Chapters 28–29: Birds Of A Feather
I met Paige outside Mediterraneo, which is on the corner of 66th Street and Second Avenue. She got there first, and my concerns about the evening disappeared as I approached.
She has a tell. Generally, when her head is buried in her phone, it’s a danger sign. But if her right foot points to the right, with the heel dug into the middle of her left foot, she’s in a good mood.
“What if they’re both pointed to the right?” she asked.
I pondered this. “Assuming you’re looking straight ahead, I’m gonna say on the floor, hog-tied, and looking up at me with a lot of explaining to do.”
She flipped over the iPod.
“Did you think I was kidding?” I reached into my bag, but realized that would be the end of this sordid tale, and went back to the beginning.
Tracy’s appearance on my corner the night before didn’t warrant more than an “oh, by the way” before I showed her the emails since then. After she reprimanded me for responding, I pointed out how I couldn’t have more emphatically told her the conversation was over. I didn’t just end with the dreaded “take care.” I said “Enough!”
But of course, it wasn’t enough.
Her final reply read:“I need to say one more thing, you better rectify the situation about what you said about me. Honestly Scott, I think you embarrassed me enough, if I hear from one person what you said about me, then “oooooooooohhh there will be hell to pay my friend”. You still owe me Klonopin, I think I deserve that much and 2 meatloaf tickets whether you go with me or not. So, you better get on it, you know I deserve much more but this will be fine, for now. :)”
“I have a question,” Paige said.
“What’s the quote from?”
“The hell to pay. She put it in quotes.”
“Maybe a Meatloaf lyric?” She had mentioned him in two of the emails. I hummed a few bars of Bat out of Hell. “Nope.”
“And why is she sending you theories about the Sopranos finale?”
I shrugged. Putting Tracy’s interest aside, I had various people sending me links to theories about it. “Is he dead? Is he alive? What the fuck is he? Schroedinger’s cat?”
Not even a chuckle. I thought it was the funniest thing I’d said in months. Not that a joke is ever funny if you have to explain it, but when it involves physics, you’re better off not even trying. It reminded me of something Lou said last week; that no matter how old you are when you learn something new, within a month you’ll forget there was a time you didn’t know anything about it. I needed to remember that, until last month, I thought Schroedinger’s cat was, in fact, the cat of piano playing Schroedinger in Peanuts.
I was pondering this when Paige elbowed me in the ribs and, rapid-fire, asked, “Whataretheirnames?”
Before I could decipher this, they were next to me. It was my friend Jeff and his wife, Carrie.
“The Mets suck,” Jeff said.
“Thank you,” Paige said.
They worried about every three-game losing streak. I couldn’t get excited about a game in June. I needed a pennant race. Probably the most adult thing about me.
Other than maybe my friend Paul, Jeff was the only person who could match me tit for tat with obscure Mets memories.
We were at the game together that we agreed was the best regular season game in Mets history. The Mets were losing 6–2 and down to their last out. After a flurry of singles, we’d cut the lead to 6–4, had two men on base, and Steve Henderson at the plate. Down to his last strike, he laced a line drive, opposite field home run.
While that game was the best from a strictly baseball point of view, it was the third best regular season memory for me because of additional facts present besides the game itself. But both of those were from 1985, and we were talking about the 70s.
“Actually it was 1980,” Jeff said.
I did some quick math. I was 11. “Sounds about right. I didn’t have hair on my dick yet.”
They all stared at me.
“I guess that requires an explanation.” And I, of course, had one. The weekend before, Danny Santini peed on the coals in the sauna at Off the Wall Racquetball Club. As the only two kids there, it wasn’t hard to figure out the culprits. For my punishment, I wasn’t allowed to go to the game. But I had nothing to do with it. Was I an accomplice? Did I aid and abet him? Technically, I guess I did. But it’s not like I held it for him. Anyway, But I got a last-minute pardon.
Paige shook her head. “He can remember all that, but he can’t remember to pay his Con Ed bill.”
“Hold on,” Jeff said. “What does that have to with your having hair on your balls.”
“He had as much hair on his dick as I do now, and I thought maybe something was wrong with me.”
