Abraham & the Sacrifice from The Hollywood Testament

by | Dec 6, 2016 | Novel Excerpt

 

It was getting late. They lay in bed, Abe and Lydia, him 68 and watching Bonanza, her 57 and reading the Horoscopes in the back of Entertainment Weekly.

Joy is around the corner, Pisces should start planning their BIG adventure,” Lydia said, not looking up from the magazine. “What about Alaska?”

“What about it?” Abe said, remote in hand.

“My one dream,” Lydia said wistfully.

“First of all, it’s not your one dream—” Abe said.

“And Marie in my book group says Alaska is transcendent.”

Abe knew better than to take the bait. For although they played this familiar conversation on infinite rerun, Abe for the life of him could not understand why anybody on earth would want to take a cruise between big, ugly mountains of ice. He wanted to foil her, break the comedy routine. “When I hand over the shop,” he mumbled.

“When you hand over the shop, we’ll both be dead,” Lydia said, peering over the magazine in Thrifty’s reading glasses.

“End of summer,” Abe said. “I’m done. We’ll go.”

With a jerk upright Lydia said, “Talk serious.”

“I wanted to sur-prise you,” he said, sing-songy, still watching Lorne Greene and his lonely-looking horse.

She lowered the glasses on her nose, raised an eyebrow, a gesture of pride. “I’m glad, Abie,” she said. “You deserve it already. And we’ll finally be able to do what this lousy horoscope tells us to do.”

Abe said, “Jewish wife agrees, film at 11,” and clicked the television off as she bonked him on his bald head with the rolled up magazine, then gave the side of his veiny, hard temple a peck. They each closed lamps but even after she stopped marveling and zonked out, Abe did not sleep. And Lord help a man that wants to make his wife happy, for he shall lay in darkness. A 68-year-old man with the last of his unnecessary grey hair, having served in Korea, still happily married after all these years it was true, and in good health, although it was accurate what his wife said, that he weighed a bit too much, but he didn’t look at the scale and on a bad day, if he was really feeling reckless, he just might throw cholesterol to the wind and indulge. But after decades of hard work, didn’t a man earn a little pleasure?

Abraham Kohner owned Cap’n Hook’s Bait & Tackle in Hermosa Beach with his business partner, Bill McGuire. They’d been in the fishing business for 36 years, if you can believe. It was a decent partnership; anyway, they had a rhythm the two of them, another comedy routine. Traditionally, Bill put the money in the register and Abe was the one who said, “Don’t forget your receipt.” It was a living, but Abe, older by a decade, felt good and tired—unrested and tired—and now, he had his sights set on an exit. Also, to cancel the debt.

Cap’n Hook’s was caddy-corner to the Hermosa Pier entrance, a little shanty storefront stocked with Mister Twister hooks, minnow grub, nightcrawlers, and the best collection of Lindy Nets and Van Staal reels south of Missoula, Montana. Plenty of good rods, too—old and new. Sure, it was smallish, behind the counter there was barely a place to sit, but prices were fair and it was clean—Abe swept out the dragged-in sand at closing time because sand brought fungus and fungus brought ants, spiders, baby crabs, and worms that even a fish won’t eat.

For laughs, McGuire liked to call Abe “Mr. Jew,” but the truth was, Abe was no shabbos gaier—he hadn’t seen the inside of a shul since his old man died of heart failure in ’81. Seemed like ages already. Abe didn’t keep close contact with the family either so naturally he was surprised when, the very next morning in the shop, Hanoch showed up from Israel via Cleveland, walked right into Cap’n Hook’s unannounced.

The Kid was not even Abe’s real nephew. He was Abe’s Uncle Ira’s daughter Jeannie’s kid—Abe guessed that made him a third cousin or something. Jeannie found religion and moved to Jerusalem with the black hats. Hanoch, one of 9 children, broke from the fold—no surprise there. But it was a surprise that he landed in Hermosa Beach. 22 years old, skinny as a string, the Kid walks right in and says, in his choppy English, “Hiya Uncle Abe, you remembering me?” And the scary thing was Abe did—the freckled, rosy-cheeked Kid had that Kohner Dazed Look, like he just got the worst news in the world. A real Yiddishe punim. Abe saw that look in the mirror sometimes and couldn’t stand it. In any case, Abe invited the Kid over for dinner and that night over Lydia’s stuffed cabbage, the Kid pressed for a job. No beating around the bush with this one.

“I’m gonna break into Hollywood,” the Kid said, seating himself at their worn, round dining room table from Levitz Furniture Emporium.

“As a shoplifter?” Abe joked but the Kid didn’t get it.

Lydia doled out cabbage with the big white spoon and laughed. “Hanoch, Abe sells fishing poles. He doesn’t have those kind of connections.”

“I know, Aunt Lydia,” the Kid said, “but this could be a big help until I get good break. In Jaffa, I worked summers at the port—and on the Jordan! I know all about fly floaters, line weights, all dat stuff.”

This freckle-faced kid—Abe wanted to strangle him.

That night Lydia laid out a sleeping bag for Hanoch on the couch. When Abe came up to bed, she said, “Come on, you old grump. Give him good break, see how it goes. One summer. You always said you were sick and tired of pulling the ladder all afternoon.”

Abe groaned behind the Racing Form. Their inability to have children had made Lydia a touch loopy over the years. Abe called it her Little Empathy Problem—she thought the whole damn world was a newborn waiting to be rescued. But above and beyond, Abe didn’t know from what tzedakah box he was gonna pay this kid.

