Croe stops by. From the kitchen sink I see him in the alley, lifting the lids off the garbage cans. He bends over and peers in, the lid held above him. He appears to breathe deeply but rising he looks neither disapproving or satisfied. He holds the lid to the sky, as if to check its roundness against known bodies heaven and earth.
Inside he shows interest in our books and albums. It occurs to me that I saw neither at his apartment. He picks out a book and holds it in both hands, appearing to judge by balance; older selections he smells. I stand by him with two cups of coffee. He uses much the same routine with the albums. He takes a series of deep breaths, directional things, aimed first at the bookshelves, then an open window, finally at the cups of coffee. He takes one. We sigh more or less in unison.
He looks at me. It’s important that I see your bedroom, he says.
I wait outside, with the door open. Listening. I hear no movement other than an occassional sip. After a while he emerges. This is good coffee.
Of course. He has a copy of my book in his hand. Suddenly frowning he says : There’s a woman sleeping outside on an abandoned mattress. It’s summer someplace hot, possibly Louisiana, there’s cicadas screaming and a small rodent tugging at her foot. She keeps sleeping. A light rain falls. She wakes, stretches. She tugs at a piece of thread on her leg and the thread grows longer and she touches her face in a gesture of charmed surprise and she keeps pulling and her legs begins to unravel and she keeps pulling and the flesh of her leg unravels in rows like a sweater and the force of her pulling exposes the weave of her flesh in augmenting rows against the glowing field of red of her muscle and she looks at me for the first time and I can only stand there and shrug and there is nothing else to do but keep pulling.
After a moment I ask, Can we go over a few things now?
Can I smoke in here?
What’s on your mind?
I’m wondering when we get to some facts. And if that’s out of the question, then can I just start making things up?
I sense some frustration.
You do, yes.
You’re making me sleepy. He opens my book and looks at the words briefly. He closes it. Let’s go shopping.
I look at him. Ok.
We go in his car. Driving is difficult for me but there seems to be no choice. Croe gets in the passenger side and slouches with the book. His car is a ‘63 Continental, with the suicide doors, a convertible, government black. The size of it bespeaks an expansiveness no longer present in urban America. Streets crowd it, light alloy imports buckle in its gravity. I feel conspicuous. Croe slouches against the door, his fingertips just in reach of the radio, his LBJ frame sunglasses a redundant irony. I should have guessed you were a Lyndon Johnson fan, I say.
He quotes When you have a mother-in-law with only one eye, and that eye is in the middle of her forehead, you dont keep her in the livingroom.
He fiddles with the radio.
Have you ever mowed a lawn?
Dozed in a hammok. Delivered the Sunday paper.
He looks at me.
I’m curious about how you happened in this country.
Not in a suburb. He gestured at the road. Try and keep it at least at an even thirty. This isn’t the motorcade model.
Let’s try some free-association.
How about you run over that old lady and I tell you what the stain reminds me of. For fucksake Wim. You drive like I watercolor. I thought you said you were from the east coast.
I havent driven in a while. Where are we going?
I dont see any coffee stands. He flattens his nose with his palm. I read your book you know. What were you thinking?
When I was starving in New York, no matter how lovingly I made a spam sandwich, it was still a spam sandwich.
You know I got a ballot in the mail about Spam. Vote yes or no on Spam. Just a simple postcard.
Wait, I think this might tie in to your analogy. Spam is a sort of boundary, a caution flag of cultural or economic distress. Society has a way of not only marking but drawing attention to your progress within it. The ridicule Spam has endured almoist guarantees its permanence in the cosmic fugue.
You said almoist. Here, park here. I want to show you something, Cosmic Fugue.
We walk toward the LZ Gallery. Croe stops at an espresso stand and after considerable banter secures us a ten percent discount. I am impressed by the pointlessness of this. The barista is tall and attractive but the barterting isnt so much flirtatious as confrontational. There is a suggestion that she is part of a bigger problem, but he tips well. Walking away he says I believe by ‘Spam’ they mean unwanted email.
The gallery is narrow but deep and tall, on the first floor of a converted hotel, burnt pastels darkling in pools of corrected light behind huge arched windows and doors bedecked in wrought iron scrollwork. Luz is in the back room watching the unloading of her work from a professional moving van. She is sunken in an expansive couch, wrapped with blankets, nursing a whiskey, her face in the final paleness of nervous exhaustion. A Cuban danzon is playing over the house speakers, quite loud and bright, the piano expansive and intimate in the tall brick space, and I am suddenly very excited about seeing her work. She looks at me suspiciously even as I think this. Croe walks to her, bends at the waist and lays a hand mockingly on her head, like the ironic consolations of a long-time tormentor. Sweetie, he says.
Sweetie yourself. She squints up at him. In her pallor her face is alarmingly midwestern, waspish, although spared from ordinary by the enormity of her irritation. She sees the book and takes it from under his arm and starts leafing through it. Where were you?
Noe gestures at me. In the suburbs with Mr Pewty here.
I had to hire goddam movers. You’re such a horrible cunt, Billy I mean what the fuck Billy? She double swallows. Hi, Wim.
You didn’t bring Rilka?
Shit Wim. I like Rilka. She looks at me for a while but I can no more elaborate than fly. It’s plain I’m disappointing her. How do I explain that none of us had any idea about her show? As if to spare me this she looks at the book again, then at me. Shit, Wimster. You wrote a book.
Five years ago.
She smiles That doesn’t really change the fact does it?
I haven’t gotten a good conversational handle on this yet. Meaning I get really long winded or hostile and silent so careful where you take this. Often it’s a surprise even to me.
I’m like that with my crap. I wont ask you any questions if you don’t say word about anything you see here.
That is a smoking good deal.