse, and loud. They scuttled
and ratcheted, and occasionally dropped from the ceiling and tked on the
floor like
pistachio
 , tree or shrub (of the genus Pistacia) of the family Anacardiaceae (sumac family). The species that yields the pistachio nut of commerce is P.
 shells. I didn’t want to lie directly on the
mattress, but even less appealing was the idea of insect life falling on
my body, carapaces down, waving appendages and trying to flip themselves
over while I slept.

So I covered myself with the sheet, tucked the ends under my feet
and the top of my head, and the edges under my body, to limit direct
contact with the mattress, which was studded with metal buttons and
randomly scaped with starchy patches.

I pulled my sheet taut. I surely looked like an overturned canoe.
Louisianian creatures bounced off the fabric stretched across my open
mouth. My eyes adjusted to the light coming through the sheet from the
meager floodlamp in the yard of the hostel. Beings, large and small,
alighted on my sheet and promenaded across it. I flicked them from
underneath and listened to them land in other parts of the room.

I dreaded the arrival of
my roommates

. I prayed I would fall asleep
before they got back from wherever they were. I didn’t want to have
to smile. I didn’t want to listen to anyone
masturbate

v.
To perform an act of masturbation.
 in Danish. I
wanted to lie here under my canoe and consider pink pins and
nose-dimpled desk clerks with brown leaves in their hair.

Even though Carolyn had said I’d filled the hostel, there
seemed to be no other inhabitants. No snoring, or music, or creaking

bunk beds
 bunk npl

 npl

 npl
. Just my pistachio shells. I seemed to be alone.

So, with care not to open ingress to my canoe, I reached down and
pulled off a sock, a white ribbed sports sock that I’d worn for
much of my drive down here. It wasn’t essential–I had another pair
in my bag and two more down in the car. I slipped it over my hand like a
mitten, pulled open the gap between the elastic lip of the sock and my
palm, and inserted my erection (it had always been quick to recognize
opportunities). Then I went silently to work in the traditional manner.
The hostel bunk bed didn’t squeak, but rather made a duck-like
sound with each upstroke. After a few minutes of accelerating vigor, I
gave up trying to be quiet. The bed quacked, and now with each
downstroke released a soft pit sound. pit quack pit quack pit quack pit.

I was
beholden
  
adj.
Owing something, such as gratitude, to another; indebted.


[Middle English biholden, past participle of biholden, to observe; see behold.
 now. Committed. If I’d been suddenly
transported at that instant to the front of my seventh-grade math class,
with Corey Czyz and Nadia Mundy in the front row, I wouldn’t have
been able to stop.

I wheezed. The sheet had worked its way off my head and feet. I
cast it aside and completely gave in, bouncing on the bunk bed, chewing
my biceps.

The sock worked as expected. My heart beat so hard I felt the
squeezings of blood in my
brachial
 /bra·chi·al/ () pertaining to the upper limb.


adj.
Relating to the arm.


brachial

pertaining to the forelimb.
 arteries. It had been a real thumper.

I rolled up the sacrificial article and dropped it behind the bunk
bed. The sweat on my body began to dry and cool. My eyes adjusted to the
dark. Danish sports bags and dirty clothes covered the floor and the
beds. The upper bunk across the room from me was piled particularly high
with the burdens of travel.

But then it moved. The crap on the other upper bunk moved. Then it
snorted, changed positions, and blew an involuntary nose-whistle. An
empty oil can of Foster’s Lager fell off the bed and landed softly
on the low range of shit on the floor.

I froze. I stayed frozen, listening for clues that my roommate had
either been genuinely asleep or fully awake while I was busy with my
massage.

Then, a gentle
snore
 ()
1. rough, noisy breathing during sleep, due to vibration of the uvula and soft palate.

2. to produce such sounds during sleep.


v.
, followed by a whisper that certainly seemed
like a lyric of deep sleep. Eventually I relaxed and fell asleep too.

The following morning I woke confused–spatially, temporally,
psychologically. A ceiling two feet from my face. I was varnished with
sweat, through which rose stinging welts. Somewhere below me was choral
snoring. The air smelled like a salt works. What the hell was going on?

I couldn’t remember if I was depressed or not, if I was in the
hospital or out. Had somebody died? Was I broke? In love? Lost?

I lifted up my bandaged hand. I looked down at my sockless left
foot. Oh. I remember. Long drive. The Ertzes, and those dogs. The ice.
Marta, in the sky. The cinnamon-roll bakery. My injured hand.

New Orleans. Hostel. Carolyn, the desk clerk. Pink pin. Not really
so depressed, come to think of it. Brokenhearted, sure, but just in a
general sort of way, as always. Not flush, but not broke either. A
disability check would come on the third of the month, just a week away.
$92.90, available at any ATM.

And I was free–that was the main thing. Ready to start again in a
place where it did not snow. Free!

Of course, I’d furiously jacked off in the presence of some
Danish fellow–there was that.

I cautiously looked over at the other top bunk. Deserted. Just a
hollowed-out spot among the clothes and junk where someone might’ve
been, now occupied by a half-empty bag of Zapp’s Cajun Crawtater
chips and a guide to the New Orleans cemeteries, thick with Post It
notes. Had I slept next to the unlucky stabbed guy? Dotting the crap on
his bunk was a panty here and a bra there. He must be a highly
virile
 /vir·ile/ ()
1. masculine.

2. specifically, having male copulative power.


adj.
1.
 Dane. I hated him. I was glad he was gone. Maybe he got mugged again,
while pursuing innocent virgins.

On the lower bunks, however, were two men. The man beneath my bunk
was huge. The man on the other lower bunk was barely half his size.
Their mattresses had been laid bare–the absurd European Dopp kits and
woolly towels and laundry boluses that had so densely populated them had
been swept off without concern into the middle of the room. Both men
were naked, except for tight, bright yellow briefs. The men were face
down and white as aluminum siding, except for their necks, which were
scarves of angry
vermilion
 vivid red pigment of durable quality. It is a chemical compound of mercury and sulfur and is known as red sulfide of mercury; it was formerly obtained by grinding pure cinnabar but is now commonly prepared synthetically.
. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep with
a
sunburn
 inflammation of the skin caused by actinic rays from the sun or artificial sources. Moderate exposure to ultraviolet radiation is followed by a red blush, but severe exposure may result in blisters, pain, and constitutional symptoms.
 like that, unless I were full of lager, which they apparently
were, since the lager cans all over the room were empty. The lager had
to be
someplace
  
adv. & n.
Somewhere:   See Usage Note at everyplace.
, and logic suggested it was in these two men.

I slid off the top bunk and attempted to leap quietly to the floor,
but somehow I hooked a toe in the string anchorage of one of the little
metal mattress buttons. I landed head first in the
sodden
  
adj.
1. Thoroughly soaked; saturated.

2. Soggy and heavy from improper cooking; doughy.

3. Expressionless, stupid, or dull, especially from drink.

4. Unimaginative; torpid.

v.
 belongings of
my roommates, neither of whom awakened or even stirred. An inch from my
nose were the Pfosten of Werner Eidotter, the Grosste Pfosten cover
model.

I got dressed. My eye hurt where I’d hit it on a
roommate’s weird plastic shoe. My toe hurt from being
snarled
  
v. snarled, snarl·ing, snarls

v.intr.
1. To growl viciously while baring the teeth.

2. To speak angrily or threateningly.

v.tr.
 in
powerful string. And my bad hand still hurt, too.

It was light out, but I had no idea what time it was. Downstairs in
the lobby, the clock said 5:45, but it could have been morning or
evening.

I guessed morning–the look on Carolyn’s face was certainly
one of someone at the end of a double shift.

“Still here?” I said, with a familiarity I hoped she
would return.

“Yeah,” she said, with only a couple PPM of familiarity.
“Thirty hours and counting. I’m usually 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. but
my relief did not relieve me.”


Jeez
  
interj.
Used to express surprise or annoyance.


[Alteration of Jesus1.]
,” I said, looking at the clock again.
“It’s quarter to six in the evening?”

“Looks like you slept twenty-four hours.”