Because what Lydia had never heard was that Abe was already into McGuire for 18K, the remainder on a big fat 25K loan he had secretly taken to refinance the business and remain full partner. With McGuire’s little “sidelines”—his pyramid schemes and god-knows-what-else, he never lacked for extra. McGuire—always pushing, had driven Abe into a corner.

“Where’s this kid gonna stay?” Abe said. “We don’t know any damn Israelis.”

“He’s a boy,” she whispered.

“He’s a 22 year old.”

“I could clean out the sewing room. Move down the mattress from the attic.”

And then, behind her glasses, Lydia delivered a look to Abe that he could only comprehend at the level of mythology. She was like disgruntled Hera, with eyes of fire, summoning for Olympian marital battle. But was he Zeus? He was a Jewish frog; a raging, compassionate, ineffectually rebellious, pitying, yearning, trapped, and furious Jewish frog. His eyelids half-lowered in acquiescence.

Next day, over Cheerios, with Lydia giving the silent treatment and the Kid still snoozing away in the sleeping bag on the sofa, Abe said, “I’ll talk it over with McGuire.”

◘◘◘◘◘◘◘

From the minute the Israeli Kid started working at Cap’n Hook’s, Abe knew it was going to be more trouble than it was worth. In every possible way, the Kid was a nuisance. No sense of order, no sense of decorum. Too cheery, too jumpy, aggressive with the customers. Crazy choices, stupid, inappropriate. He was all wrong.

There were even times that Abe wondered if the Kid might be mildly retarded or half-autistic or something. Customer comes in, the Kid starts hammering him with what a nice day it is. Customer tries to respond, the Kid doesn’t listen, can’t listen. He’s over-exuberant in a way that makes all the old fishermen grimace and scratch their moist, stringy heads.

9am, the Kid is humming Billy Joel—non-stop. Guy enters with a moustache and a windbreaker, checks out the reels up front. The humming goes on and on and on. Guy shoots Abe a funny look like, where’d you find this nut? A little familial protectiveness washes over Abe which he himself would love to dispel, scrape off like fish scales.

The Kid, meanwhile, is oblivious. He finally stops humming just long enough to say “You try Fishin’ Magician, da new model?!” to the man, like he, the Kid, is the first person on planet earth to discover the existence of Fishin’ Magician.

“Oh, sure,” this customer says, humoring him. “Looks purty good.”

“Good?!” the Kid exclaims. “This is best all-around fisher tool all-around!”

The Kid scared the poor shmuck right outta the store!

Ugh. He was pushy, he was disorganized, he was hyper, he was ridiculously fastidious about all the wrong things. To run a simple electric cable from the back room to the lit-up Easter display from Bee-Line Poles, the Kid unraveled an extension cord through a route so circuitous that both Abe and McGuire had twice almost tripped and broken their necks. He was illogical, but not just illogical. He was illogical in a way that Abe had never seen before. He grouped tackle with hooks because they were in the same price range and made a little Point-of-Purchase display for Omega Fly-Ties out of some shoelace and a coat hanger. To Abe’s slight chagrin and slight delight the items sold. They sold OUT.

“This young S.O.B. is a wonder,” McGuire said, throwing his arm around the Kid, who’s meanwhile nodding, agreeing about himself vigorously. McGuire gives him a squeeze and says, “A real shot in the arm.”

Meanwhile, Abe is thinking: Can’t you learn to stand STILL, you crazy-balls? Jesus, the Kid moved like a two-year-old…or a monkey. And incredibly, the Kid gave unsolicited advice like it was everyone else who was a two-year-old! “Don’t pour water like dat, Uncle Abe, you spill dat way,” he said, grabbing the pitcher. “I show you how.” But what Abe positively could not stand the MOST about the Kid was what he came to call his Assumption of Intimacy. With new customers, regulars, and any old shlumper off the street, the Kid started in with personal questions in broken English, started complaining about his Lactose intolerance, the girl back home and what she smelled like, and how Israelis carry toilet paper just for blowing their noses.

Back of the store, end of the day, Abe said, “Look, uh, Hanoch. We think you’re great, you’re doing great.”

“I really like it here, Uncle Abe! I mean, I really starting to get into it.”

“Well, that’s good. And we like the energy,” Abe said, hedging. “But…sometimes…it’s not necessary to get SO stressed out. After all, what are we doing here? It’s fishin’. It’s fun, recreation. It ain’t life and death. To me, it’s bullshit.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Uncle Abe.”

“First of all, I’m not your Uncle. But all I’m saying is—relax a little.”

The Kid, in his Redondo Yacht Club tank top, nodded vigorously, pre-agreeing with himself. “It’s hard to relax when you are so happy!”

Abe glazed over, and, seeing that he was getting nowhere, gave a little conciliatory nod that set the Kid free to straighten the Cal Star and St. Croix rods. Over his shoulder, Abe said, “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

“I watch the shop!” the Kid said over his shoulder.

To be away from the Kid, even for a few hours, was pleasure enough. In the once glorious, now decrepit blue Dodge Dart Swinger, Abe drove to Cal Federal with the week’s checks. He parked and fanned them out like playing cards. All signed. Also he would make out his quarterly money order. It was not nice to have a secret but Lydia had had it with his mishigas, and he couldn’t take chances.

