Saturday, October 09, 2010

A Good Clean, A Harsh Clean: Part IV

It took ten minutes of cursing and two minutes of struggle. After half the block was leaning out their windows with their necks stretched as far as they'd stretch, the old man was finally sitting in the passenger seat. I walked around the pickup and got in, found him talking to himself about how the same assholes who make the cars must make the barstools, too.

"Why do people think they need to drive goddamn tanks? You, I get it, you can't fit in no sedan lookin' like you look. But I'm telling you, nothing scares me more than a soccer mom behind the wheel of a plexiglass Panzer, while her kids are jumpin' around pullin' at her bra straps." He put up a fight with the seatbelt until he realized he didn't care.

"I use this for work. It holds a hell of a lot of tools." Duffel bags and handsaws, mostly. I pulled away from the bar knowing I could never go back there no matter how bad a jones I got for shitty gin. I wasn't about to come down with nostalgia over it.

"You know where you're heading?"

"The bartender filled me in."

"He's got a name, you know. It's Andy. I think. And I didn't hear him do anything of the sort."

The old man was sharp. Sharp for an old man. "Twenty-two Holland Street, fifth floor," I said. It was an easy enough address to remember. Especially when it shows up on an envelope hidden at the bottom of your woman's shoe closet.

"That's it, alright," he said, squinting at the sun.

We passed a cop dicking around by his squad car, meaning we'd have to drive all the way to the building for sure, no stops. A few minutes later and we were there. It was one of those hotels people check into and end up living in until they can't pay anymore or someone smells something coming through the wall. I hadn't expected to ever go back there but there I was, just a few hours after I'd left. Just shows you, you never know where a chore might take you. I helped the old man back down to the ground and we went inside.

The same puffy-eyed kid was behind the window in the lobby with headphones plugging up his ears. Flyers were hanging around his head advertising girls with limbs twisted in uncomfortable poses, laying between red phone numbers. I recognized one of them. She'd had a good body but a total lack of dedication. I tried to sneak the old man past but the kid noticed and looked up from his book, taking his headphones out.

"'re back," he said. He seemed to live in slow-motion, like his button got stuck.

"Don't know what you mean. Just bringing my friend here upstairs."

"No. Yeah. You were here already, before."

"Afraid not, kid, I'm not even from around here." I attempted a smile.

"What? No-"

"How many times," the old man blurted, "how many times have I told you to stop smoking that shit?"

The kid looked at me, then back at the old man. "A couple," he admitted.

"You only remember a couple but I tell you every goddamn time I come. By all means, chew and snort whatever you need to, but lay off the smoke. It's destroying your ability to be a helpful dipshit instead of just a plain ol' nitwit dipshit." He went on walking, leaving the kid to his headphones and book and confusion and embarrassment and just a little suspicion. Our eyes met until they didn't.

The hallway still stunk like it was someone's job to throw up in it. I had expected to see a clock where a guy punched in and got to work, but instead there was an elevator and next to that a dinged-up wheelchair. I'd seen it before, wondered who it belonged to. The old man was already lowering himself into it, again with ugly sounds. Then he leaned back to slap blindly at the call button. I came over and pressed it, asked him if he was stealing someone's chair.

"No, no, it's mine. Malcolm leaves it for when I come over." There was a ping and then the elevator opened. I wheeled him in and shoved myself in, too. It was small and I could feel it complain as the door slid closed and as it did the old man said, "That idiot at the front is always trying to throw this thing out, but every time he does Malcolm takes it right back. I tell you, sometimes it's good to have an asshole on your side."

I pressed for the fifth floor. "Have you thought about what happens when he's not here?"

"If. If he's not here. Christ, try to be positive about things."

"I'm pretty positive."

Searching his pants pockets in clumsy stabs, he chuckled. "Friend, pretty and positive are two things you certainly are not." He pulled out his hand to reveal a rusty key with a yellow twist tie looped through the hole. He held it up, showed it to me, victorious. "Don't worry, you're not stuck with me."

When the elevator hit the fifth it dipped down as if right at the finish line it had given up and was ready to snap from its cable and tumble all the way back down the shaft. There was a hesitation, a real quiet one. Then the five light pinged and the door opened and I wheeled the old man out. I could almost hear the thing sigh as my feet came off it.

We rolled to Five-Fourteen and the old man pushed up in the chair to knock on the door. When there was no answer he did it again, this time with angry shouting. Then he used the key. "Don't know where this boy disappears to," he mumbled as the door swung in.

"Maybe he's at the beach."

It was a cheap shot, even if he didn't know it. I pushed him inside and locked the door behind me.

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