Chinese food, coffee, for breakfast? Why not? Egg foo yung? Eggs, that’s breakfast. White rice. Egg roll? Althea had arranged this for me, had it waiting, still hot in the little boxes when I awoke. It was lunch time anyway. I always awoke at lunch time. She was doing a little waltz, a little soft shoe between the kitchen and the living room, singing.
“All I want is a room somewhere. Far away from the cold night air,” she sang.
“Morning Eliza,” I said.
“Rehearsals tonight!” she said.
Being the alienated, existential beast that I was, this didn’t fit.
“Better rest up,” I said. “Save your energy.”
“Jerry and I are getting together this afternoon,” she said. “Privately. He’s very pleased with the fact that I don’t work during the day. He said that’s going to be a real blessing. I’ll be able to devote myself more fully to the show.”
“The life of a pro,” I said.
The food was good, still hot. The coffee wasn’t. Couldn’t drink it. I ate, then, with a full stomach and a still bleary head, got up and put on my coat.
“I’m going out for coffee,” I said.
“Want me to come along?”
I didn’t, but I said, “If you want to come along.”
She didn’t. I didn’t like people messing with me when I first woke up, unless they were quietly bringing me decent hot coffee and cream.
I walked four blocks, downtown, and stopped in at the Coffee CafÈ, had a few cups and woke up. I came out, stuck a coin in the pay phone and called my mother. She was still dead. But I didn’t get the disconnect recording, like I thought I would. It just rang about a hundred times. Then I looked at myself in shiny metal on the pay phone, saw how old I looked, and cried. I stayed there a while, let all those tears really come out. Each time I looked at my reflection again, it made me cry harder.
Then I dropped by the downtown travel agency and picked up some brochures on travel to Cyprus. I took a slow walk up the Post Office steps, read some FBI posters. An elderly, well-spoken bum said, “Excuse me, sir, could you spare a dollar? I need it to buy a bus ticket to Lexington. I have an aunt over there who is more than happy to house and feed me, if I can just provide my own transportation to her house.” I had heard this before, had given him many dollars in the past, and I gave him another.
“How’s your aunt doing?” I asked.
He had already turned, started walking away.
“Very nicely, sir. Thank you,” he said. “Thank you.” He stuck his hand out beside his hip, gave his fingers a flick – a little wave.
I went in the drug store, browsed around, looked at envelopes and medicine. Then I went into the hardware store, bought a fifty cent bag of roasted peanuts, ate them on the way back to my apartment, tossed some of the shells onto the street, dropped some onto the sidewalk, and stuffed some into my coat pocket.
At this point, I felt pretty queasy. A little side effect here, a little side effect there, mixed-in with everything else. By the time I got back, I was moving kind of slow, barely made it. Althea was raring to go. She bolted out the door just seconds after my return, said she was off to meet Jerry. Jerry! Fine with me. I would be around later, over at the theater. I felt like shit. Spent some time lying around the new place, all clean and luxurious. Didn’t look at the cleanliness much, though. Spent most of my time with my eyes shut.
You think I was depressed? Nope. These were the days of my lives.
Got it together later in the afternoon, went out and had a single beer.
Dot dot dot.
In London, those pints of bitter in the pubs got the best of me on many occasions. Once, in one of those states where my eyes closed on the train, or while I waited for the train, and only opened when I had to change or walk, I stopped on the platform, threw up, got down on my hands and knees and tried to take a nap like that. I was really cold. A couple of English chaps stopped above me.
“Is he all right?” one said.
“The question is, does he feel better now?” said the other.
I nodded. They left. I rested awhile, got up, made my way to the next train, slept on it, and then stumbled – and I mean stumbled – back to my room.
But I was coming to life pretty well now. Opened up the theater and heard Althea. She was belting out another show tune – “The Rain in Spain.” I trekked up the stairs and listened to her voice grow stronger. Jerry was sitting, pounding out the number on the piano. She was on her feet, better to get the air flowing. She wore those black dancing leotards, with shorts over. She gave me that hell of a smile when I walked in. Me, the working guy. Thought I’d get a few hours in before all the big noise started tonight.
And I could see why Jerry had chosen her. She had a strong, rangy voice. She was a lovely woman, really, this Althea. I was lucky to have her. Lucky to have met her at the hospital. Lucky to be her show fuck. Pity, wasn’t it, that she had all that chemical mood shit to worry about? Here she was, talented and happy; and I knew that it could snap, plunge her deep, to a lifeless place in which Jerry wouldn’t recognize his star. But for now, it was good, and I should have been happy for her.
You think, where is this going, asshole? You are the asshole for thinking this, because where it’s going is where it’s going, not where you like to go, some zooming place – one, two, three, pop. I’m so satisfied. Thank you muchly. ‘Fraid not. What is it you want? This is what you get. I’m not like you.
I told you before we’re talking alienation here. And alienation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I put together two more of those goddamn shelving units. Althea and Jerry got their act together, went out for a bite to eat. The evening settled in, they returned, and the cast began to arrive. As they arrived, I left. Got something to eat, didn’t drink anymore beer that night, went back to my clean place and waited for Althea to get through with rehearsal. Waited for her to come home. See if she could make me tingle again.