Before they could hit that one out of the park, I told them not to bother. It was just too easy.
As we sat, a pain shot through my side. She’d elbowed me again after I made a reference to my Mets memories from college were a bit tainted. “Was that really necessary?”
“Instinct,” she said, so pleased with herself. “Where did I meet them?”
I tore off a piece of bread. “You were at their wedding jackass.”
“Oh yeah. He’s the one who went to jail?”
“And she works for the View?”
I“I think she won an Emmy last year.”
“They give out Emmy’s for picking out people’s clothes?”
“That’s what I said.”
“We should have asked her about that four button suit.”
After we ordered drinks, I filled her in on my night with Ali. When I said nothing turns me on more than a woman writing in beautiful agony with her eyes rolling back in her head, she thought I was bragging about my sexual prowess. When I said she literally had a seizure, she said, “I literally don’t want to hear this.”
“This has nothing to do with sex.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Explain.”
“When I said literally, I meant literally. She had a fucking seizure.”
“I came out of the kitchen at the same time she came out of the bathroom. She made this really dumb face, and I thought she was just fucking around. Next thing I know, her knees buckled.”
“What did you do?”
“I tried to catch her.” I ripped off a piece of bread. “Almost made a helluva shoe-string catch.”
“Part of her head definitely hit the ground. Not even worth a challenge.”
“Did you try to make a football move?”
“I’m pretty sure any such move at that point would be considered rape.” I raised my glass toward the waitress, then drained what was left. “I seriously thought she might be dead. I mean, she looked dead. I checked her pulse. She had one, so…”
“Did you check to see if she was breathing?”
I shook my head. “If your heart is beating, then you’re breathing, right?
“I don’t think they’re connected.”
I pondered this. “I think you’re right. If they were, you wouldn’t have to alternate between doing CPR and mouth-to-mouth.”
Actually, I’m not sure if that made any sense. Another thing for my list. “I remembered hearing somewhere I was supposed to stick a spoon in her mouth so she didn’t bite off her tongue, but she came to before I could find one.”
“There are probably thirty under your couch.”
“Funny you should say that.” I picked up my phone and scrolled.
“So what was it?”
“She said it was caused by migraines. Meanwhile, I’m telling her not to move and I was calling an ambulance.”
“That’s for neck injuries.”
“I realized that after.” I found the email I sent Josh and read. “She’s fine, except for having tuberculosis from whatever was on that spoon.” Someday if I wrote about this, and someone asked if I lied or embellished, that would now be my number one example. Still, it was an e-mail, not on my blog, and I assumed he knew that couldn’t be true.
“Why was I not emailed?”
I held up a finger. I was again trying as hard as I could to curl my tongue up and see if it could fit down my throat. Definitely an old wives’ tale. No way you can choke on it. When I finished, I said I had to go the bathroom. But before I could get up, she asked again why she wasn’t e-mailed.
“We hadn’t yet spoken today.”
I woke up yesterday morning to two emails from her and a voicemail with her in hysterics. Al drama. I did what I said I would if that happened, which was forward it to Dani and Stef and let them deal with it. It was the first time I didn’t respond to her, and if she hadn’t contacted me today, we wouldn’t have been there tonight. As it was, I almost canceled, but I wasn’t going to feign anger to make a point.
“It was just instinct,” she said. “Or as Dani would say, impulse.”
“She’s right, actually.”
“Are you sure?”
“If Laurie goes to this Darren fellow’s apartment and bangs on the door like a lunatic, knowing with every fiber of her being she should turn around and go home, but doesn’t — that’s being unable to resist the impulse.”
I pondered this. “When she then comes and bangs on my door, I try to lodge my foot up her ass, and her butt cheeks clench up, said ass clenching would be instinct.”
I have no idea if that was right, but I’m pretty sure it was instinct that got me out of my seat without thinking about it. Which was best since I resisted the impulse to tell her neither applies when you know what you’re doing is wrong and don’t even try to resist it. Not to mention that maybe now Dani wouldn’t speak about things she knew nothing about.