He walked into the bank, weighted down by thoughts of her. For all she didn’t know, Lord knows she had his number. When they married—almost 25 years ago—she looked like a young Elizabeth Evans; that was something. God, she was beautiful. But where Lady Evans got fat over the years, his own wife got sagacious. Lydia in her muumuu gobbled books—psychology, sociology, astrology, and all the other ologies. When children didn’t come, she began to harbor dreams of becoming some kind of a social worker and Abe tried to encourage, but when she flaked out on the GRE he took it harder than she. She went straight back to her pottery, her cactus garden, and her library stack. Her reading group ripped this Phil Roth fellow a new one.

What did Abe know from books? He watched Tiger Woods on the PGA. That’s right, the whole thing. And Lydia, from behind her reading glasses, watched him watching, maybe taken aback that she had married this man who could ingest an entire golf tournament by television.

Inside air-conditioned Cal Fed, the line inched behind velvet rope. Six windows, only three lousy active tellers. Slow tellers, slow customers. Maybe the Kid’s jumpiness was rubbing off. One old broad was crouching at a teller window like a mare at the trough, probably counting her widow-take; she wasn’t going anywhere soon. The other tellers weren’t exactly in a hot rush either. It was almost like induction, this bank-teller setup. First they pretended you didn’t exist, then they waved you down with great ceremony.

His teller was an Asian gal, one of these too-cheery-for-life types. He deposited the store checks into the Cap’n Hook’s account and said, “Lemme make out a money order too—from my personal checking.”

“How much will that be, Mr. Kohner?”

“Uh, six K.”

She fiddled with her computer. “I’m sorry. This will just be one second, Mr. Kohner.”

“What is it?”

“Something on my computer—”

“What, I gotta—”

“No, it’s okay,” she said. “Hold one second.”

Then, she turned and went to talk to the bank manager. With his hairy arms and taut face, he looked like a reformed biker. Whatever it was she was informing him of, he maintained disgruntled-but-kind and maybe not-too-smart, biker-like composure. Abe checked his old black plastic Texas Instruments watch—2:40 blinked in red Liquid Crystal Display. The Kid was manning the shop, the Kid was on duty. A lot of reassurance that gave. What awaited Abe on return, only the Lord knew.

The Asian teller returned, with Mr. Ex-Biker Manager standing behind her. Maybe she was in teller training. “This is actually about your personal account, Mr. Kohner,” she said sympathetically.

“Okay.”

“We had a little check bounce.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Ummmm,”—the reformed Hell’s Angel leaned and single-handedly tabbed through the computer. “That’s a…Geiko Car Insurance. Aaaand, it looks like your wife signed it.”

Abe theatrically rolled his eyes to cover a real roll in the tummy. “Jesus, I’m sorry about that,” Abe said. “I’ll take care of that.”

They thanked him—for what he knew not. He stepped out of Cal Fed onto the hot Hawthorne pavement, composing a speech to Lydia when he realized that he, too, had checks out there—one to Marty at Dodge Imperial, and this month’s Visa. Any minute now, red was gonna get redder.

But he had payments due. Now. It was Monday—Lydia was with her sister-in-law. Only one thing to do: he drove home and snuck in quick, went straight to the basement, behind the tool box and into the LP crate, opened up the American Graffiti soundtrack and shook 6 bills out of the gatefold. The last of his secret stash.

He refilled the record with alphabetical care, like anybody’d notice, and ducked out quick, drove straight to Haley’s in Venice Harlem. A gut-wrencher trip but for his sanity he made it, four times a year.

Up the hinky apartment steps to the second floor, Abe pulled himself past walls of chipped salmon stucco. It was like a motel but worse because no up-keep. Haley opened the door and let out the patchouli. Her Jamaican-style hair was pulled back in a bun, and her dark eyes and chocolate skin were striking. She conveyed strength, but her jaw was lined with ever-so-faint black hairs you almost would call female sideburns. No, she wasn’t a looker, a small, unimportant truth for which Abe always had to kick himself a little because of what he’d done. She greeted him tenderly though, always, and that was what you called luck. The place was a mess, per usual. Tonka, clothes in piles, a stack of bills a mile high. The child—his child—sat on the Persian rug watching something noisy, singing along with the TV. Abe gave the kid a semi-formal shake of the curly hair and the boy semi-smiled up at him, his sweet cocoa face offset by a pair of quizzical, over-concerned eyes—another dazed little Kohner.

“You make me nervous, Abraham, sit down,” Haley said. The walls were decorated with African art, wooden masks and shields, a hanging web of stone beads.

He lifted an empty bag of Snackwells off a chair but still hesitated. “Lunch?” he said.

“You are funny. Abe, sit. Here, drink.” She cracked a Coors and poured into two plastic cups. They sat across from each other at the kitchenette. For fun, he put the cash in the Snackwell bag and handed it to her.

“I wish it was more,” he said.

“You’re a generous man,” she said, peeking in.

“I mean it though,” he said. And to the boy: “How’s kindergarten?”

The boy nodded without turning. Abe must have registered disappointment because his mother said, “Oh, he’s in a trance—that’s how it is if you ain’t the Nash Brothers.”

She picked up Abe’s hand, moved it to the sunny spot in the tender kitchenette daylight. “Hey. Earth to Abe. You alright?”

“Huh?” he said. “No, fine.” Actually, he was watching the boy.

