WRITING NUMBER 27
Where am I now? More important, where is everyone else?
Finding Tom does not concern me as he is off making money with Dennis or attending sports’ events or talking about sports or reading about sports in the newspaper or overeating or drinking and trying to find a pretty woman and arrange a time to have sex together.
As for Dennis, he seems likable but I barely know Dennis, so if he is with Tom that is good enough for me for now. Maybe Dennis and Tom are having a nasty disagreement as they do some times and their partnership is in serious financial trouble again. I should look into their business difficulties but I have more important matters to write about right now. And those more important matters that are so pressing, what are they? Yes, a good question.
How about the others? How about Mr. Sheen and Bertie and Andrea? Andrea and the others are somewhere too, they are somewhere driving around and trying to park as are we all, floating around or going anxiously from here to there until one ordinary day, and unexpectedly for some of us, we die.
By this time, I am confident Mr. Sheen, reported his conversation with Andrea to Bertie. I am equally confident that Bertie asked Mr. Sheen questions that were impossible for him to answer, such as the name of Andrea’s real-estate firm. When Mr. Sheen had answered Bertie’s first three questions with the same simple, “I don’t know,” Bertie expressed her exasperation.
“Did you speak to the woman very long, Mr. Sheen?”
“Certainly long enough to get more answers than I needed.”
“But it doesn’t sound like she said very much to you.”
“Do you want to ask these questions to her yourself, Miss Bertie?”
“Do you mean call her?”
“Did she leave her number?”
“Yes she did.”
“Oh dear. Was she pleasant to you?”
“I would say she was.”
“This real-estate business is very disturbing news to me, Mr. Sheen. I don’t trust what real-estate people say.”
“I told her you didn’t.”
“It’s because real-estate people think too much about money.”
“Many of them do, that’s true, but that’s a different problem than the one we’re dealing with here.”
“I don’t know if I should call her. What do you think?”
“I can’t say, Miss Bertie.”
“It’s unfair that I ask you, I know it is, but I do need to think about the future of these poor buildings.”
“I know you’re very concerned about them. I told her that.”
“And my son, you know he’s not being helpful, you appreciate how unhelpful Tom is to me.”
“I can’t say anything bad about Tom, Miss Bertie.”
“I know you can’t, Mr. Sheen. I don’t mean to go on and on.”
“That’s quite all right.”
“I want to thank you for listening to an old woman’s worries.”
“I’m as old as you or nearly, Miss Bertie. Nothing the matter with being old. Some work takes me longer but I still get my work done.”
“It’s just I’m worried that Tom is heartless. I wish he would do more for the people who live here. I wish he would take an interest in other people.”
“I know that’s what preys on you.”
End of writing number 27
WRITING NUMBER 28
Is Bertie close to death? I had not thought Bertie was close to death, yet she sounded as if she wanted to put her affairs in order.
“You know what, Dennis? Listen, don’t upset yourself. I’ll make sure there are signs with arrows, and when my mother dies, I’ll cremate her around five in the afternoon and throw the staff something extra so they smile. How’s that sound? We can go out for drinks and dinner afterwards on the money I saved from not taking the time to bury my mother properly. That way her cremation won’t be an unremitting agony and a total waste of your day.”
The last time Bertie saw her doctor he told her she had the heart and lungs of a horse and one day someone would have to walk her behind the barn to shoot her. Either someone would have to shoot her, he said, or one day like any other day an artery would burst in her brain, or in her neck, and she would just drop down dead in a restaurant in a pool of her own urine. Nothing to worry about either way. Bertie had told these prognoses to her son, and Tom had repeated them to Dennis.
“That doctor called your mother a horse?” Dennis asked concerned. “Horses are strong animals, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, except for their front legs.”
“Still, sounds to me like you won’t get an inheritance any time soon,” was Dennis’s observation.
“Doesn’t look like it.”
“Were you counting on your mother’s money?”
“I can always use money, Dennis. Can’t you?”
“What do you think I’m talking about? I’m talking about grabbing her money.”
“I thought you were talking about my mother and how sorry you would be when an artery burst in her neck and she died pissing all over the floor in a crowded restaurant.”
“I am talking about being sorry that your mother’s going to die soon, slightly, but I’m also talking about you not being a sucker.”
“A sucker huh? What do you want me to do, Dennis? You want me to kill my mother if she breaks her hip so we can pay a few vendors?”
“Hey, what kind of talk is that?”
“Your kind. You want me to tie a plastic bag over my mother’s head and suffocate her in her bathtub so some of these bastards will get off our backs?”