Carolyn piled her hair on top of her head so she could scratch
vigorously at an itch on the back of her neck. Then she closed her eyes
and opened her mouth, obviously preparing to
sneeze
 involuntary violent expiration of air through the nose and mouth. It results from stimulation of the nervous system in the nose, causing sudden contraction of the muscles of expiration.
. But, an instant
before its climax, she suppressed it, so that the only sound she made
was a feeble sqwnch. Much tearing of the eyes followed.

“Bless you. I wish I could do that.”

“Practice.”

“Okay,” I said, as if she’d given me a command
rather than an explanation. She might have. An arcane silence followed.
I studied my feet. I was wearing brand new socks. A
florid
 /flor·id/ ()
1. in full bloom; occurring in fully developed form.

2. having a bright red color.


adj.
Of a bright red or ruddy color.
 blush,
starting at my solar plexus, rose like carbonated jam to my scalp,
stopping at my right eyeball socket to
throb

v.
To beat rapidly or perceptibly, such as occurs in the heart or a constricted blood vessel.

n.
A strong or rapid beat; a pulsation.


throb

a pulsating movement or sensation.
.

“Been in a fight with your roommates already, have you?”
asked Carolyn, observing the throb.

“Oh, no. I’m not a fighter. I’m a fleer. I fell out
of bed. On my eye.”

She quickly consulted her laminated sleeping arrangement chart.
“You fell out of the
upper berth

?”

“Well, I jumped. But I got caught on something on the way
down.”

“You look like you get caught on things a lot,” she said,
nodding at my bandaged hand.

“Oh, this one wasn’t my fault,” I said, and it
hadn’t been. I hid my hand behind me.

“Never mind, sorry, not my business, don’t mean to
pry,” she said, holding up both palms as if to shield herself from
any personal
facts I

 might issue.

“I’m hungry,” I said, like a kitten in an
illustrated children’s book.

“Then by all means, feed! Monstrelet’s. Walking?”

“Yeah.”

“Ask
Batiste
  
n.
A fine, plain-woven fabric made from various fibers and used especially for clothing.


[French, from Old French, perhaps after Baptiste of Cambrai, 13th-century textile maker.
 how to get there. The guy in the yard. He owns
the hostel. And remember, while you’re walking, keep your
hands–hand–out of your pocket and run if you feel threatened and
don’t go down Doyle and don’t forget to cross the street if
approached by a temperamental sort.”

“Okay.”

“And change that fucking diaper.”

On the way to Monstrelet’s I stopped in a bookshop that sold
autographed Anne Rice books. I thought about getting one inscribed to
Marta, with the idea of solemnly burning or burying it.

“$3,200,” said the affable guy behind the counter.
“For personally inscribed copies of Mummy or Queen. Anne no longer
signs Lestat or Interview.”

“Can I bring in my own copy for her to sign?” He laughed
heartily.

“Oh, no. No, no. Got to buy the books here, in the shop.”

I bought a pocket-size Cajun-English dictionary and a
plastic-coated map, and continued on to Monstrelet’s.

In the un-air-conditioned diner, at my sticky, wobbly table, I
sweated freely, but so did everyone else–a mixture of locals, Tulane
students, aggressive hipsters, and tall,
slouchy
  
v. slouched, slouch·ing, slouch·es

v.intr.
1. To sit, stand, or walk with an awkward, drooping, excessively relaxed posture.

2. To droop or hang carelessly, as a hat.

v.
 waitresses with
war-dead stares and sloppy, crooked mouths. There was a group of
uniformed Catholic-school girls smoking, drinking coffee, and exchanging
cruel stares with the slouchy waitresses, who might have been their
older sisters, alumnae of the same school. Everyone sweated like actors
in a John Cassavetes movie. Shirts stuck to backbones, armpits radiated
tidal rings, crossed legs slid oilily over one another, every square
inch of
decolletage
  
n.
1. A low neckline on a woman’s garment, especially a dress.

2. A dress with a low neckline in front.
 glistened. An occasional yelp could be heard when a
drop of sweat rolled suddenly down a forehead and into an eye. My
horrible hand, which I kept under the table, steamed in its diaper. I
should’ve followed Carolyn’s order and changed it, but I
really didn’t want to see what was under there.

A waitress appeared.

“Four cinnamon rolls please,” I said.

“They’re big,” said the waitress.

“Okay.”

My waitress, after placing my order, embarked on a break. She sat
alone at a booth in the back corner and began to work a crossword.
Occasionally she pushed wet tongues of black hair off her cheekbones.

She reminded me of something–a thing so recent that it felt like

deja vu

. Quarterways through a cinnamon roll as big as a tournament
frisbee, I suddenly realized what seemed so familiar: she resembled,
uncannily, those heavy, wet,
lascivious
  
adj.
1. Given to or expressing lust; lecherous.

2. Exciting sexual desires; salacious.


[Middle English, from Late Latin lasc
 flowers that were growing out
from under the iron fences and lolling like whores along the buckled
sidewalks I’d traveled on my nine-block journey to
Monstrelet’s from the hostel.

My waitress stabbed at the crossword with her
ink pen

. She lit a
cigarette, blew a perfect torus of smoke, winked at a large round man
with a hectare of red beard, filled in another crossword answer, then
yawned, dropped her cigarette in a coffee cup, lay down on the long
seat, and went to sleep.

All the diner seemed lulled by her catnap. I noticed for the first
time that the symptoms of withdrawal from all my psych meds had almost
completely disappeared. I would never take them again. I would never put
myself in a position where I might be prescribed them, ever again. That
shit was over.

This city just might be the right place. Perhaps the lethal,
frosted past couldn’t cross the
Huey P. Long Bridge

. I felt the
possibility of relations without obsession, friends without fear,
adventure without danger, sex without agony. Craziness without insanity.
Love without rescue. I felt able. I felt home.

Then, another feeling, more familiar. I needed a bathroom.

I stood up. My waitress woke at the same instant and looked at me.
Without my saying anything, she pointed to the trafficky entrance to the
kitchen.

“Through there,” she said. “Watch your step.”

In the kitchen a vast short-order cook was smoking and rolling
sausages on a grill while a scrum of slouchy waitresses wheeled around
him, picking toast out of toasters and forks out of baskets. The floor
was slick with condensed grease and humidity. No one paid any attention
to me as I cut through.

In the tiny bathroom I sat, got comfortable, and opened up my
little plastic folding map. I decided I’d later go buy three colors
of Sharpie felt pens at the K & B drugstore I saw on my walk over
here. Red, black, and blue. I’d make a little dot with a Sharpie on
my map for every bathroom I found in New Orleans. Red dots would denote
the worst bathrooms, the don’t-use-except-in-an-emergency
shitclosets; blue dots would mark the average fast-food-restaurant
facility; and black dots for spotless, leisurely suites.

I was sitting in a definite blue. Fairly clean, as long as you
declined closer inspection of any surface or its fissures. Fanny ribbon
was in bounty, but it was about as soft as emery paper. The toilet
itself was a slight product, designed for occasional domestic use only.
It had no place in the big leagues. At least there was a plunger.

I pored over my map for a promising part of town to dump the

goddamn
 also God·damn  
interj.
Used to express extreme displeasure, anger, or surprise.

n.
Damn.

tr. & intr.v. god·damned, god·damn·ing, god·damns
To damn.

adj.
 Pontiac. I didn’t really need a car in New Orleans, and I
sure had no attachment to this particular shitwagon. Besides, it
wasn’t mine, and I did not like to think about the trouble I could
get in for driving it.

There was a spot on the map that had a bunch of railroad tracks
crossing each other. From TV, I knew that convergences of railroad
tracks meant hobos and loitering and abandoned cars. I’d drive the
car over there, file the engine numbers off, leave the keys in plain
sight, and then take a nice leisurely stroll home, breathing in the
delivering heat and the musks of the whoring flowers along the way.

The railroad switching yard turned out to be as menacing and
deserted as I’d hoped. I parked the Pontiac and lifted the hood. I
had no idea where the engine numbers were, and truthfully I wasn’t
even sure what part the engine was, though I assumed it was the big
thing in the middle with the tubes and cables coming out. I saw no
numbers on it, though, and in any case I didn’t have a file, so I
shut the hood, looked one last time in the car, rescued the rest of the
Tushies from the floor of the passenger’s side, and left the keys
in the ignition. I turned to head back to the hostel.