“You need a rest, Abe,” she said. “You wanna take a nap here? You don’t look so good.” She let go of his hand and caressed his face.

“Naw, I’m fine,” he protested. “I’m old. How should an old man look?”

“I don’t know,” she said, drinking her cup. “But life cannot only be sacrifice. You look dog-tired.”

“Yeah, well, a living dog is better than a dead lion,” Abe said, quoting an oldie from God-knows-where.

That night, back in Hawthorne and $6,000 poorer, Abe sat for Lydia’s famous pot roast. The Kid ate with characteristic fork-clanging hyperactivity, like someone grabbing a last bite before rushing off into a bomb shelter. They made a peculiar threesome: She shoveled green peas and carrots onto the Kid’s plate; Abe looked on like he was interrupting.

But Lydia looked happy. Not in a bank teller way. Deeply happy. Seriously happy—maybe for the first time ever. And, along with his quarterly payment to Haley and child fulfilled, Abe felt almost…fatherly. Almost, but not. He tried to eat only 75% but couldn’t resist—when he was done his plate was like the Mojave.

“I’m stuffed,” Abe mumbled.

“So stop eating, you big elephant,” Lydia said.

The Kid laughed and helped himself to seconds.

This—as the philosophers say—was life. Their marriage survived more traumas than most. Forget Korea, for the marriage he should have gotten a Purple Heart. The years of trying to get pregnant and then giving up, and then the humiliation of treatments that didn’t take, and the giving up again. And then she went cold—for years. A man is not a saint. “I don’t care what you do,” was her battle-cry, “just keep it outta my sight.” And he tried. What Abe did outta her sight was barely worth mentioning. Bizarrely, treacherously, Lydia’s open policy felt just like another punishment—a fancy way to say she didn’t want him. Then he met Haley in the little office of the car wash on Manchester and the rest was sorrowful history.

“You wanna ride through?” Haley asked on that cursed afternoon while she rang him up, sitting there behind the mirror trees and Turtle Wax and oval rubber keychains.

“Ride through?” he asked.

“The wash,” she said.

“I’d like to walk through,” he said, to make her laugh.

She did laugh. “You’re ambitious,” she said.

Six months later, she tracked him down, called Cap’n Hook’s. They met at Rick’s Charbroiled in Redondo. The spinning sign said BURGERS “IS” US. She was showing. She cried, but did not manipulate. “I don’t want to disturb your life,” she said.

Traffic whizzed by. Could the baby hear it from her stomach? Abe wasn’t listening. “I don’t run from responsibilities,” he said.

The day after she came back from Kaiser-Permanente, he visited, first check in hand. Her mother, a great old witch with a hole in her throat from smoking, shot Abe the Eyes of Death. The big-eyed bundle on the couch looked like a peanut—a peanut that is shocked to exist.

Now, Abe never missed a payment. Five solid years, four times a year. But he could not really be a father to the child under Lydia’s watchful eye. Visits were short. Once, he took them to Harry Potter—the kid was maybe too young, got scared, they left early. They ate ice cream in the brightly lit DEL AMO mall. It was there that Haley, politely, but firmly, conveyed the information: We don’t need you here.

That night, Abe went home to Lydia and confessed. About the affair, he confessed. About the kid, he confessed. About the money, however, he obfuscated. “She’s got a benefactor,” was how he put it. Lydia gave him the silent treatment for six weeks. He kayaked with her down rapids of humiliation with the sound off. In the night, she clung to pillows with back turned. He could not hear but felt the motion of weeping.

He spoke angrily to the ceiling. “I know,” he said. “I know. I’m a jerk, a nothing. But I’m a nothing that happens to love you.” No answer. “Whatta you want me to do? You want me to leave?”

A fly bounced in the bedside lamp, making a racket. Abe turned the light off and held his breathing wife. Gravity was tugging him down, down to that place known as the land of old Jewish men in flannel pajamas who want to die.

Perhaps not surprisingly, that night, Lydia turned. She turned, and held him down, she took him. Her breath was hot, her face wet. From respect, he closed his eyes. It had been so long between them that it was simultaneously a memory and the thing itself. She came, or shuddered. He caressed her black hair. She said, “I hate you,” and sobbed out loud.

Hard to believe, that same woman stood here at the dining room table now, having wheeled out the fruit salad.

“Great meal, Mommy,” the Kid said, helping himself to thirds. And then, to Abe: “In Israel, everybody call everybody Mommy.”

◘◘◘◘◘◘◘

Biz was Wednesday slow. The Kid had his first audition, an open call for a DeVries Technical Institute commercial that he found in the back of Drama-Logue Magazine. Abe was pretty sure his accent would kill it, but said nothing.

McGuire came in with a sack lunch, sauntering through the store in some kind of dark blue vinyl jogging suit.
“Listen,” Abe said, “I’m gonna have to skip a payment this month. I’m sorry about it, but I’ll get you next time around.”

“All right.” McGuire grimaced, putting his lunch in the backroom mini-fridge. “I hate for you to be under pressure.” And then McGuire stayed back there while Abe watched the shop.

Left to his own devices up front, with zero customers, Abe wondered if he’d miss this life he’d lived for 36 years. But you couldn’t pre-miss, that never worked. His own father had been a butcher—a job that repulsed Abe with its icy locker of hanging carcasses. But Cap’n Hook’s started fun. McGuire was only in his twenties when he first apprenticed. They met on an oyster schooner in the Marina and started moving merch out of crates right there on the pier.

