I was never one for parties. Can’t get into them, too much going on- like a three ring circus. I’m a one ring man, into person to person conversation where you can really get into some stuff, get away from all that small talk and baby bullshit. I like to focus, and bore in. But Jenny was into the one Chris, our favorite bartender, was throwing this evening and wouldn’t go without me.
It was starting before dark because the barbecue was set up in his teenie weenie yard and the idea was to get the eating out of the way so we could get into the serious drinking before it got too chilly out back. So Jenny picked me up at work and we went right there. That worried me because I wouldn’t be able to give my Shepherd, Gretchen her dinner on time. Even though people always say dogs don’t have a sense of time, stomachs do. These are the same people who say the homeless don’t feel the cold as much as the rest of us. Bullshit abounds.
Well, the food was great and the beer was cold, and soon about twenty of us or so were strung around the house impersonating whoever we thought the others thought we were. We knew most of these folks so it remained within the comfort zone. Not too bad if you keep your buzz on at the level of a hive of happy bees. I was worried about Gretchen, but the better I got to feeling the more content she seemed to be.
I hadn’t noticed him come in but the devil must slipped in the door when no one was looking.
We were getting well into the evening, which meant it would soon be time to go home. Jenny didn’t have to work next day, but promised we wouldn’t stay too long. We were in the kitchen, me Jenny, Chris, his wife Sarah, Brownie standing around, keeping ourselves amused, telling our stories over, laughing at them again and making new ones up. Someone behind me held his arm out with a joint in it, gesturing for me to take it. I’ve never been much into weed and didn’t care one way or the other, but I took it and looked around for someone to pass it on to. Jenny caught my eye and I held the joint out to her shrugging my shoulders as a question. She considered not taking it but shrugged and took it, then took a deep hit, and a minute later took another deep one and handed it back to me. Oh, what the hell. I did my two hits and passed it to Brownie. I have no idea who had passed it to me or there would have been an exorcism before this evening was out. The others gravitated into other rooms and Jenny and I were alone, reaching agreement on when to leave.
However- within a very short time I felt like I had drifted into a time zone not on any clock, where everything seemed to happen in time lapse, then time stopped altogether. Everything sort of congealed. I looked at Jenny and she looked back. Her look said that it wasn’t just me. We came together, hugged our arms around each other limply and it wasn’t too long before we were leaning against each other and that was about all that was holding us up. Not for long. We slumped together slowly to our knees, like 30 minute spaghetti, and continued downward until we were twin puddles side by side on the floor. We ended up lying flat as poured concrete, facing away from each other, but holding hands. We could talk, and did, but couldn’t keep a sentence together long enough to finish it. It was as if we were each in our separate dream talking to the other in his separate dream and both dreams were being dreamed in yet another dream. We were dream people having a 45 rpm conversation at 33 1/3 rpms. The funny thing was we were perfectly calm as if this was something we did every Friday night. What we couldn’t do was turn our heads so that we could face each other. Tried and tried, just couldn’t do it.
All kinds of people came in and out of the kitchen stepping over us to get into the refrigerator or around us to reach the sink. They talked to us as if we were furniture that came with the place. There was no worry, no concern. This too shall pass and no harm done. As the evening wore on the herd thinned, fewer and fewer people came to visit.
It must have been after midnight when I started to regain the use of my body. It was very gradual, and time started up again. When I could finally turn my head to look at Jenny, she was asleep. Peacefully so, it seemed. And breathing, thank god. It felt like it took me three weeks to get to my feet. I knelt to face Jenny, with a hand on her forehead, and kept asking, Are you all right? Are you all right? until without opening her eyes, she said she was fine but did not want to wake up.
Just then Sarah walked in.” You guys ok?” I said, yeah , but I was still more than a little stunned.
“Jenny, you ok?, ” Sarah asked.
“Yeah, but please don’t wake me up.”
“I have to feed Gretchen. We should go”.