Soon I was lost. My map proved useless, as many of the streets
seemed to have had their signs stolen, or perhaps had never had signs,
or even names, in the first place.

I sat down on an anonymous corner and squinted at my plastic map,
angling it this way and that so I could read it in the growing dark.

“Fuck this,” I announced to the deserted corner. I stood
up, kicked at nothing in particular, and then hurt my injured hand
trying to wad up the plastic map, which merely sprung back into shape.
Inside my Tushie, fresh warmth and a marrow-deep ache.

“And fuck this.”

I stood up and headed towards the brightest horizon.

Street after street of dark houses, broken streetlights, and cars
with cracked windshields. The glow on the horizon that I figured was the
French Quarter did not seem to get brighter.

Beneath a working streetlight I paused and examined my bandage. A
bright new spot, moist and Kremlin red. I must change this, I thought,
no matter how
terrified
  
tr.v. ter·ri·fied, ter·ri·fy·ing, ter·ri·fies
1. To fill with terror; make deeply afraid. See Synonyms at frighten.

2. To menace or threaten; intimidate.
 I was to see just how bad it was.

The phone pole that held the streetlight had two signs, neither
legible.

I reached for my map.

The streetlight went out with a ptch and a modest display of
sparks.

Down the street was the light of a diner.

The glass door to the Smart Harriet Food Restaurant jangled when I
opened it. I stood just inside the door for a moment as the
jangling
  
v. jan·gled, jan·gling, jan·gles

v.intr.
To make a harsh metallic sound:

v.tr.
1.
 subsided. The restaurant was almost silent, unlike the strident din of
Monstrelet’s. It was–also unlike
Monstrelet’s–air-conditioned,
unhip
  
adj. Slang
Not aware of or following the latest fashions or developments.
, and lit as bright as a
dentist’s office.

I sat down in the first booth, which featured tall, green vinyl
seats and Formica tables, their designs worn away by hundreds of
thousands of sliding coffee cups and plates of pancakes.

I pulled a laminated menu from between a crusty bottle of Crystal
hot sauce and an unlabeled jar of small pickled ovoids. Apparently a
decision-maker at the Smart Harriet had changed the menu and penciled
the new selections on strips of masking tape stuck over the
decedent

 items. I peeled up a piece of tape that said Facon 2 Pcs; under it was
Bacon 15 Strps.

A voice said: “Ioanna, what’s this fassone?”

“That’s Facon, with a long ‘a’ and a hard
‘c,’ Coryate,” answered another voice–Ioanna’s, I
supposed. “It’s a
portmanteau

 of ‘fake’ and
‘bacon.'”

“Oh.”

“Want some?”

“No I do not.”

I leaned out of my booth. A small man in a
corduroy
 a cut filling-pile fabric with lengthwise ridges, or wales, that may vary from fine (pinwale) to wide. Extra filling yarns float over a number of warp yarns that form either a plain-weave or twill-weave ground.
 sports coat sat
at the counter, studying the menu intently. His feet didn’t reach
the floor. His trouser cuffs didn’t reach his feet. I couldn’t
see his face, but a tight, dense, black buzz cut stuck to his skull like
iron filings.

“So no more bacon?” said Coryate.

“No more bacon,” said Ioanna, who was visible on her
hands and knees under a table, apparently de-wobbling it by wedging a
pocket calculator under one of the feet. “I’m experimenting
with healthier fare.”

“Well, what’s this here ‘veggie beans and
rice’? Beans’re vegetables and rice is vegetables where I come
from, and that’s Lake Charles USA, by God.”

“And they’re vegetables here, too,” said Ioanna.
“They’re just not cooked in bacon grease and mixed with
sausage.”

“I’m concerned about the wording here,” said
Coryate. “Beans and rice is vegetables, so why put
“veggie” up front like that? That don’t make it
healthy.”

“The ‘beans and rice’ in ‘veggie beans and
rice’ refers to the dish, not its vegetable components,” said
Ioanna, crawling out from under the now-stabilized table.
“‘Veggie’ qualifies said dish, which is made with lard
and soy paste rather than grease.”

“Grease counts towards meat?”

“Well, it’s not a vegetable.”

“Neither is
feldspar
  or  , an abundant group of rock-forming minerals which constitute 60% of the earth’s crust.
, or hydrated silica,” said Coryate.

Ioanna appeared at my booth with a plastic glass of iceless water
in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, both of which she held by
their rims with two fingers. She had
freckles
 Ephilides Brown macules, often exacerbated on sun-exposed zones of the skin surface, which disappear during the winter, and most commonly affecting the fair-skinned, especially of Celtic stock. See Macule. Cf Nevus.
 on her arms that
disappeared under the short sleeves of a loose black blouse with tiny
pearl buttons, and reappeared in greater numbers on her
collarbone

n.
See clavicle.
. She
leaned over and placed the coffee and water in front of me.

I accidentally bumped the table. Both the coffee and water spilled.
They commingled, forming a muddy little river that made its way slowly
to the edge of the table.

“Another one?” said Ioanna. “I’ll fix it for
you. Don’t move.”

She got down on her knees and crawled under the table.

“Don’t expect anything,” shouted Coryate, turning
around for the first time.

His face and hands were randomly smeared black, as though he’d
been in a charcoal-briquette fight. He wore a long, millimeter-thin
mustache that seemed to function as a plinth for his nose, an oily bulb
that appeared to be pulling all of his other features toward it. His
iron-shard
hairline

n.
The outline of the growth of hair on the head, especially across the front.
 stopped low on his forehead and his ears stuck out
like shutters in the wind, threatening to slam shut over his eardrums.

“Ignore him,” said Ioanna from under the table. She
hammered at something,
presumably
  
adj.
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition:
 another defunct calculator. My
refreshments jumped. “You need to change that bandage.”

She came out from under the table.

“I guess I’ll have some pancakes and some Facon, please.
And some biscuits.”

“Is that a diaper? I spy Velcro strips.”

She was younger than I thought at first, maybe forty-five. Her
brown hair was tied up in a utilitarian bun. Now I could see there were
also tiny freckles that climbed over her collarbone and up her neck to
pool on her cheekbones. One of her earlobes had a healing cut, as if an
earring had been torn out.

“Say, is there a phone I could use?”

“Only blood from a fairly serious injury would soak through a
commercial disposable diaper like that.”

I kept my hand under the table.

Coryate and his oily bulb came over.

“What injury?” he said. “Come on, let’s see it,
son.”

I was trapped. I sighed, and put my hand on the table.

“You ought to run over by Charity and get one of them
emergency-room people to change that,” he said.

“Don’t like doctors,” I said, sounding like a wet

piccolo
 small transverse flute pitched an octave higher than the standard flute. Its tone is bright and shrill, and it can produce the highest notes in the orchestral range. The piccolo is used in orchestras and especially in military bands. See fife.
.

“Come with me,” said Ioanna.

“Ah, uh,” I said.

“Coryate, stay out here.”

She turned around and headed to the back of the Smart Harriet. On
the way she shouted into the kitchen.

“Facon, cakes, biscuits!”

A practiced snarl and a crash came from deep within. Ioanna turned
back and glared at me.

“Come,” she said, pointing at the rest room.

She sat me down on the lid of a toilet and balanced a cafeteria
tray across my knees.

“Hand on the tray.”

I obeyed. Ioanna kneeled in front of me on a dishcloth. She had
several more in her lap. Next to my hand was a mess of first aid
supplies: iodine, cotton balls, tequila, Band-Aids, paring knife.

“Sit still.”

Ioanna peeled the Velcro, a long, careful rrrt. She unwrapped the
diaper until the dried blood held it fast. She eased the paring knife
between two layers and sliced it open like a catfish.

“I don’t want to see it,” I said.

“Have a little tequila.”

“Is there a worm?”

“No, it’s an uncommon bottle of tequila that has a worm
these days. This is a drugstore-bought spirit, purely functional.”

I had some. She pulled firmly but carefully on the diaper, like it
was a weed whose roots might break off and remain stuck in the ground.
In my hand something gave, a stubborn bottle cap finally yielding. Then,
the familiar, almost comfortable, almost urinary warmth of freed blood.