In their way, they were close. And yet, all those years, they were never close-close; maybe that’s why it worked. McGuire had the psychopath’s touch of humor, could sleep anywhere, on the floor in the backroom even. He’d spent whole decades on houseboats, never traveled with anything but carry-on, and had his hands in any number of things Abe did not want to know about. Also, details about his girlfriends, Abe skipped. One after another, he seemed to go through them. If they made even one visit to Cap’n Hook’s it was “serious”; usually Abe got hearsay.

McGuire came out from the back and started straightening items. Nowadays, McGuire was respectable of course, had a good two-story A-frame in Anaheim with a kidney-shaped pool. From where the bread came, nobody knew, and Abe felt on certain days that Cap’n Hook’s was just his front—but for what? About his past, Abe knew little to nothing. Once, a million years ago, McGuire had said, “Did I ever tell you the time I saw someone get shot in a 7-11? Shot right in the head. Boom. I was 9 years old, ridin’ my bike.”

“Did you get scared?” Abe asked.

“Scared?” McGuire said. “I was amazed. The man’s fuckin’ head burst open like a pomegranate. All over the counter.”

Abe made a face. McGuire laughed. He always played the sick puppy, sure, but that was just his humor.

Now, decades later, Abe watched him fixing up the store. In squeaky vinyl sweats, he inspected rods, wiped dust from the little white shelves. He knew the meaning of work. But with his green eyes and hard jaw, he really did seem different to Abe, like a newer model of a toy that didn’t need batteries.

When a whole hour passed without a customer, they both went to the cramped back room, sat among the steel shelves, sorted floaters. Suddenly, McGuire says, “Kid is working out great, Abe.”

“Well, I’m glad you think so.” Abe lost count, had to start over, rearranging the tackle.

And then McGuire says, “He came by for a swim.”

Abe grunted. “Oh yeah? That’s nice.”

McGuire laid a hand on Abe’s shoulder and leaned in for a whisper. This was his move when he was about to crack wise. “You wouldn’t believe it, Abe. Comes out of the poolroom in these corny blue Speedo’s. My jaw practically hits the floor.”

“Whyzat?” Once again, Abe lost count of his plastic black-and-whites, had to start over.

“That kid is hung like a horse.”

Abe stopped, put his hand on the box. “What are you, goin’ pervo on me?”

“Well, I got ideas,” McGurie said and chuckled. ”But not those kind of ideas.”

Abe was about to count again, then stopped. “What the hell are you saying?”

“I’m saying—” McGuire put his hands up. “Look, I’m saying…I could use the kid.”

“What?”

“All I’m saying is, he’s a decent-looking young fella. If you get him into my thing, I’ll give you a piece of the action.”

“Your thing?”

“Well I’m in with some videomakers, if you know what I mean. I thought you knew.”

“Are you nuts?” Abe said. But he also realized that somewhere inside, he had known, he had kinda sorta known all along. His hands were practically shaking. “That’s family.”

“Come on, lighten up,” McGuire said, straightening his vinyl jacket. “You yourself said he’s your fifth cousin twice removed or somesuch.”

Abe moved the box out of his way and pulled a new one. He said, “Bill, until today, did I ever said a single word about the way you conduct your affairs?“

“Oh, here we go again. Mr. Jew is gonna educate me. He’s 22, he’s a—”

“—but you listen to me.” Abe wagged an old, finger. “This is over the line.”

McGuire sniffed down at Abe. The overheads shined on his enormous baldness. Some time passed in silence. Abe looked at the black, ribbed rubber worms before him with abject despair—thousands of them. Then McGuire says, “Abe, don’t get touchy. You wanna make a clean break, cancel the debt, doncha? I’m just trying to give you a way out.”

But this way out was no way out, and they completed the afternoon in a cold war. All day, Abe worried it through his skin like an Indian sweat: He owed McGuire 18 total. 3 late already, 6 soon. And he wanted out. From who could he borrow? Who? As soon as McGuire made his affable exit for the night, Abe thumbed his little gold-leafed black book, the last of a dying breed in the land of cellphones. Half the names were gone—and this did not mean Miami. Aunt Fiona on the Zantz side was dead, Morris was dead. Even his sister Chaya-surah in Cleveland was dead. His brother David was not dead but he wished the good-for-nothing was dead. Family was out. Lydia’s people—out, obviously. The Israeli relatives were out—did they even have a pot to piss in? Then, there were quote friends unquote that you wouldn’t dream of borrowing from, of course, and that was just about everybody else. As he flipped from A to Z and back again, he twice got caught on a snag, the name A. Schreiber—his brother’s…not son, his brother’s foster son. So what did that make Abe? A foster-uncle? Adam he remembered as a sweet, slightly lost teenager, an artsy type; he had to be all grown up by now. Abe had given him a pep talk or two, helped him get out of David’s rage-a-holic Foster pit a few years back, maybe ten years already. David said Adam had done well for himself. He was running around with movie stars, writing in the gossip magazines.

But the very act of pausing on this name filled Abe with a worm-like disgust and he almost threw the little black book right into the trash. For a man his age, to beg from a younger man, it should be unthinkable. Unfortunately, it was thinkable.