Over the weekend, Dani again asked if I was in denial and really in love with Paige. Again, the denying you’re in denial conundrum. But I had what I considered incontrovertible evidence. First, I’d set her up on blind dates, encouraged her to give online dating a chance, and certainly didn’t care when she was sleeping with Dr. Mike. Second. and this was the clincher, Paige was a zero on what I call the “Stern-Kinsey” scale. Meaning, it’s not only that I had no sexual feelings toward her, but I could picture her blowing someone and not flinch. Third, and also quite telling, I wouldn’t have admitted — like I had long ago — that I hated being replaced. So, yes, it came down to the lies and her behavior — like calling me with drama about some guy she claims not to have feelings for, and that I somehow didn’t understand.
What Dani didn’t understand was that I’d get these emails and calls, which barely scratched the surface of this nonsense.
While I was in the bathroom, I remembered that I reconnected with Jeff at the same time I ran into her years earlier. I’d have to add it to the timeline I was making and fit into my new unifying theory, which I’d tentatively named White Trash Theory. But it was too early to draw any firm conclusions.
I also remembered — in what would clearly be foreshadowing if I made this up — that he referred me my first client when I started my own firm. Father and son were being evicted from an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Little did I know at the time, and I shit you not, the father had a restraining order against the son, who tried to stab dad with a knife. And the son was the sane one. Dad was a real life hoarder. The whole thing was a disaster. Then I realized that, technically, Jeff himself was my first client. I didn’t represent him for what led him to jail, but it was relevant to the story.
He’d been arrested in a massive insider trading scheme. As part of his plea that sent him to jail, he had to help the prosecution and rat out a lot of people. He said he lied because mobsters were involved and they’d kill him.
Against that backdrop, he got a DUI in the Hamptons. As part of that plea, he got community service, but didn’t finish it, and the judge tacked on more hours, When he didn’t finish those by the time his next court date came around, I agreed to go with him.
Considering what was going on with his insider trading case, I couldn’t imagine why his criminal attorney, the DA, or someone other than me wasn’t dealing with this, I figured he was full of shit. Mind you, the Internet was barely a thing. I’m fact, I think cell phone’s had just come out.
Anyway, I trekked out to the Hamptons with him in the dead of winter. One of those days where blackened snow remnants remained inside the train, the air was dark and thick, and you felt wet just looking out the window. We get to the house we’re staying at, and there’s no key. I don’t know what story he told me, but there’s no way we weren’t breaking and entering. He knew exactly which window to go through. The whole thing was so shady.
The next morning, I went into the judge’s chambers, and I didn’t have a clue what I was going to say. It didn’t matter. This woman, who I’d been warned was an anti-Semitic witch who hated us City folk for ruining her quaint little town, couldn’t have been nicer. But, more than that, she was amused.
“She’s got that look on her face that screams ‘I know something you don’t.’”
“You mean she knew something Jeff didn’t.”
“She said something to effect of, Jeff’s got far bigger problems than anything going on in the Hamptons.”
Long story short, a few weeks later he told me he got busted for lying to the DA about the mobster. I assumed that’s what the judge was referring to, but didn’t give it any more thought. Three years later, and at around the same time Paige and I reconnected, I moved into my last apartment and ran into him in the elevator. He’d recently gotten out of jail and also just moved in. I waved over the waitress. “But that’s not all. He showed me an article written about the whole thing. And I’m not talking about the Observer like bandanna boy.”
She made a face.
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” I said. “But I’m talking the New Yorker.”
She, like me until then, had no idea the New Yorker was the New York Times of magazines. Or at least I think it is. “Like, people read it nationally.”
“He didn’t exaggerate or make up a word of it. If anything, he understated it.” I shook my head. “My mother’s best friend was quoted in it, God bless her. She said something like, even though he’s on the lam or in hiding, he’s still a nice boy.”
You can read the July 2000 article here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2000/07/10/marisa-and-jeff
“That’s not all. A few months later, I came across a legal decision involving an appeal of the mobster’s trial. And it confirmed everything said about his lying.”
“What did it say?”
“It made Jeff sound worse than the mobster.”