The diaper came loose. Before I shut my eyes I caught a glimpse of
the contrast of my moist, bleached-gray palm with the butcher-shop pinks
and marbled-reds of my sliced and crushed and reopened hand.

Vinegary fluids.

“You need a doctor.”

“It doesn’t hurt.”

“Should. That’s why you need one.”

Then, the dry, slightly abrasive touch of
gauze
 () a light, open-meshed fabric of muslin or similar material.


absorbable gauze  gauze made from oxidized cellulose.
, getting tighter as
she wrapped it around my hand. I opened my eyes. Blood was leaching
along the mesh of cotton fibers as quickly as she could wrap. A shallow
pond of thin blood, spiraled with peroxide and iodine, had collected at
a corner of the tray.

Coryate came in. He had a coffee cup in his hand.

Ioanna turned around.

“Damnation. Did I tell you to stay out of here or did I just
say it in my head?”

“But I need a cup of coffee,
dammit
  
interj.
Used to express anger, irritation, contempt, or disappointment.


[Alteration of damn it.]
. All the pots are empty,
and I don’t feel like waiting for you to finish playing
doctor.”

“Get out.”

“You can have mine,” I said, taking a sip of tequila.

“Hum. Okay. Thanks.”

“Sure.”

“Hurry it up anyway, woman,” said Coryate. “This
fellah’s cup won’t hold me long.”

“Get out, you mosquito.”

Coryate did not. Instead he unzipped, and took a long, noisy piss
in a
urinal
 /uri·nal/ () a receptacle for urine.


n.
A vessel into which urine is passed.
 behind Ioanna. Then he left.

“You can come back and have pancakes and Facon and
biscuits,” said Ioanna, “after you see a doctor and get that
mess cleaned and sewn back up. Now go.”

“I don’t really know where I am. I’m not from
here.”

“Where do you stay?”

“A youth hostel. On Iquem Street.”

“A fair distance. Is there somebody there can come fetch
you?”

I thought about it.

“Well, yes. I think so.”

An hour later Carolyn pulled up in an old brown Chrysler and came
inside.

“Can’t make a habit of this, Jerome,” she said,
looking completely wiped out.

“Sorry.”

I wasn’t a bit sorry. I was delighted. I liked Carolyn, though
I wasn’t sure how, yet.

Ioanna–whom I also liked, though I wasn’t sure in what way
either, except that it felt filial–did not acknowledge Carolyn.

“C’mon, Jerome.”

Carolyn headed for the door. The leaf was still in her hair, an
inch or two lower.

“Come back sometime, Mr Jerome,” said Ioanna.

She never asked what had happened to me.

Carolyn was quiet on the ride back.

The floor of the passenger seat was deeply hidden by what felt
underfoot like books and papers and shoes and tennis balls.

We drove in silence. Not an uncomfortable silence, like we’d
shared earlier that day, but rather a tranquility, a peace de luxe of
the sort that comes from the kensho that you’re not alone.

I never did go to the doctor. But I did take Ioanna up on her
invitation to come back and visit. Indeed, I went to the Smart Harriet
nearly every day, a new bandage on my hand, which I’d wound myself,
over the sink, eyes closed, in the
moldy

, slick bathroom of the hostel.

“How’s the mitt,” said Ioanna one afternoon,
skidding a plate of pancakes across the table.

“Getting better everyday,” I said, a falsehood. It
didn’t look like it was healing well at all.

“Mm.”

“Ioanna, will you hire me on here? I’ll wash dishes, mop,
whatever you want. I can make good grilled-cheese sandwiches.”

Ioanna looked me over for a moment.

“Harriet will say no.”

“There really is a Smart Harriet?”

“There is,” she said. “You wouldn’t like it
here, anyway.”

“You seem like you like it here.”

“I was born here. I was born a waitress, and I’ll stay
one, like it or not. But listen. I know a woman who might take you.
I’ll telephone her and let her know you might stop by, and that you
make outstanding cheese sandwiches.”

Ioanna scribbled something on a green diner bill and handed it to
me.

Mrs. (Not miss) hebert at erril’s fashion department store.
Practice grilling before you go.

Erril’s Fashion Department Store was probably not the oldest
department store on American soil, but it was certainly the oldest that
had never been remodeled or modernized or cleaned. The floors were the
worn,
flecked
  
n.
1. A tiny mark or spot:

2. A small bit or flake:

tr.v.
, putty-and-bean color of junior-high-school hallways. The
walls met the floor not at a sharp right angle but with a little ramp of
oily, packed dirt studded with price tags and cigarette butts. The sales
floor was dusk-dark, illuminated only by low, shaded light fixtures,
like in a noir pool hall. But instead of
wiry

adj.
1. Resembling wire in form or quality, especially in stiffness.

2. Sinewy and lean.

3. Filiform and hard. Used of a pulse.
 felons and pompadoured
hustlers, the place was alive with tiny old ladies in cataract shades
slaloming sock racks and
girdle
 /gir·dle/ () cingulum; an encircling structure or part; anything encircling a body.


pectoral girdle  shoulder g.
 displays. Erril’s was also likely
the last department store in the country with a lunch counter.

The Luncheonaire’s low stools were all unoccupied. On the
counter were clusters of standard diner complements: mustard, ketchup,
and mayonnaise squeeze bottles, Tabasco, salt and pepper shakers, sugar
cubes, tiny cream tankards, and large jam and jelly caddies with wire
handles. On the end of the counter was a pie spinner spinning pies.
Behind the counter but in front of the soda fountain was an old electric
cash register partly mummified in silver duct tape. Just beside it stood
a tall, skinny woman, her graying hair tied up in a ponytail. She looked
pretty much the way Ioanna had described Mrs Hebert. She was stabbing a
two-quart can of Orange Hi-C with a steak knife.

She left the knife sticking hilt-deep in the can, and turned her
attention to me.

“Let’s find a menu, unless you know what you want,”
she said.

The stool I sat on was so low and the waitress so tall that I had a
sudden vivid memory of being in the bathtub as a child when a lady at
the home I was at walked in with a box of Mr Bubble and sprinkled it in
the running water, smiling down at me.

I thought it was best to eat first, before stating my mission.

“Set me up with a menu, bay. What’s good?” I said in
my best easy-going voice, which I’d started to affect a day or two
after arriving in New Orleans. Later I learned that most newcomers here
do the same thing, sometimes unconsciously, but often actively
practicing the music of the accent, then testing it out on native New
Orleanians to see if it passed muster. It never did.

“Nothing to speak of,” she said, handing me a menu.

I thought I’d get something like a poboy or gumbo or
etouffee
  
n. pl. é·touf·fées
A spicy Cajun stew of vegetables and seafood, especially crayfish.


[Louisiana French, from French (à l')étouffée, stewed
,
to further mask my origins, but there was nothing of the sort on the
menu. There were Reuben melts, hamburgers, butt-steak sandwiches, ham,
and ham with pineapple circles. Under Accompaniments were french fries,
milk, and coffee. Dessert was a roster of pies, and “Candy.”

I ordered a hamburger and fries and a Coke.

She disappeared for about five minutes, then emerged with my lunch.
It was the largest hamburger I’d ever seen. A slice of onion an
inch thick stuck out on all sides like a ring of Saturn. There were four
french fries, each a half of a potato. The Coke came in an aquarium of
crushed ice.

“Ioanna said it was good eatin’ here,” I said with
my mouth full.

She stopped consolidating half-empty Tabascos with a foil funnel
and turned to me, a hand on her hip.

“You’re the cheese sandwich man?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Well, get on back here and grill me one while I examine your
technique.”

I did. My technique, and the resulting sandwich, were perfect.

“This a reasonable product,” said Mrs Hebert between
bites. “But I’m concerned that that mushed bread hook of yours
will fail you during the lunch stampede and I’ll be left overworked
and unassisted and a robber’ll seize the opportunity to run off
with my
gratuity

 jar.”

She tapped on my bandaged hand with a grilled-cheese crust.

“Oh no,” I said. “A minor cut, getting better every
day.”

“Your timing’s good, I’ll grant you that. A
colleague just quit me.”

“I can start immediately!”

“Alrighty,” she said after a moment.