◘◘◘◘◘◘◘

Taco Bell came into view. The long, humid, sunbeaten malevolence of El Segundo Boulevard stretched before Abe and behind him like a video game where the same mini-malls and fellow commuters keep appearing on loop. His mood was heavy. Even for a chronic self-scrutinizer like himself, the shame that fell over Abe as he pulled in to the Taco Bell parking lot was something record-breaking, history-making.

Adam worked down the street. He insisted it was no trouble. He was a little fantastic, this guy, and his quick willingness to help gave Abe further stomach acids. But he swore he had $2,700 sitting in savings that he hadn’t touched in years and wouldn’t need to touch for years to come. Lord it took a long time to get sense.

Abe waited at the outdoor bench. For the first time, he noticed that Taco Bell was shaped like a little orange Mexican adobe mission. But the effect, unannounced, was probably lost on most customers. They shoulda made the employees dress like monks.

Adam showed up on foot, bouncing down the street in black sneakers with a smile, and after hugs he quickly produced an envelope as if to get it out of the way, laying it on the table.

“Sorry about the meeting place,” Adam said. “I work in that ugly building across the street.”

“The big one?”

“The skyscraper.”

“You sure you okay with this?” Abe said, not picking up the envelope. “I will live—and I don’t want to put you in a spot.”

“Come on, Uncle Abe,” Adam said. “It’s nothing to me. And I always loved you and Aunt Lydia, you know that.”

“But—”

“I’m happy to help.”

“This is a loan,” Abe said, tapping the envelope. “Till the end of summer—max.”

“What kind of a family does a person like me have anyway?” Adam said, making them both awkward. “Anyway, I know you’re good for it.”

A little silence, the relentless sun pressed against muggy skies. The boulevard went on forever. The freeway underpass provided the only shade, useless to all but the homeless.

Abe said, “Lydia isn’t the only person who shouldn’t know. My idiot brother would break my thumbs if he found out about this.”

Adam looked away. “He and I don’t talk anyway. Since I quit college, not a word.”

“I figured,” Abe said. “He ain’t much to talk to.”

Adam told him about his job in Brand Management, convinced Abe that he was earning enough and not to worry, and tried unsuccessfully to help Abe understand what exactly Brand Management was. “You know, brands are like, Taco Bell is a brand, Del Taco is a brand, El Pollo Loco’s a brand…” Abe wanted to ask if Adam still did all that fancy movie magazine stuff, running around with the starlets, but he guessed the answer was no, and you don’t humiliate someone when he’s handing you his life savings.

As Adam explained about his job, Abe had something almost like what they call an out-of-body experience. He saw the two of them sitting there in the heat at the little stone bench outside Mexican Mission Taco Bell as if from the bus stop across the street or from up on the roof of the skyscraper.

And Abe saw what a funny pair they made: Two men, two Jews, two Taco Bell customers—and there the similarities screeched to a halt.

For Abe, 68, had grown up in a world of observance, of Fairfax Avenue, of natural-born shmendricks all dying to assimilate but never quite syncing up with the city at large. And even Abe, irreligious as he was, had just enough Jew to hold him back. He would never—and that meant never—make it to the New World. This Adam was something different. He was 37 and as for the New World, he was born into it. With that crazy hippie mother, plus a helluva youth, orphanages, foster homes with drunken dads like Abe’s moron brother, this Adam was rootless, truly lost, a real Hollywood person, a modern person. “It’s kinda like…it’s kinda like,” Adam said, “like, branding a horse. Except they wanna brand your brain.”

Abe nodded solemnly, then made one last attempt to push the envelope back. “This ain’t right,” he said. “You’re my, you’re my nephew for fuck’s sake. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Abe,” Adam said, speaking cautiously in what had to be an act of pride preservation, “Come on, I’m not a real nephew. I’m your friend.” With a slide, he forced the envelope back onto Abe’s side of the scratched-up plastic tabletop. “Now let’s get some chow—on you.”

They entered the air-conditioned fake mission and ordered a couple of Gordita Supremes, a half-dozen little crunchy Tacos, Volcano Nachos, and Fruitista Freezes. Balancing trays, they angled to sit inside, but some loud, belligerent-looking teenagers had the corner table. Young hooligans, in tattoos and piercings, tribal barbarians with no rules, pants hanging off their undergarments, full of savage stares, and heartlessness.

Adam said, “Let’s eat outside.”

Abe said, “Splendid idea.”

And so they went back into the cruel sun. They ate in silence but it didn’t take long, Abe wished it was longer. Not because of the guilt but because this young man, this soft touch was practically a stranger. Adam was so disconnected from Abe’s daily tsuris that it was relief just to be in his company. Why couldn’t a kid like this have come along, looking for a job? The thought of the Israeli brought him back to Lydia, to her contentment, and to sorrow. K-DAY blasted Soul Oldies on the Taco Bell megaphone. A black man sang, “I’m one of those kinda people, those silly people, I believe in love.”

“It’s nice here,” Abe said.

Adam shot him a funny look. “This godless place?”

“Oh, God’s here,” Abe said, biting into his Gordita. And then, with a mouthful: “He’s here or He’s nowhere.”

Adam smiled and said, “It is pretty damn tasty,” and scrunched up his wrappers, chucked them into the bin.

“Can’t beat it,” Abe said. Their eyes met. Adam got up and put a hand on Abe’s shoulder.