“Take my car. You go. It’s ok.”
Sarah turned to me, “Go ahead. When she can move I’ll help her upstairs to the guest room She can sleep it off here. It’s fine.” Jenny, said do that Gretchen is hungry.
“Ok,” I said, “but I’ll walk. I don’t know how fucked up I still am. I won’t drive your car like this.”
Sarah said,” I’m sorry but I don’t think there’s anybody left here sober enough to drive you.”
“It’s fine. I could use the walk. I could use something. What the hell was in that joint?,” I asked Sarah.
“Who gave it to you?,” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Then I don’t know either. I’ll take good care of Jenny.”
” Ask her to call me when she wakes up.”
I left on foot, shivering at first, but soon warmed up. I’d always driven here, but I guessed I had two, maybe three miles to go. I think it’s eight blocks to the mile so I knew I had at least 25 or 30 blocks if I went the way we usually come. But if I climbed the fence and cut across the tracks and went through Brewery Row, I’d cut at least ten blocks from the distance, maybe more. Brewery Row was a rough mix of deserted warehouses and factories with a barely live one here and there, still manufacturing something or other. It was all commercial, no houses but more like a small scale industrial ghost town. A lot of homeless squatted around here, I’ve been told. It looked like a movie set for a horror movie, and I was instantly sorry I had that thought.
I was plenty warm now, sweating even, making a good pace. Oddly, I didn’t have a hangover and my head was getting clear, despite the fact that dawn’s early light was chinning itself up up over the horizon. It was later than I had thought. I, we, must have lain paralyzed on that floor for at least six hours, probably closer to eight. What was in that joint?
I was right in the skuzzy middle of this architectural wasteland when I saw something totally, absolutely out of place. In-con-gru-ous.
Between two filthy five story derelictions with most of the windows broken out, and the sound of rat conversations within, was a two story building that looked almost clean. What had caught my eye was a light behind a plate glass window. It looked like a store front. The glass sparkled. I was drawn to it. How could I not have been?
Standing now right in front of it, I saw the damnedest thing. There was a back wall with a closed access door in it, all made of polished wood which looked like it was a hundred years old, but in mint condition. Gracefully draped from rods at the back and sides was a thick plush fabric that I took to be black velvet. It, too, almost sparkled, it was that clean and dust free. The drapery rose up in the center of the window’s floor over some kind of a hidden pedestal shaped like a mushroom. Very dramatic, a miniature stage setting. On this raised velvet nest rested – and I stared at it until I was sure that I wasn’t still fucked up – a watch, a wrist watch. Because it was the only thing in the window, it had to be special, but I looked and looked and the only thing special I could see about it was its site, its location, where it rested in the midst of all this forlorn squalor. There were even piles of debris here and there in the street, right in the middle. Main street, this was not. The watch looked real, but not much more; there were no diamonds or other ornament on it. Plain. The band looked like leather but could have been vinyl. It could have been a Timex. There was no sign , no tag. As as matter of fact there was no sign or any other kind of identification in the window or on the building, and no other lights within or above. Wow.
It was getting light fast. I wasn’t sure of the time because I had cracked my watch at work this week and hadn’t gotten around to replacing it. And I couldn’t quite make out the hands on this one. I guessed six am. I noticed that the sidewalk immediately in front of the building had been swept, and the window of the entrance door had been washed and the curtain behind it seemed clean. I guessed this was a business. What else? My second guess was that they sold watches here. Duh. I needed a watch. The one in the window looked as good as any. I wanted it. No doubt about it. Businesses open no later than eight? Don’t they? Except maybe in some of the upscale malls bankers’ hours are kept. But not here, no way. Maybe 7:30 even. 7? Possible. Now that I wanted to buy this watch I realized I couldn’t go home and drive back. Jenny had the car. And somebody else might get here first and buy it ahead of me. My watch. Life is funny, life is strange.