The workday started at nine in the morning and went until the
evening cook relieved me at five. When I got home to the hostel after
work, I’d check the big map to see where the new people were from.
It hadn’t changed much during the month I’d been here. The
pink pin in Quito was still there, but I still hadn’t seen her yet.
I’d encountered many of the Danes, but never my two lower-berth
roommates, not formally at least–they were always passed out on their
bunks in some stage of drunkenness, or recovery from same. I only ever
saw their dorsal sides banded with snug primary-colored jockey shorts.
And I hadn’t seen my last roommate, the one who may or may not have
been present while I ruined my sock.

I couldn’t tell if Carolyn felt the same kind peace around me
as I did around her, but she didn’t seem to mind my hanging around
and lying on the vector-borne couch in the lobby of the hostel after my
shift at the Luncheonaire while she talked on the phone and monkeyed
with her hair and made sport of the hostellers.

“Is that all you’ve ever had here?” I said, one
afternoon after I’d come in from a long day of grilled-cheese
grilling. “Europeans? And a lone Ecuadoran?”

“Nah, we’ve had every flavor of human. We even had a
chick here who lived in Antarctica.”

I shifted
on the couch

 so I could see her. She was sitting and
tugging at her hair with her old plastic brush with black bristles. One
knee was bent and pushed up against the rim of the gray metal desk. The
denim covering it was pale and thinning. If she were to lean forward,
the taut cotton strands might snap snap snap, revealing her skin and
releasing the tiniest puffs of cotton dust.

“I didn’t think anyone was from there,” I said.

“She was, or so she said. She wanted to sleep with me. She
said I looked warm.”

This was the first time Carolyn had referred to sex. Incredibly, no
uncomfortable feelings beset me. Not jealousy, lust, love,
possessiveness, blues, shame, heartache. Just that same weird peace. I
have a friend!

“Did you?”

“Did I look warm?”

“No, I mean … ”

“You know,” Carolyn continued, “it only snowed here
once, and I fucking missed it. It lasted three hours and was gone by
noon. You know why? Me and my Antarctican were in bed at the Guesclin
Hotel sleeping off a
slivovitz
 see brandy.
 hangover.”

“I bet it snows a lot in the Czech Republic,” I said.

“Worse in Denmark. Believe me, I’ve heard stories.”

“I wonder how bad it is in Quito?”

“No telling,” said Carolyn, looking over her shoulder at
the pink pin. “It looks like it’s in the mountains. You oughta
ask her next time you see her.”

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her,” I
said.

“You’re kidding. She sleeps with you, man.”

“What’re you talking about? I’m not sleeping with
anyone! I’d remember.”

She smiled and snorted, as if she couldn’t stand for one
moment longer pretending I wasn’t an idiot.

“Not with you, you prevert. Next to you. The other top bunk?
The Spanish didn’t tip you off ?”

This could not be. I looked at my socks.

“That’s a girl?” I said.

“She doesn’t look like a girl to you? Long black hair,
kissy lips? She looks like a girl to me, Jerome,” said Carolyn.
“I mean, she’s a girl.”

“I’ve never seen her!” I said, sitting up straight,
a bloom of pathogens rising from the couch. “I’ve never seen
anyone in that bunk!”

“She does sleep during the day, come to think of it,”
said Carolyn. “She parties all night, with your other
roomies.”

“I’ve never met them, either,” I said. “But,
she’s, I mean, you mean … are you saying that girls and boys can
sleep together in the same room?”

“If the hostel’s crowded, yes, Jerome,
boys and girls

 can
room together. Your other roommates are gay, anyway. They’re good
friends with her. And you’re …”

“What? What? I’m not gay,” I said, not really sure
of it–the muscular calves on those Tour de France guys always gave me a
boner. And I had strange, pelvicentric feelings regarding Daniel
Day-Lewis’s Adam’s apple.

“Did I say gay? I was going to say that you’re
safe-looking.”

“Safe.”

“Safe,” said Carolyn. “You’re a very safe yet

excitable
 /ex·ci·ta·ble/ () irritable (1).


adj.
1. Capable of reacting to a stimulus. Used of a tissue, cell, or cell membrane.

2.
 young straight man.”

“What’s her name?”

“Miranda,” said Carolyn.

“Miranda,” said I.

I never saw Miranda. Her bunk was always empty, except for the
scatter of
panties
 or pant·y  
n. pl. pant·ies
Short underpants for women or children. Often used in the plural.


[Diminutive of pant2.
 and empty cans of lager. Now I wondered if the spring
triple-issue of Grosse Pfosten had been hers, rather than one of my
other roommate’s. I hoped it wasn’t hers. I could never
measure up to Werner.

It didn’t matter anyway, because I had to move out of the
hostel. I couldn’t earn enough making cheese sandwiches to pay
eighteen bucks a night for a place to live, even though I was quite
skilled, and becoming locally famous.

I began spending my lunch hour and the hours after work apartment
hunting. But after a while I realized I was looking less for apartments
and more for girls with long black hair and kissy lips. There were an
awful lot of them. But none were Miranda: I queried them all.

One apartment, just a couple of blocks from the Smart Harriet, had
sounded promising in the ad but proved to be unsuitable, because of the

antsy
  
adj. ant·si·er, ant·si·est Slang
1. Restless or impatient; fidgety:

2.
 
junkie
 Popular health A popular term for a person, usually an IV narcotic abusing addict, whose life is disorganized vis-á-vis family and societal structure, whose existence revolves around obtaining–often through theft, prostitution or other illicit
 squatters there who objected to any changes in the tenancy.

“Fuck off !” they said.

I fucked off and went to the Smart Harriet.

“You smell like grilled cheese,” Ioanna informed me.

“I make a lot of them. I’m quite famous.”

I wondered if Miranda had heard of my sandwiches.

“Famous? Are you getting rich?” Ioanna asked. “Are
you going to buy a mansion and lease me a wing so I can live out my
spinster years in
seclusion
 Forensic psychiatry A strategy for managing disturbed and violent Pts in psychiatric units, which consists of supervised confinement of a Pt to a room–ie, involuntary isolation, to protect others from harm
?”

“I would, but I can’t even afford to stay at the hostel
any more.”

“I’ll rent you my tub!” shouted Coryate, from the
counter. “No pets!”

“No, that’s okay,” I said.

Coryate yelled for a refill.

I’d learned that Coryate was an artist who made his living
doing charcoal portraits of tourists in Jackson Square.
Reputedly
  
adj.
Generally supposed to be such. See Synonyms at supposed.


re·puted·ly adv.

Adv. 1.
 he was
also a sketch artist for the cops, and occasionally accepted small
thank-you gifts in return for little changes here and there to his
sketches so that they more closely resembled persons the police did not
like but whom they otherwise had no good reason to arrest.

“How’s the hand?” he said.

“Better,” I said, looking down.

I still kept it wrapped in gauze and an
Ace bandage
 Ace wrap Orthopedics A proprietary elastic bandage used to ↓ swelling and protect contused joints; if placed too tightly, may ↓ circulation and cause pain and paresthesia
. It just would
not heal properly. It hurt. I should’ve kept my word and gone to a
doctor long ago. I’d have been able to make world-famous grilled
cheeses a lot quicker if I’d had full use of both hands. It was the
one chronic, concrete reminder that there had been a time before these
tranquil New Orleans days, a period of frost, blood, locks,
misinterpretations, and loneliness. I imagined the relief I’d get
by hacking it off with a big meat cleaver.

I promised myself that once I’d found a place to live I’d
go to the doctor and have this rotting gash taken care of. I didn’t
want to repulse Miranda, after all.

Carolyn telephoned and told me that her friend Terence, an
ex-hostel clerk, had gotten so fed up with the surprise reversals of
fortune that in his view so characterized New Orleans that he just up
and got on a Greyhound back to his homeland.

“Homeland?” I said, still a little fuzzy from having a
positively Kodachromic daydream interrupted: me and Miranda in a pile of
autumn leaves, locked in a promising tickle fight.

“Canada. And his place is now available.”

Terence’s place was cheap and only about fifteen blocks from
the hostel. I still went to see Carolyn every day, partly–muchly–in
hopes that Miranda would turn up. But she never did. She’d either
just gone out, or had just come back and gone to bed.