Abe reached and patted Adam’s hand twice. And then his foster-nephew, his friend,
walked away from Taco Bell and didn’t look back. 
◘◘◘◘◘◘◘
Fat envelope bulging in his pants pocket, Abe headed back to Cap’n Hook’s ready to pay McGuire a double-dose. But when he got there, the padlock was on the grating and the GONE FISHIN’ sign (with the cigar-smokin’, Stetson-hatted cartoon trout sitting on his fin and fishing by a lake) was hanging from inside the doorknob. Abe gave the grating a meaningless shake, considered reopening, then went back to the Dart, got in and called McGuire on his crappy ancient mobile.

“Where the hell are youz?”

“Huh? Speak louder,” McGuire said.

“It’s Kohner, I’m by the shop. You close early?”

McGuire shouted. “I’m here with your nephew at Crazy Girls. Come have a drink, will ya?”

“Arright, aright.” Abe put the phone in the coffee mug slot and turned on the ignition. Actually, the idea pleased him. In a bar, he could pass the money more casually, with less conversation. Not even announce the double. “Is that $2,700 in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” He got in and drove up Ripley Ave., headed for Crazy Girls.

The strip joint sat dead-center in a mini-mall off Hawthorne Boulevard, right next to a Dim Sum restaurant. Abe hadn’t actually entered the place in years, but now he got frisked and walked through the same door to the same room, same stage, same gawking baboons—only now the walls were repainted black, the girls wore less, the music was louder, and they installed some kind of spinning multi-colored strobe light outta Star Wars. If you didn’t need a drink when you got there, you’d need one just from hanging around.

McGuire and the Kid waved him down. They were doing boilermakers and the Kid was even more boisterous than usual. “Uncle Abe!” he shouted. “Mr. McGuire give me free lapdance!”

McGuire and the redhead bartender burst out laughing. “No, you kook,” McGuire said. “I bought you one. The Dominican broad gave it to you.”

The Kid laughed too. “That’s what I mean to say!” Then he proceeded to explain, slurringly, to Abe, what a boilermaker was, like he just invented boilermakers on the spot.

The bartender flashed her eyes at Abe. In a Russian accent she said, “What is boss drinking tonight?”

“Gimme a Seven-and-Seven, angel,” Abe said, watching as she turned and poured and mixed. Between the bottles across the bar, a couple of decrepit tikis scowled, lifeless.

“Here is drink,” the bartender said, turning to him with a smile.

The Kid threw a drunken arm around Abe. “This guy is like f-f-father to me.”

Abe nodded guiltily and drank, complied with the role. He felt one kind of weight in his pocket, another kind in his heart—money and unhappiness. How he wanted to shove this money in McGuire’s face—take it. But the time for envelope-giving was not now. A noisy cellphone went off and the redhead answered. Then she turned to McGuire and, with a familiarity that surprised Abe, said, “Mr. McGuire, M.V. invites you up—everybody.”

Single file, Abe followed McGuire and the Kid up a dank flight of stairs to M.V.’s office-apartment—movie-set. He had posters of all the flicks Kash Triple X Enterprises had produced in the Fall, Here Pussy Pussy Vol. VI and Anabolic Angels, plus messy stacks of yellow and fire-engine red DVDs, stroke mags galore, and grey steel filing cabinets probably filled with nudie shots. Plus he had a video camera set up right there on the spot.

By way of introduction, McGuire said, “M.V. likes to shoot his victims at close range, ain’t that right?”

But M.V. wasn’t listening exactly, he was glowering over a Racing Forum like a man searching Talmud. From the back of M.V.’s bald head, Abe had maybe seen him in the shop, maybe not. Without looking up, M.V. said,

“Have a seat, fellas, I’ll call up some drinks.”

The Kid played with the camera. “I seen one of these in Israel! It’s steady cam, best one.”

“Don’t touch that,” McGuire said while the Kid mugged in front of the lens. Meanwhile, McGuire dug into his pocket and pulled out a little black photo lid, shook out green herbs onto M.V.’s table and pulled out a thin slice of Zig Zag rolling papers. Abe had no choice but to sit, finally, and watch, participate. The lascivious bottle blonde in the Here Pussy Pussy poster flashed her teeth like some kind of horny banshee; how the hell did he allow himself to get talked into coming up the damn stairs?

“Holy moly,” M.V. said, thumbing under his lip. “Oktoberfest is running tomorrow? Dammit. I gotta drive over to OTB.”

“M.V. has all the hot tips,” McGuire said, licking closed a joint.

“No,” M.V. said, “this fuckin’ horse is like a F-4 Phantom 2. I seen him work out.”

“What’s a Phantom 2?” the Kid asked and nobody answered.

“They got a horse named Asteroids,” M.V. said, finally lifting his bald head. His goatee was salt ‘n’ pepper and a bushel of hair stuck out of his white open collar shirt. To Abe, he looked more like an aging beatnik than a tough guy. “McGuire,” M.V. continued, “did I ever tell youz about the time I got mixed up in the false arcade machine racket?”

McGuire lit up and held silent—dutiful and protective of M.V.’s yarn.

“Believe it or don’t,” M.V. said, “there are actually bootleg machines.”

“Even Miss Pac Man?” the Kid said.

“All of ‘em,” M.V. said. “Pac Man, Asteroids, Zaxxon, the Mutant Teenage Turtles. They make the real ones in Japan, and they make the fake ones in ‘Nam or some shit. Without a license.”