“You’re criminally insane, Tommy. Seriously, where do those suggestions come from? I like your mother. I don’t want her to die. But people die. What can anyone do about it? Everybody dies.”
“You like my mother?”
“Yes, I do. I think she’s feisty. I think your mother’s got guts. Plus she’s pretty.”
“Pretty? She’s eighty-five years old.”
“I don’t care.”
“So why don’t you ever visit my mother if you think she’s pretty and you like her guts?”
“And do what with her?”
“I don’t know. Do what guts-loving pretty people do when they visit each other. Take her out to dinner. Take her out for a fish dinner. My mother likes red snapper cooked in ginger.”
“Just your mother and me?”
“Yeah, just the two of you for a candle-lit fish dinner on the shore.”
“All right, I will.”
“So go ahead. And over your romantic candle-lit dinner of ginger snapper you can take her pretty hand, look in her pretty eyes and ask her, ‘How you feeling, Bertie, you feeling good? Listen, tell the truth, how you feeling really? Do you feel light-headed sometimes like you’re about to lose your balance? How’re the arteries in your neck? That one in front looks swollen. Is it supposed to look light blue like that and throb? Have you ever thought about wearing two pairs of thick underpants in case you have an accident? Here’s what I want to ask you: you gonna die soon? Your doctor said you would die in a restaurant but do you think it will be tonight in this restaurant? I was interested in how much money Tom was coming into when you die because we’re having financial problems in the office and I should call him before you keel over.’”
“I had none of that in my mind, Tom, I swear to you.”
“I didn’t. I wanted to know if you would pay for an expensive burial or you were gonna burn your mother’s body. That’s all I wanted to know.”
“Really huh, who you kidding.”
“Are you gonna burn your mother or not? Why can’t you answer my question?”
“I will burn my poor dead mother, Dennis, if that’s really your question, yes. My family burns its dead. We burned my poor dead father, he burned his poor dead sister, and I will burn my poor frail dead widowed mother. What do you think I’d do? Pour thousands of dollars into an expensive funeral with an open casket like a fool when we have bills choking us? Who would want to come to that type of pretentious funeral? Would you come?”
“How could I not come to your mother’s funeral if you asked me? Of course I would come. I like your mother. I told you that. You should believe me.”
“Well you can come to her cheap cremation.”
“If you invite me, of course I will. I went to a cheap cremation once though I can’t remember much that was good about it. It was pretty unorganized so nobody knew where to go at first and we mourners just wandered about from the front hallway to the reception room trying to avoid each other’s eyes. Then when the ceremony finally started it didn’t last long, just the grief-stricken family members crying around a furnace in a cellar.
“Some of the family were whispering there should be more ceremony and that someone should at least say a few words. But what more ceremony could there be? They were all atheists or semi-Buddhists, you know?
“The poor guys working the furnace tried not to look impatient, but they were impatient, they couldn’t help it, it was late in the day. God damn this life! It’s agonizing the death of a loved one! Even a pet! I can’t stand death, Tommy, I really don’t want to have anything to do with it. But I’ll come to your mother’s cremation if you want me to. Just put up a sign or two, with arrows if you can, so people will know where to go. I’m sure everyone will appreciate that.”
End of writing number 28
WRITING NUMBER 29
I have no idea what to write now.
I wanted Andrea to talk to Dan her boss about Bertie’s buildings, but their conversation sounded so false I had to throw it out after two days of work. Better to be silent than false!
But is honest silence better? This honest silence that is so much better has turned impenetrable and I have not been able to write anything for days.
End of writing number 29
WRITING NUMBER 30
Yesterday was another ghastly day of honest silence without one line of progress and today is shaping up to be another one just like it. Yesterday I was fortunate to discover there were some long hairs on my chest that needed to be pulled out.
End of writing number 30
WRITING NUMBER 31
When Bertie finally telephoned Andrea so much time had passed and Bertie was so unclear that Andrea did not remember what property Bertie was talking about.
“You met my property manager, Mr. Sheen, two months ago,” Bertie prodded her. “At my apartment buildings.”
“Oh, yes! I liked him so much! How is Mr. Sheen?”
“I don’t know,” Bertie answered suspiciously. “Why do you ask how he is? Did he look ill?”
“No, nothing like that. At least I didn’t notice anything.”
“Did he mention his high blood pressure?”
“No, but I didn’t talk to him long.”
“Mr. Sheen told me you did talk long.”
“Did he? But I wasn’t with him more than ten minutes!”