“How’s Terence’s shithole shotgun?” asked
Carolyn when I came in one afternoon.

She quoined a whole giant SweeTart in her mouth and bit hard. A
little chalky rocket shot across the room.

“Pretty fair,” I said.

And it was, except for the neighbor on the other side of the
shotgun, Mr Murdoch, a slick Romeo in his fifties who lived with his
mother.

They fought a lot, this mother and son, mostly about the son’s
womanizing. He often had sleepover dates, and the mother would sometimes
bust into the son’s room while dating was in progress, to warn the
woman that she’d better watch out or she’d catch some AIDS. I
knew this because everything radiated through those desiccated plaster
walls.

“His mom? And he’s fifty?” said Carolyn.

“Yeah. She’s cool. I don’t like the son,
though.”

I would occasionally hear him promising a conquest his
indivisible

 
fealty
 see feudalism.
, and then, sometimes within hours, promising another lover the
same thing.

I had another damn good reason not to like the man, but I
didn’t feel like explaining it to Carolyn: that my toilet was
structurally connected to his–they were back-to-back, with just a thin
wall in between–and that if I was on my toilet when he sat on his, I
seesawed into the air.

“I never went to Terence’s place,” said Carolyn,
wrapping the telephone cord around a pencil. “But he tried to get
me over there all the time, probably in order to fill me with
absinthe
 , an emerald-green liqueur distilled from wormwood and other aromatics, including angelica root, sweet-flag root, star anise, and dittany, which have been macerated and steeped in alcohol.
 and snip off my clothes with electric scissors.”

Carolyn made an electric-scissors sound and scissored her fingers
down the front of her T-shirt. “I think he thought that absinthe
restored heterosexual lust in dykes.”

“Does it?” I said, not sure if she was being sarcastic.

“Nope,” she said. “Beer might, though. How’s
the water pressure?”

“Not bad,” I said. “I’d say forty percent of
ideal.”

“Any charm? Everything in this city is supposed to be
charming.” I thought about it.

“Well, in the kitchen over the counter there’s a big
black wooden thing stuck to the wall, like a Louise Nevelson sculpture.
But tighter scrutiny revealed its true nature to be kitchen cabinets. A
long bank of them, painted shut. I tried chipping away at the paint, but
it must be a half inch thick.”

“Probably a body in there. Or maybe just heads. That’s
charming I guess. Notice an odor?”

“No, just the–” I looked past Carolyn. I think I turned
red, or maybe white.

“Wha?” she said, a giant SweeTart puck stored in one
cheek.

“The girl from Quito’s gone,” I said.

I moved my head from side to side, to see if I’d just caught
the light the wrong way. No, there was no pink pin there. I felt like
I’d been hit in the back of the knees by a medicine ball.

“Yep, Miranda’s gone,” said Carolyn. “Checked
out this a.m. before I came on. A surprise. I thought she’d stay
forever. Oh, they do get some bitch snow in Quito, by the way. We
chatted a little yesterday after she came in late from some kind of
x-rated crab-boil puppet show in the Bywater. I told her how much you
hated snow, and how you left Massachusetts because of it. That made her
laugh.”

“She laughed?”

“Giggled. I think she liked you, Jerome. She said she watched
you sleeping all the time. She said you have a cute philtrum.”

“Me?” My esophagus dried out and the arches of my feet
started to sweat. My whole skull was steaming and my ears seemed to be
furling and trying to
retract

 into my skull. “A cute
philtrum?”

Carolyn looked at me happily. “She said you looked like a tiny
baby sleeping, that you curl your hand up into a tiny baby fist. She
wanted to miniaturize you and carry you in a pouch to keep you cozy and
protect you from harm, and feed you little bits of flan and lettuce and
french fry.”

“You’re making all that up!”

“No, I’m really not. And judging by that rosy blush, it
seems that the news pleases you.”

“Not me,” I said, squeaking, panicky, suddenly desperate
to find her. “It sounds like she was flirting with you.”

“Right,” she said. “I wish. I never get
femmes.”

Carolyn was suddenly gloomy. For a few moments she focused on
licking clean the inside of her Giant
Chewy
  
adj. chew·i·er, chew·i·est
Needing much chewing:


chewi·ness n.
 SweeTarts wrapper. Then she
cheered up again.

“If I’d only known sooner,” she said. “I
could’ve won her for you, Jerome. Cute philtra are positively
irresistible to the Pacific South Americans.”

“Really?”

“I’m sorry she’s gone, Jerome. She was a
fire-fucking-work. Except for the glasses.”

My muscles withered under my skin. I felt like I was wearing a
beef-jerky suit.

“Did she go back to Quito?”

“Doubt it. I think she was planning to stay in town.”

“Where? You know, just curious.”

“I don’t have the slightest idea.”

“Someone has to know,” I said, considering running up to
the room just to make sure she wasn’t still there. “What about
our other two roomies?”

“Gone, too.”

“Dammit! Are you sure you don’t have just a really slight
idea?”

“I don’t know, Jerome. Are you really hooked on someone
you haven’t met yet? Or even seen?”

“No, I certainly am not, how ridiculous.”

I crossed my arms and tried to appear bored.

“Damn, you are. You really should’ve told me. A long time
ago. I love
matchmaking

Matricide (See MURDER.)

Kecal

marriage broker whose plans are foiled by a pair of lovers. [Czech Opera: Smetana The Bartered Bride in Osborne Opera, 32]

Levi, Dolly
.”

Truth was, I hadn’t known until now.

Over the next few weeks, any workaday doings–sleep, job, food,
bills, health–that didn’t directly concern my pursuit of Miranda,
I either shirked or forgot or just zombied through. Carolyn’s
assistance was largely technical or strategic–apart from the occasional
brief prowl or
stakeout
  
n.
Surveillance of an area, building, or person, especially by the police.


Noun

Slang, chiefly US & Canad a police surveillance of an area or house

Verb
, she didn’t often do actual fieldwork. She
did, however, try to cheer me up whenever I suffered an especially
dispiriting search.

“She probably doesn’t like me anyway,” I said.

“Miranda didn’t just see you sleeping, Jerome–a passive
happenstance–but watched you sleep. So chin up.”

“I’ll never, ever find her, and I bet she’s
forgotten me already.”

“How can you have such a
debilitating

adj.
Causing a loss of strength or energy.


Weakening, or reducing the strength of.

Mentioned in: Stress Reduction
 crush on someone
you’ve never even met?”

“I’m not debilitated,” I said.

Carolyn and I sat across from each other in a booth at the Smart
Harriet. Ioanna was in a cold mood. She had taken our orders without
comment, and had merely nodded when I re-introduced her to Carolyn. When
she brought our food, she skidded the plates along the table so that
they tapped the salt and pepper shakers at the far end. There was some
sloshing of coffee. She gave Carolyn my pancakes and me Carolyn’s
waffles.

“You look debilitated,” said Carolyn.

I sat with my elbows on the table, my forehead in my hands, staring
at my pancakes, which had been placed on the same plate as my eggs and
bacon, an arrangement I’d always found intolerable. If my syrup
touched my eggs or bacon, I couldn’t eat anything at all. And
Ioanna knew that. She thought it was charming, or a symptom of

Asperger’s syndrome

n.
A pervasive developmental disorder, usually of childhood, characterized by impairments in social interactions and repetitive behavior patterns.
. Either way, she always made sure my sweets and
savories arrived on two separate plates.

I glanced over at Ioanna to see if I could divine, from the way she
swept out, wiped down, or swatted at things in the diner, just what
I’d done to
displease
  
v. dis·pleased, dis·pleas·ing, dis·pleas·es

v.tr.
To cause annoyance or vexation to.

v.intr.
To cause annoyance or displeasure.
 her. Maybe it was because she knew I
hadn’t gone to see a doctor yet about my stupid hand.

“Maybe flummoxed is a better word,” said Carolyn.
“And your
bitchy
  
adj. bitch·i·er, bitch·i·est Slang
1. Malicious, spiteful, or overbearing.

2. In a bad mood; irritable or cranky.
 mother over there probably doesn’t help
much.”

“She’s not my mother.”

