“A man of letters is the enemy of the world.”
— Charles Baudelaire
Presently the terrace filled with literate types as if a tour bus had just dropped off a load of poetry tourists. Wendt was known to about half of those in the crowd, either by reputation or acquaintance. He searched the faces for ones that he had not seen in a while. There were many nods of chins and waves of hand when they caught his eye. Those he owed money he discreetly avoided. He spotted the Gonzales twins, Jorge and Luis, the rising stars in the gay Latino literary scene. They were like mannequins, perfectly posed, every move of the head or hand was designed to be yet in another sequence of narcissistic statements. They could have cared less about Charles St Charles. They were there to be seen. An earnest young man with pleading eyes spoke sincerely to St Charles whose cheeks appeared rigid with boredom and having heard it all before. He saw that Wendt was watching and gave a grim smile which totally confused the acolyte as it was obviously the wrong reaction to what he was saying.
Wendt caught sight of Andy Porter in a long tweed overcoat and tan scarf at the edge of the crowd. When he saw Wendt he pushed past a knot of bodies and came to stand behind him. Andy was almost as tall as Wendt with a bedraggled mop of ginger brown hair and a scraggly chin beard. His eyes were the color of glee, but he was young. “Hey, old man.”
“Andy, haven’t seen you in a while, what you been up to?”
Porter shrugged, “It’s a long story.”
“Did you go hear St. Charles?” His tone was moderately incredulous. He knew that St. Charles was not Porter’s cup of tea.
“No, no, my granny’s birthday. We went out to dinner.” He held his coat open to display the suit and tie.
“Yeah. Marta texted me. ‘The party is going to Enrico’s.’ So I made my excuses, and here I am.” The noise level had risen to the point that made conversation difficult. “Let’s get together sometime this next week.”
Wendt nodded and made the mental note that he could wait till midweek to hit Porter up for a loan. “How about the BeBop on Clement?”
“Thursday, ok? 12:30, 1?”
Wendt nodded again and then understood that he could no longer stand the complaints of his bladder. The fresh faced documentary maker was engaged with another fresh face, a young woman who by the cut of her jib seemed to be bright and intelligent. He would hate to have to break that up but that’s what he planned. When he got back from the men’s room.
He stood up and motioned Andy to the chair. “Porter, save my chair till I get back.”
Andy dropped obligingly into the seat and turned to talk to the person sitting next to him. Stoddard grabbed Wendt’s arm. “You’re not leaving, are you, buddy?” He said it with a jerk of his head toward the filmmaker who looked like he was about to fall into the wide pools of the girl’s eyes.
“Naw, gotta go to the can.”
He pushed the door open to the lavatory. It was a typical square grey tiled affair, one wide stall, wheelchair compliant, and a urinal. A man was standing at the urinal, his head cocked toward the door. Another man stood at the small sink and ran water over his hands. The man was Reginald Meyer, former book editor for the daily. “Hey, Reg,” Wendt said as he tested the door to the stall.
“Fuck you, Wendt!”
“Get over it, Reg.”
“Occupied,” came a voice from the closed stall. The man at the urinal was zipping up and Wendt stepped to the urinal. The man considered waiting for the sink but thought better of it catching a glimpse of Meyer’s contorted goatee in the mirror. “If I had a gun I’d shoot you!” Meyer punched the hand dryer. It gave a metallic cough and then a high pitched whine.
“If you had a gun, you’d shoot your dick off.” Wendt answered, smiling to himself and emptying his tank. He shouldn’t hold it for so long. It couldn’t be good for him.
“What did you say?” Meyer’s tone was pugnacious. He was a short man with close cropped grey hair and a lopsided goatee who believed that everyone slighted him because of his height and the chip on his shoulder was there to make him appear taller.
Wendt had turned and was zipping up. Meyer, stiff as a stake, both hands clenched at his sides, didn’t notice the door being pushed open.
“You want to do what? Reg, how I could respect you after that?” He laughed and pushed past the man entering who by his startled look wasn’t quite sure what he’d stumbled into.
Wendt felt the need for a cigarette. He glanced at the packed terrace. The waiters were frantically trying to get to as many people as possible. They were anticipating a good night of tips, both proffered and accidental. Some of the crowd had wandered into the dining area of the bistro. Surely someone among all the assembled must have a cigarette, a cigarette and a spare twenty? That didn’t seem too much to ask.
