84 ON THE FLOOR
CHAPTER 1: SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBRIBUS
I dreamt, unbidden, about Akiva Fleischmann quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong; I was always happy to see him, even if he was just an overloaded brain synapse firing into the void. But then again, maybe he wasn’t. I have always been of the opinion that dreams are not just the brain dumping data: clearing the circuits for a new round of useless information. Call me eccentric; but I really do think that the “dream-world” might actually be a real place. Another dimension, if you will. Cue Rod Serling please. No, seriously. How can the brain create, in every minute detail, a person that you’ve never met before? A stranger with whom you can have an involved conversation. A voice you’ve never heard before; and voices are so distinct they’re as good as finger prints. Real or not, extra-dimensional or not—it’s a very real place to me. One I like to visit as often as I can. Which is why, probably, that I’m a sleep addict. Even nightmares are appealing to me. Kind of like seeing a really great horror movie (in 3-D, Cinerama, Odorama, Emergo and Sensurround) for free! And in my dreams, Akiva is as real as he can be…in Technicolor and 6-track stereo.
When we visit, he always seems to be slightly distracted. And he’s always carrying a book, more often than not his nose pressed into it. It’s like I have to take him by the shoulders and make him focus; usually on some unanswerable question I’ve put forth. And then he’ll start to answer and then disappear somewhere, leaving me to interact with the other people in the dream, the extras. But the extras are just as intriguing and I’ll forget about Kiva while I play shuffleboard with some middle-aged woman who can control the weather and is a close personal friend of Gary Cooper’s (who is now living amongst star-nosed moles).
When last I saw him, he was a lifeguard at The Concord hotel; a huge Borscht-belt resort in the Catskills. It was an enormous indoor pool so the light was diffused, which meant he didn’t have much in the way of a tan. His skin was very pale, but it had a touch of olive so he didn’t look sickly. In fact, he looked quite handsome sitting in the tall chair, in his orange trunks, spinning his whistle absently on its cord as he gazed up and not down at the swimmers. Or at a book. He was starting to fill out too with the natural, God-given muscle development of adolescence. He was turning into a hunk!
“What are you reading Kiva?”
“You wouldn’t understand it…”
“Michael, I have to finish this chapter—”
I asked Kiva to show me the book, which he did. On the page was an equation. A formula. A formula for what was the question.
“Is that algebra, calculus, or trigonometry?” I asked.
“A combination. But as a language.”
“Can you solve it?” I asked.
“You don’t solve,” he said, “you accept it.”
So, it was always thus. These cryptic (to me) responses to my apparently jejune queries. But I didn’t begrudge him his academic focus. He was trying to graduate, it seemed, to a higher plane. One higher than high school, anyways. So, I let him be. Fine with me. I wasn’t an attention whore. Quite the opposite in fact. I generally preferred to fade into the woodwork. I observed better unobserved; even amongst friends.
“Should you really be reading?” I asked, looking down at rotund elderly woman with bright red lipstick and a flowered bathing cap floating by. “Shouldn’t you be watching the swimmers? What if someone drowns?”
“They can’t drown. They can’t…die…”
“Then why do they need a lifeguard?”
He sighed. “I thought you were going to see Lenny Bruce in the Night Owl lounge…”
“I don’t have anything to wear—” But when I looked up again the chair was empty.
“Dahling,” the floating lady said from the water, “you look like a nice boy. That Lenny Bruce is too blue for you.”
“Oh,” I offered, “a dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
“Why don’t you take a dip dear? You’re schvitzing.”
I had been to the Concord in the summer of 1981. I was there for a week, visiting an older cousin who worked there. She was on the recreation staff. It was an interesting experience. They were filming a movie there at the time: Soup for One. It starred the lady who had played Mrs. Kotter on Welcome Back Kotter. I saw her once, from a distance. In retrospect I would’ve thought I might have been a tad more impressed by the presence of a film production with a bonafide TV star; but I wasn’t. I was busy with other things that week, particularly observing the hotel guests and lusting after a friend of my cousin who was also on the staff. His name was Danny and he looked a bit like John Denver (without the glasses) but John Denver if he didn’t look strangely like a woman. I was also fascinated by the presence of Morris Katz, who I suppose was the hotel’s “artist in residence.” Mr. Katz was (and I’m not making this up) the internationally celebrated Toilet Paper Artist. He was in some World’s Record Book for having painted the most paintings of any living artist. That is, I suppose, if you count smearing paint around a canvass with wads of Charmin, painting. His pictures were campy, as you might expect. The kind of thing you might expect to see on the wall of a dentist’s waiting room. Or to be more precise, a proctologist. But who was I to criticize? Here was a man making a living off of his art, while he was still alive. So, more power to him. He was the Bob Ross of the Catskills!