“Mother-figure. Maybe the combination of your unpleasable
mother-figure and your unlocatable dream-girl-figure has flummoxed and
debilitated you.”

Ioanna was stuffing napkins into a chrome napkin holder, far more
napkins than the napkin holder was designed to hold, making napkins
nearly impossible to remove, except in tiny shreds, or in groups of one
thousand. Most of the regulars brought their own.

Ioanna was really cramming one. Cords popped out on her neck. She
bent over a little, and some cleavage became visible. Carolyn leaned
towards me, watching Ioanna.

“She’s hot, for forty-nine or whatever,” said
Carolyn. “Oh, but we’re talking about your love life, Jerome.
Sorry.”

It felt different than love, this
smothering

 mudslide of
desperation and longing. It was an old feeling. Old as in
preverbal
  
adj.
1. Preceding the verb.

2.
a. Having not yet learned to speak:

b.
, or
even
atavistic
  
n.
1. The reappearance of a characteristic in an organism after several generations of absence, usually caused by the chance recombination of genes.

2. An individual or a part that exhibits atavism.
. But I didn’t try to explain that to Carolyn.

I pushed my forehead harder into my hand so that my eyelids
stretched. I moaned quietly.

“Please don’t fall in love with her,” I said.
“I can’t handle my friend-figure lusting after my
mother-figure.”

“You know what I think? I think your world is crowded with
mother-figures.”

“Noo!”

“Would you just eat your food and quit groaning like that? You
sound like Chewbacca.”

“I can’t. I hate this.”

“If we can’t find Miss Ecuador, I’ll find you a
girlfriend. I know lots of beautiful girls that won’t have me. And
they’re sheep for nice philtra.”

“But I want Miranda.”

I moaned some more and squeezed my hair, while Carolyn ate
lustily
  
adj. lust·i·er, lust·i·est
1. Full of vigor or vitality; robust.

2. Powerful; strong:

3. Lustful.

4. Merry; joyous.
 and Ioanna ignored our empty coffee cups.

“You know,” said Carolyn, “I think your Ioanna there
doesn’t like me. She doesn’t approve. She didn’t like me
the first time. I don’t think she was expecting her little special
man to
befriend
  
tr.v. be·friend·ed, be·friend·ing, be·friends
To behave as a friend to.


Verb

to become a friend to

Verb 1.
 a coarse hussy.”

“Guh.”

“Maybe I’ll be your girlfriend, Jerome.”

Carolyn pantomimed a blow job. It was as shocking and obscene a
performance as anything I’d ever witnessed. Then she initiated a
game of
footsie

.

“I’m confused,” I said.

Carolyn seemed amused by it all, and somehow my agonies made her
expansive about her own sexual misadventures. She fell in love easily,
she said, and became obsessed as deeply as I did, albeit with people
she’d actually met at least once.

“Some of those girls out there nearly killed me,” she
said, as we drove down North Rampart after our meal. “The younger
they are, the slimmer, the meaner, the smarter, then the darker the
relationship becomes, until I’m a puddle of need, and then they
leave me for someone that’s even meaner and smarter but also has a
tremendous bosom.”

Carolyn swerved around an old man in a track suit doing a variant
of the River Dance in the middle of North Rampart. Carolyn and I often
drove around
aimlessly
  
adj.
Devoid of direction or purpose.


aimless·ly adv.

aim
, drinking beer and wasting gas and avoiding
eccentrics performing in the roadways, but this time I had the feeling
we were aimed someplace.

“Where are we going?”

“We are going to look for your goddess. We are going to feel
the curbs of every likely street until we find her. Or until it gets
dark. I promised you I’d help, but I haven’t been doing such a
hot job. So. Here we are. Peel them eyeballs.”

We drove up and down the long streets of the Bywater, slowing down
now and then for closer looks at strollers and loiterers with Miranda
attributes. As the false positives mounted, I grew even more despairing
than usual.

The traffic slowed, then stopped. A rusted, ruined freight train
was stalled ahead, blocking the road. Not quite stalled–it would jolt,
then creep forward a few feet, then stop with a shudder, then jolt again
and move a few feet in the other direction. There was another train on a
parallel track doing the same thing, but to a different rhythm. Carolyn
reached into the back seat and pulled a beer out of a big ice-filled
cooler.

“Here.”

“What’s up with these trains?” I said, taking the
glass quart of Miller. “I feel like I’m in a movie about
doomsday.”

A woman began to climb out of a hopper car. She hoisted herself
over, and then hung onto the lip of the car with one hand while she
studied the ground. The cigarette in her mouth she tossed down onto the
rail ballast. She wore a high-waisted white silk slip a shade or two
paler than her skin and the spectral opposite of her short, chaotic,
plum-tinted hair. She was backpacked, barefoot, and brass-knuckled. She
let go of the hopper and dropped at least six feet, landing without a
wince on the sharp rocks of the ballast. She picked up her cigarette,
gave it a hard suck, then looked around.

“Is she what you meant by young and slim and mean?” I
said.

“Don’t point.”

“I’m not pointing.”

“Yeah,” said Carolyn, sighing greatly. “She’s
what I mean.”

The woman flicked her cigarette at least thirty feet, then ducked
under the train and was gone.

“It was a bus wreck, my last relationship,” said Carolyn,
unsteadily, clearly affected by the short cinema of the
feral

 freight-hopper. “It started so great, but got bad fast, then
crashed. All because of a misunderstanding. That time, she was the one
obsessed over me–can you believe that? But I was obsessed over her,
too. We were perfect for each other.”

She said that last without any irony that I could detect.

“Someone you worked with?” I said. “I read in People
that that’s asking for trouble.”

“No. Well, kind of,” she said wearily. “She
wasn’t really officially employed at the hostel. She was just there
a lot, and kind of helped out some.”

Finally, the trains slowly moved off, and we headed towards Arabi.
We had started our second Miller quarts. It was getting dark.

“It was bad, though, huh,” I said, not wanting the
dialogue on love to
fizzle
  
intr.v. fiz·zled, fiz·zling, fiz·zles
1. To make a hissing or sputtering sound.

2. Informal To fail or end weakly, especially after a hopeful beginning.

n.
. “It must have been very painful.”

I sounded like a shrink, for chrissake.

“Okay, it was this chick named Francie,” Carolyn said
suddenly. And the misunderstanding was that she thought I was cheating
on her with this guy who worked at the hostel who was always coming onto
me. Terence, your shotgun’s prior tenant. But I wasn’t. Turned
out later that she’d been cheating on me.”

“Ack.”

“Getting cheated on sucks,” she said. “It’s the
mind’s eye that does all the torturing. You know, picturing her
with someone else, especially fucking someone else, doing it in that
position that was just me and hers, those little scream-hisses when she
came that were her gifts to me, now she’s giving them to someone
else … you know what I mean?”

I noticed we were being ambitiously tailgated.

“Hey,” I said, looking over my shoulder. “I
think–”

“Maybe you don’t,” she continued, seeming to take no
notice of the large car trying to spelunk our
tailpipe
  
n.
The pipe through which exhaust gases from an engine are discharged. Also called exhaust pipe.


Noun

a pipe from which exhaust gases are discharged, esp.
. “Well. It
hurts. And you can’t not watch. The brain won’t allow it. You
see A Clockwork Orange? Remember the Ludovico Technique? Like that. The
mind’s eye, held open with little metal clips. Films. Over and over
and overnovernover.”

“You better let this guy around, he seems–”

“That, my friend,” she said, still oblivious, “will
never happen to me again. Never. Just talking about it now makes me want
to drive off a cliff and die. Did you know I haven’t hooked up with
anybody since Francie? Know why? Just to avoid those films. They’ll
kill a girl. Kill.”

“Carolyn! This guy is really close!”

“Oh. I see. Put your feet up on the dash, Jerome, I’m
gonna stomp on my brake. I think I’m still insured.”

But then we noticed it was a cop car, because of the sirens and
flashing lights and the bullhorn commanding us to pull over.

“Fuck,” said Carolyn.

We both had open quart-bottles of beer in our laps. Mine was almost
full. Carolyn’s was nearly gone.