The redhead at the bar had fixed him with a stare. When she noticed that he noticed she smiled slowly as if reeling in a line. Wendt was congenitally curious. He ambled over to where she was standing. “Got a cigarette?”
That might not have been exactly what she was expecting. So she smiled a wary smile. “Yes, I do.” She placed a large designer purse in the space on the bar between them. “Do you mind filters?” and dug into the recesses of the black leather bag. The bag matched her sleek black dress with the cowl collar that essentially acted as a basin to collect the flow of her luxuriant carrot colored hair. She had a round pale face not overly made up so she wasn’t ashamed of her freckles. She reminded him of that ginger bird who had married into the Royal Family, what was her name, probably a Scotty, too. “Oh damn,” she swore and held up an empty pack. “Do you think they sell them here at the bar? I could buy another.”
Wendt didn’t reply, transfixed by the abyss of her ample cleavage. She held out her hand. “Let me introduce the rest of myself. Hi, I’m Kathleen McNamara. Everyone calls me Mac.”
“Mac, a true pleasure to meet you, I’m Carl. . . .”
“Yes, I know, Carl Wendt. I asked the clerk at the bookstore who you were. I was there when you popped in earlier this evening.”
“I must have been blind.”
“I even bought your book.” She reached into her bag again and retrieved a paper bag with the store logo on the front. She held the book out to him as proof. “Would you sign it?” And produced a pen from her purse as well.
Wendt flipped open to the title page of Synthetic Lament and poised the pen, “Katy was it?”
“Mac is fine, I haven’t been Katy since I was in pigtails.”
She was only a few inches shorter than Wendt and fixed him with her slate green eyes. He smiled and handed her the book. “That couldn’t have been too long ago.”
She showed him her perfect white teeth like the cream filling of a scarlet icing pastry. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”
Meyer had come out of the men’s room and made a point of coming over to spit a final “Fuck you, Wendt!”
Mac raised an eyebrow in near censure.
Wendt shrugged, “A fan.”
The barman shook his head, and pointed in a direction up the street in answer to Wendt’s question. “No, we don’t sell cigarettes here, but you can get them at the convenience store up on the corner of Grant.”
“Why don’t we do that,” Mac said as she pulled a sheer black jacket off the back of the barstool and shouldered her purse.
“Yeah, sure, cool.”
They made their way through the crowd on the terrace. The first thing he noticed was that Jim Shue was no longer at the table nor was the young charmer he’d been talking to. The kid was going to pay him an advance for the interview and now he’d taken off. He was about to get a read on what was going on from Stod when he saw Brezon push his chair back and get unsteadily to his feet. Wendt had seen this routine before. Someone in the crowd must have set him off and he was getting prepared to launch into one of his surrealist tirades that actually owed a lot to the example of Gregory Corso. He also noticed that St Charles, surrounded by his admirers, seemed a little distracted or confused, and when he saw Wendt, managed a wan smile. Wendt waved and Andy waved back thinking he’d waved at him. Andy also flashed a discreet thumbs-up.
As they were about to step to the sidewalk, Courtney La Roche and David Bloom happened to be standing there, trying to decide whether or not they should attempt the crowd. Courtney’s features hardened when she noticed Mac and it gave her smile a slight malicious air. Bloom had an air of anticipation about him and Wendt knew exactly what it meant.
“Mind if I catch you later on that twenty? I had to pay off my bar tab.” He didn’t care if Bloom believed him or not.
He clapped Wendt on the elbow familiarly and said, “Listen, why don’t we just consider that a down payment on your participation in the memorial reading for Ian Blake.” He said it like that would be the end of it.
“I’m going to have to get back to you on that, pal.” Wendt felt like a prick, but now was no time to haggle.
“We’ll be here when you get back.” Courtney said and almost immediately felt stupid.
“Students?” Mac muttered the question as they trudged up the incline to the corner and then up Columbus to Grant.
“Naw, I’m not a professor, never have been. They’re just a couple of kids, writers I know.” He held the door of the liquor store open for her. “I’ve done some bad things in my day. Teaching creative writing isn’t one of them.”
Next Time (2/20/2015): Carl Wendt’s day ends in an all too predictable and familiar fashion.