The highlight of the trip was an inner-tube expedition down a nearby river. Danny and his friends were all slightly older than me. But to me, at sixteen, with them in their early 20’s, it seemed like there were light years of distance between us. Joints were passed from inner-tube to inner-tube. It was the one time I had smoked pot that it had agreed with me. But not completely. The day, as lovely as it was, seemed to go on forever. Too long. It was a kind of psychic torture. Because I was sure my lust for Danny could be seen by all and I was flushing from it the whole day.
One day in early September someone else (also unbidden) showed up at the front door and rang the bell. It went unanswered for several minutes, then a sustained pounding began. I was lying on my bed reading GQ. I’d just finished an article about Faye Dunaway and her “quest for perfection in everything” and was currently eyeballing a fashion spread on the new Japanese menswear aesthetic. Most men, even in Japan I would think, didn’t really want clothing that was “architectural”; constructed with whalebone stays. That was a bit much, even for me. I peered at the fine print. The retail price of a Matsuda bolero jacket was $2,350.00 U.S. dollars! I mean, I knew that Japan was way more expensive than most places, it being an island nation and all; but come on! It was one of the things that bugged me about the magazine. If you added up the prices, they were asking for a simple business look by a mid-level designer the average price was like at least a grand. And that’s not including the shoes. “Shirt: $350.00” Yeah, right. For one dress shirt. I was lucky if that was my entire clothing budget for a year. I threw the magazine to the floor in exasperation. The pounding on the door was now being accompanied by the door-bell. Then they must’ve discovered the door knocker…
“Mom? There’s someone at the door!” I bellowed. She didn’t answer; and I knew my father was at work. And Tiger, forget it. “Anybody?” I yelled. I got up and went down the stairs and opened the front door. On the other side of the glass storm door there was standing a young woman, maybe a little older than me. She had brunette hair with auburn highlights that was so stunningly “BIG” is would’ve knocked over Francesco Scavullo. It was crimped and flared outward from her face and at her forehead she had both bangs and a crescent shaped, free standing hair fan. All of it cemented into place with ultra-hold hair-spray. Or perhaps model glue. She was blue-jeaned from her earrings to her Lady Cortezed feet. She peered at me expectantly a she blew a little pink gum bubble that was popping as quickly as it was inflating.
“Yes,” I said, doing my best Fritz Feld, “can I help you?”
“Yeah,” she said with a wink, “I’m a Girl Scout. You wanna buy some cookies?”
I looked at her more closely. She seemed too old to be a Girl Scout, I thought, but what did I know? Maybe she was a den mother or whatever it was they had. Troop Mom?
“Uhmm, I love those Do-si-do ones, the peanut butter ones, you know. Do you have those?”
She looked at me again and I realized she wasn’t selling cookies. My gullibility seemed to have trumped her apparent wiseassity.
She gave me the once over. “Are you screwing with me?” she asked. “Oh, wait—you’re the gay one, right?” She gestured towards me with an index finger and in the process, dropped the car keys she was holding. When she crouched down to retrieve them, her jacket popped open and I realized she was pregnant. Like six or seven months along, maybe.
“Do I know you?” I asked.
“I’m a friend of Tiger’s,” she smiled. “Is he here?”
I didn’t know if he was home or not, so I just said he wasn’t.
“Well,” she continued, “could you tell him Sheila from Lynn came by?”
“Sure,” I said.
“I’d be ever so grateful!” and then she laughed.