“I see. The problem is you don’t know what long means. You talked much longer to Mr. Sheen than he would have liked. If you talked ten minutes or even two minutes, you talked too long to him.”
“Is that what he told you? That I talked too long?”
Bertie stopped responding and the line went so silent that Andrea thought she had been disconnected.
“I’m still here,” said Bertie. “I was thinking what to say so as not to hurt your feelings. You should know whether you talk too long, dear. People give signals, even polite people give signals that their attention is fading and you’re irritating them by assuming they want to listen to you. My buildings are not for sale right now. But call me on the weekend if you want to talk more about them, at this number.”
“OK,” said Andrea doubtfully, and she took down Bertie’s number.
End of writing number 31
When Andrea told her boss, Dan Albero, about her difficult conversation with Bertie, Dan answered, “What was difficult about it? That phone call doesn’t sound difficult to me. That sounds like work. That’s what real-estate work is, Andrea, moving someone or something from one point to someplace else.”
Dan shook his head dissatisfied and told Andrea to give him the file on Bertie’s buildings. He would follow through with them from here on.
When Andrea said that the difficulty was there was no way to communicate with Bertie, Dan leaned forward and told her, “No no no, you’re wrong. Listen to me, Andrea, there is always a way to talk to someone. Always. Don’t you think so?”
Andrea shook her head and said, “Not in this case.”
“Why not?” asked Dan and Andrea explained that Bertie was eccentric.
Dan sat silent staring into space his lips tight, his eyes hard and said, “Will I have to take care of this Bertie woman myself, is that what you’re telling me?”
Andrea said she would call Bertie back if Dan wanted her to but she would have to call her on the weekend.
“The weekend? What is that about? Why the weekend? What’s the matter with Monday through Friday?”
“I don’t know.”
“How can you not know, Andrea? Didn’t you ask this Bertie why?”
“No, I didn’t, Dan.”
“Why didn’t you?”
But before Andrea could answer, Dan said, “You see? You said something to me I didn’t understand so I’m asking you a question about what you said because I want to find out an answer from you. I want a clarification. Why didn’t you ask this Bertie for a clarification?”
“I don’t know why I didn’t ask Bertie for a clarification, Dan,” Andrea said, fighting back her anger at being talked to as a ten-year old. “I just didn’t. Maybe because it was the end of the conversation. But I don’t know why I didn’t ask her and I don’t know why it matters.”
End of writing number 32
End of writing number 33
WRITING NUMBER 34
I once heard a writer who was capable of finishing a narrative say that his “narrative wrote itself”. One day, after many many futile days alone in the library, days filled with determination that just sat there heavy and empty and determined, his narrative simply wrote itself wonderfully through his hands just like that, page after page. He had simply been its “vessel”, that is how he explained his successful writing experience to us eager listeners, simply a “vessel”.
How pleased this writer had been with himself and his achievement, and rightly so, as if he and his narrative were part of a grand literary plan that had placed him, his celestial talent, and his narrative within it.
The narrative I am writing clearly does not belong to any such plan, celestial, literary, grand or otherwise, nor do I. Not only does this narrative steadfastly refuse to write itself, this narrative is doing what it can to prevent itself from being written.
But we will continue to thrash away at each other, this narrative and I, to see if we can write it a little more.
End of writing number 34
WRITING NUMBER 35
When Andrea called Bertie on Saturday, Bertie told her, “Some unpleasant man from your office has been leaving me messages. I wish he would stop.”
“Yes of course. But please try to come with me, Andrea. Please try. Dennis makes crude jokes and dinner with him is certain to be extremely unpleasant. Having you there would be such a help to me.”
“Well,” Andrea began, unsure of herself because she did not want to sound critical of Dan, “that was Dan, my boss. I tried to tell him not to call you during the week but he wouldn’t listen to me. He has his own way of doing things.”
“Are you partial to him?” asked Bertie. “You sound like you are.”
“Partial? I don’t know what you mean.”
“Do you go out with him on dates for example? Are you partial to him that way?”
“No, oh no! Dan’s just my boss. He’s much older.”
“Good. My son’s partner is taking me to dinner next Saturday and I never know what to say to him. The problem is, Andrea, he’s crude. This dinner is certain to be awful. Will you please join us? His name is Dennis. Can you join us? You would be helping me if you did.”
“I don’t know if I can,” said Andrea at a loss. “Can I call you back and let you know?”