Well, I wasn’t going to stand around here in the fallen temperature and start shivering again. Coffee, well now, that was a plan. Taking a fond farewell glance at my watch, I started walking in the direction I had been headed. I wasn’t familiar with this area, having always skirted it so I supposed that way was as good as any. Coffee. I walked five or six blocks looking right and left at each cross street and all that was lit was the occasional industrial sized street light. The hell with it, I didn’t want to go too far if there wasn’t any coffee to be found. I was warm from walking. There was a vacant lot at one corner with some trees in it. I went over to one that looked comfortable enough to lean back on, and did so.
A couple of minutes later, I heard commotion. A truck stopping, doors slamming, men’s voices, then cussing. Then another truck came and men got out and cussed. Then another, the same. Then a heavier sound. A rubber tired tractor of some kind, a big one. Somebody got a compressor going; then, having built its pressure, it cut off. I could clearly hear the men talking. They were waiting for their foreman, who was late, the subject of some of the cussing. They waited and he didn’t come. They waited some more and he still didn’t appear.
Blame it on the watch and the enchantment of surreality it cast on me. Blame it on the devil who handed me that joint and maybe inhabited me with the smoke. But what I did next I did with absolute and calm authority. I have always believed that you can tell people to do anything if you do it in the right voice and allow them no doubt that you know what you are doing and then act with total authority. I am in charge. Believe it and they will believe it. Doubt it and be doubted. Because Jenny picked me up at work I was still in my work clothes. I’m a construction foreman, and look it. These men could have been my crew. These men were about to be my crew.
I overheard them say their boss’s name was Pickett, and I overheard a lot of details and could tell from their voices and tones what their pecking order was. And I picked up on some of their other names. I gathered up some windblown papers, arranged them in a workmanlike sheaf and held them against a short piece of board, then tucked it under my arm. There was even an abandoned thermos; I stuck it under my other arm and stuck a pencil sized twig behind one ear. In character, I stepped onto the stage, and around the corner, directly toward the voice named Simpson. He was the foreman.
“Simpson!” I addressed him.
“Yes, sir. That’s me. It’s about time. Where’s Pickett?”
” Some thing’s got fucked up. This street’s gonna wait. Doesn’t look like anybody uses it anyway.”
“I don’t know why they send us here in the first place. Waste of time, waste of money.Do I care? No. I go where I’m dispatched and do what I’m told.”
“Well, we got a squeaky wheel in the 1600 block of Hentloff, between Sycamore and Belden. Pothole City. Councilman lives on that block. Says he’s afraid the prairie dogs are going to move in.”
“That’s not far.”
“Complete resurface. That block only. You’ll have to call Impounding for the cars you can’t get moved, but no fines. No charges. There wasn’t time to post it. Two more dumptrucks are being dispatched to you, and the asphalt is requisitioned for 11:30 delivery.”
” Councilman, eh?”
“Wish one lived on my block. VW disappeared into a pothole a week ago. Hasn’t been seen since.”
“Better get a move on. We’ve lost some time. Don’t waste any more time when you get there. Jump on it.””
“You got it. Where’s Jonesey?”
“Sleeping it off around the corner in the car. ”
“I’ll be a while checking back with you. If not me, Pickett. You know what to do.”
“See you later. By the way, what’s your name?”
We shook hands and I disappeared around the corner to the sound of engines starting and revving up. I’ll have to remember to go in my back door when I get home. The street in front is going to be all torn up. It really needed fixing.
I got back to the shiny store right at seven thirty, just as a mousy little man was unlocking the front door.
“Good, ” I said. “I was hoping you’d be open.”
“Yes, sir. How can I help you?”
“I want to buy that watch.”
“The one in the window?”
“Yes. How much is it?”
“Oh, dear me. I’m afraid it’s not for sale.”
“Then why is it in your window? You do sell watches?”
“Oh, no sir.”
“Well, what do you do here?”
“We spay cats. Unhm. What would you put in your window?”
®Copyright 2009 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.