She pulled over in front of a social club busy with people coming
and going. I was in a panic. I had a full beer between my legs, and I
was in a car, and soon I would be in a jail, where they’d run my
name and see there was a bench warrant for me as a car thief and
cinnamon-roll-bakery destroyer, then beat a confession out of me and
throw me in solitary forever.

On the dashboard there was a blanched Monchhichi doll that must
have been there for a decade. I grabbed it and forced it
headfirst
   also head·fore·most
adv.
1. With the head leading; headlong:

2. Impetuously; brashly.
 into
the neck of my Genuine Draft. I carefully placed the bottle on the floor
of the back seat just as the cop walked up.

“License and proof of insurance,” said the cop.

“What’d you pull me over for?” said Carolyn.

My hand jumped to my heart.

“License and proofa insurance.”

Carolyn yanked her backpack out from behind the seat and rifled
around for a while until she found her billfold. She still had her quart
of Lite beer between her legs.

“Here.”

“Mm. And what you got there?” the cop asked.

“This is Lite Beer from Miller.”

“Let me see.”

Carolyn handled the bottle to the cop, who held it up by the neck
and peered through the liquid at the streetlights. There was about an
inch of beer left.

“How much you had to drink tonight, ma’am?”

“Well, whatever’s missing.”

“Okay, then.” He gave her the bottle back. “Get both
those taillights fixed and your left directional and don’t drive
around this neighborhood this time of night, unless you bring you a
bigger boyfriend. With two working hands.”

“He’s tougher than he looks,” said Carolyn.
“He’s just
lovesick
  
adj.
1. So deeply affected by love as to be unable to act normally.

2. Exhibiting a lover’s yearning.


love
 right now. Besides, I have a .38 in my
backpack.”

“Okay then,” said the cop. Then he went back to his
cruiser and drove off.

“Wow,” I said, sweating lather. “That jangled me up.
I thought we were going to jail.”

“What for? Busted taillights?”

“DUI and unlicensed firearms possession and smart-aleckiness
and …”

“There’s no DUI or gun licensing in New Orleans and I was
perfectly polite and respectful.”

We headed back west. Presently I caught the smell of the sea.
Faint, but there. On a map I’d seen New Orleans is surrounded by
water. A lake, a river, the Gulf, bayous.

“I tried to kill myself after Francie,” Carolyn said, her
voice startling me.

“Jesus. Carolyn. Don’t tell me that.”

She turned on the dome light, and, without slowing down, rolled up
the right short sleeve of her shirt up over her shoulder. Through the
stubble under her arm ran a short, fat scar right over the profunda
brachii.

“I obviously missed the artery. Wasn’t even close.
Fucking hurt, and it didn’t even bleed much. I didn’t mention
it to anybody.”

“Fuck, Carolyn.”

“I know.”

“I command you to take good care of yourself !”

“You’ve never had anyone cheat on you. I envy you, you
and your Miranda crush. I run from crushes now, not that I have them
much. Or, more precisely, allow myself to have them. No more
relationships for me. Just crushless sex. I’ll take my
relationship-forming urges out on you and your absentee Ecuadoran.”

“This crush doesn’t feel enviable.”

“You didn’t care about Miranda all that much till you
found out she’d watched you sleep. That’s kinda off, Jerome. A
little
kinky
  
adj. kink·i·er, kink·i·est
1. Tightly twisted or curled:

2.
.”

“Where is she now? Francie, I mean?”

“I don’t know.”

Quiet and a little drunk, we headed out on the old Airline Highway.
Thunderstorms had been threatening all day. It was hot. The air was like
meringue. I reached in the back and pulled a cold beer out of the
cooler. I ignored my warm beer with the Monchhichi sticking out of
it–likely both were ruined.

“Where are we going now? Stake out the airport lounge?”

“Watch planes.”

The airport appeared ahead of us. Its cobalt-blue lamps lined
runways that stretched off to vanishing points all around the circle of
the horizon. The air-traffic control tower with its eerie green
eye-panes looked out over the flat land.

It was late, but planes were still landing, probably delayed by the
thunderstorms surrounding the city. Carolyn drove up to the top tier of
the long-term parking garage and parked the car facing the runways. Ours
was the only car up there.

We watched 737s land for a long time without saying anything. The
only sound was the scraping roar of engines and the brt brtbrt of tires
hitting the tarmac.

Carolyn climbed out of the car. She reached down and pulled the
release on her seat back, which fell forward and lay flat. Then she
jumped in the back seat and put her feet up.

“Comfortable?” I said.

“Uuut. Ut.”

She’d had more beer than I had. After a minute I climbed in
the back and put my feet up on the front seat too. The cooler of beer
was on the floor between us.

We watched for planes, but there hadn’t been any in more than
an hour.

Carolyn leaned into me a little, then scooted over and put her head
on my shoulder.

“Protect me from bad relationships,” she said, an order.
“And I promise I’ll get you your black-haired snow
bunny.”

I felt an earring through the material of my shirt. A lone strand
of hair poked at my
earlobe
 or ear lobe
n.
The soft, fleshy, pendulous lower part of the external ear.
. I adjusted slightly and put my arm around
her shoulder. Perfectly natural. Because she was a lesbian and I was her
friend, and we’d had some deep talks about love and such. Even
thus, I grew a
stratospheric
  
adj.
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of the stratosphere.

2. Extremely or unreasonably high:  
, glowing erection.

“Deal,” I said.

My heart chugged. Carolyn’s hair, lighted by the glow of the
airport, jumped every time my heart beat, or hers. After a moment of
paralyzing discomfort, Carolyn gracefully half-twisted towards me and
suddenly she was lying face up in my lap. She reached up to pull me to
her. I could hardly move, let alone bend over, even for a kiss, due to
the erection. So I pulled her up to me.

She whimpered and cried and ran her hands over my face, kissing me
lightly, almost without touching. She tasted of salt. I held her by the
waist and under her shoulders. I slid down in the seat to get closer. I
closed my eyes. I imagined Miranda, her kissy lips.

Then Carolyn stopped.

“Back in a few secs.”

She climbed out, headed unsteadily to a concrete pillar, and
disappeared behind it. A rivulet of liquid snaked from behind it, as
black and shiny as blood under the sulfur arc lamps.

She came back.

“I have to go too,” I said.

I went over to the same spot she’d been. I saw where
she’d crouched down, the
spatter

n droplets of airborne particulate matter larger than 50 μm that fall to the ground.
.

After some effort I
undid
  
v.
Past tense of undo.

 undo
 my belt and zipper. My erection was the
otherworldy, unbendable sort that I used to get in high school. And it
was clearly not going to subside and allow me to pee in the accepted
fashion (
earthward
  
adv. & adj.
To or toward the earth.


earthwards adv.
), so I just let go. I peed in a high arc over the
city of Kenner as the last plane of the night cleared the thunderheads
and landed between the long arrows of cobalt lamps.

When I got back to the car, Carolyn was stretched along the back
seat, deep in sleep. Both disappointed and wildly relieved, I climbed in
front, and soon I was just as dead to the world.

The drive back from the parking garage the next morning was
generally silent. My clothes were damp with sour sweat. My head was a
microwaved pumpkin. Carolyn pulled over in front of the First
Imperssions Bar and threw up out the window.

“That’s better,” Carolyn said, driving off again.
“I feel much better.”

I said, “Remember you said that beer just might make you like
boys for a few minutes! Haha!”

“It does,” she said, pulling up to the hostel. “But
you spent those few minutes tinkling. Missed your chance.”

I’d heard that before.

“Besides,” she said as we walked up the walk, “you
need to reserve all your chang for Miranda. The Pacific South Americans
like their boyfriends to be filled with chang.”

Exactly what she meant by ‘chang’ I wasn’t sure, but
the way she said it made me blush and sweat at the same time.

Batiste was sitting at his outdoor desk, sentinel next to his big
Igloo, morning glories scaling his Dickies.

“All right,” he said, glancing up.

“What’s on tap today?” said Carolyn. “Dr
Pepper?”

“Jolt.”

Batiste suddenly gave me a hard, interrogative stare.

“You different,” he said. “Haircut?” Carolyn
said, “He’s just hungover.”

“And,” she added, “he’s after something he
might not catch.”

Batiste continued to stare.

“Bet I know what,” he said. Then he began to laugh.

Carolyn began to laugh, too.