End of writing number 35
WRITING NUMBER 36
But Andrea did not call Bertie back and when Bertie tried to call her again, Andrea was unavailable and did not return her call. After Bertie’s second call that Andrea also failed to return, Bertie called Tom at his office.
“Tom, I need you to do a favor for me. It’s important.”
Tom remained silent.
“Tom? Are you paying attention to me?”
“Go ahead, Mother.”
“Is Dennis there?”
“No. Why do you want to know where Dennis is?”
“I don’t want Dennis to hear what I’m saying to you.”
“Well, he’s not here. So what’s up?”
“Dennis invited me to dinner.”
“I know he did. I told him to.”
“You suggested it? How could you do that to me? I don’t want to go to dinner with Dennis!”
“Look, Mother, Dennis told me he liked you. He thinks you’re pretty.”
“He said no such thing!”
“Yeah, he did. So what? Come on, Mother, what’s up? What do you want?”
“There’s a woman I’ve spoken to a few times, she works in real estate. She’s very bright and sweet-natured. Are you listening to what I’m saying?
“I would like her to join us for dinner because I don’t know what to say to Dennis. I really don’t, Tom. I don’t understand Dennis’s jokes. I’m sorry but I don’t find what he says funny. I know I should but I don’t.”
“Dennis’s jokes are not difficult to understand, Mother.”
“They are for me, Tom.
“Can’t you just accept that Dennis is a cruel immature man who makes fun of other people?”
“Telling me Dennis’s humor is cruel doesn’t help me, Tom. I already know it’s cruel. That’s what bothers me.”
“Look, some people find Dennis’s jokes very funny, Mother. They find them topical and up-to-date.”
“Maybe so, Tom, but I have tried to understand Dennis’s jokes and I haven’t been able to and he makes me uncomfortable.”
“Is this call about Dennis’s jokes or your crappy apartment buildings?”
“Why do you ask that? Because this woman works in real estate?”
“Well, yeah, Mother, that’s all the information I have from you. She’s in real estate and she’s bright and sweet-natured, which are exaggerations probably.”
“As a matter of fact, she is involved with my apartment buildings, possibly.”
“Can’t you just walk over to her office and meet her?”
“Go to her office and meet her for me. She won’t return my calls.”
“If she won’t return your calls, Mother, what do you think that means?”
“Please, Tom, go to her office for me.”
“I heard you ask me to do that, Mother, and you heard my response. What do you think repeating it is going to do except irritate me?”
“Can’t you do it as a favor to your mom? I don’t ask very much from you.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah! Fine, I’ll go over there. But don’t call me again for a month. I mean it.”
“I’m telling you I don’t want to speak to you for a month. I don’t care if you’re bleeding in the street or your apartment’s on fire and all your clothes burned off your body. Don’t call me. Call the police or the Red Cross but don’t call me.”
“I don’t care if you’re having a heart attack.”
“I won’t call you, Tom. I promise I’ll leave you to stew in yourself until the Fourth of July. Just go meet her for me, please.”
“What’s the address?”
“Her name’s Andrea. Don’t you like her name? It’s not gloomy and thick like Glenda.”
“What are you bringing Glenda up for?”
“I’m not. I’m only comparing their names, Tom.”
“Right, names. Fine. Andrea. What’s the address?”
When Dennis returned to the office, Tom greeted him with, “You fucking superior sarcastic bastard. God damn you.”
“What’s up? Trouble?”
“My mother called me.”
“So? How is she?”
“How would I know?”
“What is it? Some problem with dinner?”
“Yeah. She doesn’t understand your humor, Dennis.”
“Your mother said that?”
“Yeah. Your jokes aren’t funny and you make her uncomfortable.”
“Your mother said that about me?”
“I’m telling you what my mother said to me, Dennis, all right? Stop asking me!”
“Hey, take it easy, Tommy. I’ll have a scotch with your mother before dinner and I’ll say something to the bartender ahead of time so he pours her heavy.”
“I should have thought of that,” Tom said nodding. “That’s a good idea, load my eighty-five year old mother up with liquor so she’ll like you. Yeah. Good idea, Dennis. That’s original. Fuck!”
“What’s up? What else? What’s the matter with you?”
“I told my mother your jokes were cruel.”
“So? Who cares? Not me.”
“I told her you were immature and you liked to make fun of other people.”
“Right, yeah, Tom, good. All that’s true. And? Some people like my jokes, Tom.”
“I told her that.”
“Some people find my jokes smart. Some other people say, ‘Dennis swings!’ Tommy. Any of those responses come up in your conversation?”
“I told her you were up-to-date. She didn’t care.”
