sidebrow

Give Pete a Chance

The war is about to begin and I’m looking at a flyer, a list of all the countries America has ever gone to war with, a long list. I can’t hear my phone because of the crowd, so it isn’t until she’s ten minutes late that I go outside to check my messages. One message.

‘Hey, I’ll be late.’

She’ll be late. I go back into the bar because it’s raining and end up in the stairwell. People pass me and give me the eye. I give them the sorry look. It’s getting late and she’s still late so I call her.

‘Hello?’ she answers.

‘Hey it’s Pete, where are you?’

‘Eating.’

‘Where? I’ll come find you.’

‘6th and Mission.’

We’re on the same corner. I pan around, all Thai and Vietnamese. I ask her which restaurant.

The sound of chewing, Thai. ‘Stay there,’ she says. ‘I’ll be over in five minutes.’

’Just tell me which restaurant.’

‘It’s best if you wait.’

There’s the stairwell and then where the bathroom vents its smells. Fuck, it’s crowded. The more I wait, the angrier I get. Pushed around to the edges by all that movement, waiting for some girl with a food problem. I leave.

The train is fast and loud. I plug my ears with my fingers. My back is tired from wandering the city all day. I’m sick of the city, my dumb job, my small room. I want to leave, but you can’t leave when nobody’s asking you to come. I don’t want to turn into one of those old city guys who lives in a room, smells funny, and has only his superior knowledge of jazz to feel good about. Thelonious Monk my ass. Find me a woman, move to a small town, ride a bike, learn to cook, read in the afternoon.

The escalator lifts me into the rain, lit against a black sky. Cities do not have stars. They’re all on the streets—or at least they think they are.

I enter the perpetual mist and call Al.

‘What’s up?’

‘Where are you? I’ll come find you.’

‘Elbo Room.’

‘I’m coming over.’

‘Yeah.’

Al’s at the back of the bar, a black mound under dim red lights. The table, covered with empty glasses. The answer: rum and Coke. Always.

I tell Al the thing with the Thai food, the chewing thing. He spits out a cherry stem. Then this old woman, a sad drunk, sits down at our table. She’s missing a tooth and wearing flannel. A smoker, I can tell by her skin. Al answers her questions generously. She touches my arm and I ignore her. Embarrassed and hurt, she leaves.

‘What’s your deal?’ Al says.

‘Nothing.’

‘Everybody says nothing but everybody needs something.’

Everybody needs a clever friend. That’s what I wanted to say to him.

The last N-Judah is always the best, empty of people and full of newspapers. The headline says we are going to war. I’m lying down across the seats, a chest warm full of liquor. I close my eyes and she’s there. Too many girls, not enough brain cells, not enough change. She’ll call tomorrow and explain herself, or I’ll explain myself. Doesn’t matter who’s explaining, as long as somebody’s wrong.