You can read the April, 2001 court decision here: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ny-supreme-court-appellate-division/1327140.html
“Meanwhile, this lunatic goes on three J-dates and marries this one. Of course, if this shit ends up like Laci Peterson, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
I made her leave the tip and reminded her that when we got back from our respective trips, the new rules were in effect. No exceptions.
We stepped around the bannister and lit cigarettes. I blew smoke into the sky and twirled around. Well, it wasn’t a twirl as much as I was staring up, pondering the absence of stars, and circled to keep my balance. After I flicked the butt onto Second Avenue, I looked for a cab to put her in. “Actually, walk with me.”
After we crossed 66th Street, she eyeballed me as if I was luring her into a trap, and when I turned left on 65th Street, she stopped. “You don’t have any ether in your bag, do you?”
A third of the way down the street, I stopped. “This is where Tracy lives.”
She pulled out her cigarettes. “And?”
I looked back toward Second Avenue, down to First Avenue, then back at Paige. “Okay, I’m gonna need a map, a protractor, and some glue.”
Paige got caught mid-drag and half-laughed, half-coughed. “What are you trying to figure out?”
“There’s no way she had to go that far for toilet paper and toothpaste.” The way I saw it, it wasn’t a matter of whether Tracy was staking out my corner yesterday, but whether I could prove it. You know, just for shits and giggles.
I motioned with my chin toward First Avenue, and we continued onward. To get from Tracy’s apartment to the Duane Reade on my corner, she would’ve had to cross Second, walk east, and cross over both 64th and 63rd. Now we were a half-block from her apartment approaching the Northeast corner of 65th and First. Across First was a Gristedes Supermarket one side of the street, and on the other a sign: Drugs/Prescriptions. That’s two, and I hadn’t had to turn my head.
“Maybe she can only get her scripts filled at Duane Reade,” Paige said.
“I confiscated her bag to see what pills I could take. There were no pills. Just the aforesaid sundries.”
We turned right on First Avenue. “That and it was Sunday at 6:00. The pharmacy was closed.”
We were halfway between 65th and 64th Street when Paige stopped.
It took me a second before I saw it. Straight ahead on the corner, an awning with big bold red letters. PHARMACY. And not just any pharmacy. A Duane Reade. “Un-fucking-believable.” It was less than half the distance to the one on my corner. “Hell, she wouldn’t even have to cross an Avenue.”
As we head west on 64th Street, I pointed out the Avis where the weekend started, and when we passed Gourmet Garage, it hit me. There was a second entrance to Tracy’s building on 64th Street. She peeked through. You could see straight across to 65th. “And she lives in the basement?
“There are a few units down there,” I said.
More important, though, she could probably go out this door, go to Duane Reade we just passed, hit both of the other pharmacies we passed, and get back in her apartment before she got to the one on my corner.
“We’re not trying it,” Paige said.
“That would be ridiculous.” We continued toward Second Avenue. “But you do realize I’ll be going back to Gourmet Garage next chance I get to see if they sell toilet paper.”
When we got to the corner of 64th and Second, I dug out my iPod. “I almost forgot.”
“It’s one block!”
I shook my head and held it out for her.
“What? You showed it to me already.”
I forced it on her. “Turn it over.”
“What is this a magic trick?”
The phone number was gone. I pulled out the new one with the engravings. “Alli found that one between the headboard and the mattress this morning. And, get this. It’s not the one I lost last week.”
“She slept over? What does she tell her husband?”
“I don’t ask such questions,” I said. “Although I told her I’ll need an emergency contact number next time she comes over.”
I motioned for her to give the iPod back.
She shook me off. “I’m holding this one.”
“Good idea.” And it was. Until I envisioned having to go to her building in a monsoon because we’re not talking. “On second thought, I’ll leave it at Josh’s.”
She dropped it in the pouch. “It would’ve been perfect if you reached under your couch for a spoon and pulled it out.”
“If I’m going to embellish anything, I’m already married to the spoon and tuberculosis.”
After I put her in a cab and plugged in the earbuds, I crossed over Second Avenue. Halfway across, I saw the CVS across the street.