The storm door closed with a hydraulic ssssssssssssss. I watched her through the glass as she climbed into a beat-up blue Mustang II that left a gunmetal cloud in its wake. I closed the front door and then wandered around the house, absently looking at random pieces of mail and out of the windows at the sun behind the trees. A group of crows was gathered in the top of a high tree, taking turns swooping down at something on the ground. I went out to the deck to try and get a better look. The crows were beyond agitated; they were apoplectic. Something on the ground was moving and then what emerged from the grass and started up the back lawn was our cat, Jerry Garcia. The little bastard had a crow in his mouth. As he slunk up the grass in the back yard, the crows were dive-bombing him: obsidian missiles of grief, swooping down as if to reclaim their brethren. He ignored them, and I watched as he cleared the grass then trotted up the asphalt, hung a left and bounded up the stairs. At first, I thought the bird was dead and that Jerry was going to present me with an offering. But instead, he went to the middle of the deck and dropped the bird onto the wood. The bird was alive, its chest was still bellowing in and out with shallow breaths. Jerry looked at me and then he placed a paw on the bird. He was barely out of kittenhood and he’d taken down a crow nearly as big as himself. He batted the bird and its wings flared out. Apparently, this wasn’t enough of a response for Jerry so he pounced on the bird and began kicking at it with his hind legs. Black feathers floated upwards as I stepped forward. Jerry instinctively knew what I was about to do and closed his legs around the bird and bit into its neck. When I crouched down and reached for the crow, he growled.
“Don’t you snarl at me you evil son of a bitch…” I said under my breath and ignored the cat’s claws as they dug into my flesh. I pulled him off the bird and then hauled him up by the scruff of his neck and put him in the house. When I returned to the bird it was nearly dead. Its chest was matted and moist; the gray flesh exposed, smeared with crimson streaks. I gathered up the bird and clutching it to my chest, I walked back to the woods with it. The crows circled above me, watching my every move. I felt like Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels (“…I don’t know anything about their brain-pans but those birds attacked the children!”) as they screeched and proceeded to swoop at me. I went to the tree they seemed to be congregating in and sunk to my knees. I put the crow on top of some leaves and it started to breathe again and make a shallow gurgling noise. I picked up a rock to put it out of its misery but who was I kidding? I couldn’t do it. I dropped the rock and covered him with leaves and then left the woods, which were quiet now—except for the flapping of wings. In the house, I found Miss Waldie’s book on Ancient Rome and looked up augur. This is just what I needed at the start of a new school year: a portent in the form of a dying crow. Thanks Janus! But there was nothing in the book about augury, augurs or auguring or dead crows or taking auspices. So, I decided to just put it out of my mind and the best way to do that was with The Boob Tube! I went into the TV room and started searching for the remote control. I had become so dependent on the device I didn’t know how to actually control the television with its own attached buttons; and I was too lazy to attempt it. The remote had a tendency to sink beneath the couch cushions but it wasn’t in that hinterland of lost things. “Nothing is lost in Christian Science!” I said aloud three times. I started to search again but then the phone rang. I went out to the kitchen and answered it.
“Hey…” it was Scooter.
“Hi. What’s going on?”
“Have you ever read The Mayor of Casterbridge?”
“Cry the Beloved Cunty?” he laughed.
“By Larry Flynt?”
“No, someone named Alan Paton…” I could hear him riffling the pages of a book.
“No. Wait…maybe…but I don’t remember it. Why?”
“I’m supposed to read them…by Monday.”
Monday was less than a week away.
“Well, the Paton book is about someone looking for their son or something in South Africa,” I said, “that’s all I remember.”
“You wanna come with me tomorrow while I get some CliffsNotes?”
“Sure. I might have the CliffsNotes for Cry the Beloved Country…”
“That would be awesome. Take a look. It’ll save me five bucks.” He laughed again.
“Let’s go to Filene’s too. I gotta get some new school clothes.”
“We can hit Paperback Booksmith at Liberty Tree—”
“Oh, I was thinking Filene’s in town…”
“Oh, Mike,” he sighed, “I don’t want to go all the way into town.”
“We could go to Stairway to Heaven—” A pause I couldn’t read.
“That’s kid’s stuff…”
“No, it’s not!”
“Fine,” I said, tamping my irritation. “No, really it’s fine. I just need pants, not a bong.”
We agreed to talk the next day but when we hung up, I felt a little stab in my heart. He didn’t want to do something that yes, was essentially “kid’s stuff.” The official end of some kind of era, I supposed...