“Really?” Dennis asked worried. “Your mother didn’t care I was up-to-date? But up-to-date is good, Tommy. Isn’t it?”
“For you and the kids you hang around with maybe but not for her.”
“All right, I’ll tone my humor down for your mother.”
“Like hell you will!”
“All right, I know, I won’t, I’m just saying that, but we’ll work it out your mother and I. It’s just a fish dinner by the shore for a couple of hours. How bad can it be if there aren’t a lot of bones? We’ll talk about, who knows, fish sauces or what color wine to order, you know stupid impersonal stuff. Here, look, I’ll take a huge risk and ask her what you were like growing up.”
“Good luck. She wants to invite some unknown girl because she can’t bear sitting alone with you for an entire meal.”
“Really, a strange girl huh? Am I that bad to sit with?”
“To some people you are, Dennis, that’s certain.”
“So your mother can bring the girl, I don’t give a shit. I’ll pay for her too, don’t worry about it.”
“You’re unbelievable to me. You think paying for this girl’s dinner is the problem? A thirty-five, forty-five dollar plate of some shitty fish?”
“Paying could be a problem. It’s not for me but maybe it is for your mother.”
“My mother has enough money to buy that restaurant’s parking lot and its marina.”
“So what then, if not the money, what is it, Tom? The girl can come, I’ll pay for her or not, I don’t care, and maybe this girl’ll like my jokes.”
“That’s right she just might. And maybe the way into my humor is not to be eighty-five years old. Did your mother ever pause to consider that if you’re under eighty-five my jokes are funny?”
“You really believe that’s a possibility, huh? You think you have a nineteen-twenty-forty-nine-seventy year old appeal? Your humor has nothing to do with age. You’re mean, that’s your appeal, Dennis.”
“You like my jokes, don’t you?”
“So I’m immature too, fuck it already! But I don’t celebrate it! What’s the matter with you? Are you dense about who you are?”
“Come on, take it easy, I’ll study up on maturity before I meet your mother and I’ll try to grow up a little. All right? I’ll study how to be silent and listen.”
“Study whatever you want. I’ve got to go meet this unknown female real estate broker, god damn her! So she can shield my mother from you!”
“Yeah, this bitch won’t return my mother’s calls so I have to go find her in her who-knows-where real-estate office because the only jokes you know how to tell are cruel ones that appeal to the immature.”
“So that’s it. Your mother’s making you meet this girl and you believe she’s making you meet her because I’m immature. Is that it?”
“That’s a tough one. I’d be furious about it too and take my anger out on a friend. Your mother asked you to go to this girl’s office for her?”
“That is fucked up on your mother’s part in my opinion. I like your mother but she is way out of line here. Why didn’t you tell her no?”
“She’s my mother, Dennis.”
“I know she is, but still, does that make you her sucker? She sends you to a real estate office unannounced like that? You’re going to look ridiculous, Tom, walking into an office filled with real-estate brokers.”
“But do you? Talk about nasty and sadistic humor, stock brokers and real estate brokers invented it. They’re like cows in a field, those people. When someone enters their area, they all look up and stare. Those brokers have very little to do except stick pins into someone, and that someone’s going to be you this time. A human pin cushion, that’s asking a little too much from you isn’t it, even for a mother?”
“Fuck it, fuck it…this girl’s name’s Andrea.”
“So what? Since when does it matter to me that a girl has a name? If I ever have a daughter you know what I’ll name her, Tom? I’ll name her ‘Girl’ or ‘L’ll Girl’. Or maybe ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’.
“I’ll say, ‘Hey, L’ll Girl, come hug your smelly daddy home from work and give him a big sloppy kiss on his lips. Look at all the money I made just for you and your mom and you and your mom and me and your mommy and you.’ I’ll throw fifties and hundreds all over the floor and call her to me to kiss me like that until she’s an overweight fifty-five year old, and twice divorced. Until she’s overweight, diabetic, and sixty-five or seventy I’ll throw hundred dollar bills at my L’ll Girl’s feet so she can buy rich foods that make her obese and diabetic. My obese L’ll Girl, daddy’s obese sweetheart.
“You don’t call that a father’s love, Tom, loving an obese kid with undiagnosed diabetes and asthma? That’s where my humor comes from, Tommy, from real life in this great misguided country of ours, this America, and from love. My humor comes from love and compassion for obese American children and for people of all races, not from cruelty and immaturity, from love, that’s the secret of its youthful appeal. You should tell your mother that next time you talk to her.”
End of writing number 36