They passed the joint up and M.V. rang downstairs for more drinks. The redhead came up with a tray, now in tassels and impossibly short miniskirt. The Kid shot Abe a look of ecstatic happiness. He was overjoyed to share in the good fortune of this wonderful new place. They drank. They smoked. A wave of intoxication passed over Abe—distorting and medicinal. Too much time in the Taco Bell heat, not to mention the food, made him a lightweight. M.V. insisted with a jolliness verging on antagonism that Abe take a lapdance. Reluctantly, Abe requested the bartender and got her. She started gentle, but Abe was too hyperconscious of the envelope in his pocket to really go with it; he closed his eyes, gritted teeth, itemized the mistakes that brought him to this place. The redhead crawled over him, pressed her skinny, scantily clad body to him, gyrating to the music. The scent of her talcum set off a premonition of worse disasters, much worse. The other men howled, cheered as she gave Abe a goodbye kiss on his forehead. He reached in his pocket to pass her a twenty. M.V. forbade. McGuire sent her to fetch another round. Now, with all parties plenty blitzed, M.V. led them into his private screening room. They watched raw footage of an upcoming Kash Enterprises Production—Giant Rack Supernaturals. Two busty brunettes worked on a nonplussed mustachioed stud with a giant schlong. In Abe’s drunkenness, two peculiar thoughts fluttered by in the dark: First, despite the action, the muscleman looked like he could be gay; his blonde hair was awfully Germanic-lookin’; also he was too measured somehow. Would a faygela do this for the dough? And second, Abe recognized the orange couch in the movie from the adjacent room—they filmed the thing right here.

Lights came up. The Kid, that relentless explainer, said “This was sexy movie!” His stoned elders laughed in accord.

One Jaegermeister nightcap and they stepped out into the cold night air. “I’ll take the wheel, Uncle Abe,” the Kid said. “You drank too much.”

Abe nodded, but even deep in his drunkenness, he had the wherewithal to remember that he had almost three grand in his pocket, plus the presence of mind NOT to give it to that S.O.B McGuire.

◘◘◘◘◘◘◘

Oktoberfest was a Saratoga filly mare with jet black belly-sides that shot back the sunlight in a living, breathing consecration of nature’s undeniable, even dreadful power. Abe leaned on the railway of the show roundabout with a plastic cup filled with Tuborg Gold, but didn’t sip. Besides the hangover, the spring day was unseasonably hot, and Abe felt panicky, desperate, like a man upon whom a screaming baby has just been foisted. There was no wind, and the horse allowed himself to be led without rebellion, by a jockey in green. Still, horse and rider alike did have the haughtiness, the supreme entitlement of winners. Horse especially. It was like he knew the humans required these weak formalities before he could be allowed to unleash his sadism on the track.

“OkTOBERfest,” the announcer said on the Santa Anita megaphones.

After Oktoberfest came Lady Lightnin’, PushZPush, and Whisper Twice. The other animals were lesser competitors, anybody could see that. They followed in procession, tugged gently by jockeys in satin. These jockeys, and the trainers, and the bettors, and the ticket takers, and the bookmakers, they all conducted their business with the curious automatic daze of half-believers. Abe sipped carefully and checked odds, clutching at hope: Oktoberfest figured at 38 to 1. He could shave off two bills, drop $2,500 and count out a payout. Hand McGuire a wad and say, “Do me a solid and get the hell out of my life forever.” And also: “Keep my goddam family out of your disgusting schemes.” He could do this. This happened. People did this. They escaped. A customer at Cap’n Hook’s had even told him a story once about waitering on the Strip. One day, restaurant owner comes in and gathers the staff. Cooks, waiters, hostess, everyone. He says, “I’ve got bad news, good news, and great news. The bad news is you’re all fired, I’m closing the place down.” Everybody groans. Then: “The good news is I’m kicking you all a five K exit bonus.” This gets cheers of course. And then the great news, for him—the shmuck had a winning lotto ticket.

Abe finished his beer. “Astaire-on-the-Air,” the announcer said matter-of-factly on the Santa Anita megaphone. About to leave, Abe stopped to cast a glance at the slightly mangy mutt with a lazy eye. Funny name for this shlepper. Poor bastard, he was twitching off the flies with something less than a will to live. But his legs were strong. Still, what a pathetic, what a comic gaze! The jockey, an El Salvadorian gym-buff shorty, was oblivious, probably got weaseled into the race. Abe thumbed his Form. Not Beacon the Deacon, not Whisper Twice. ASTAIRE-ON-THE-AIR: Today’s third is a competitive downhill turf sprint for tough veterans. This dancer must overcome the rail but loves to boogie, exits a hot race, and looks dangerous on the raise. Dropping for the money run, Astaire’s never been known as a win machine but sometimes finds his way to the thick of things and could be storming to show.

When Abe looked up, the horse cast a lazy eye on him. “Hey you,” he seemed to say. “You and me, we’re the same.”

Abe focused harder.

“That’s right.” The horse’s big, gray eyes seemed to follow Abe as the jockey pulled, seemed to glimmer, almost tear. “The same I tell you. We are the unseen. And if you throw some of your foster-nephew’s coin on me? Let’s put it this way. I’ll ease your pain.”

Abe grunted and checked the scoreboard. Astaire was O for 42. He took a third look at the animal, enraptured by its mangy ugliness. Abe pushed a little air through his big hairy 68-year-old Jewish nose—he was too old for games, hunches. “Sorry buster,” Abe said, speaking telepathically to the mind reading Equestrian mongrel. And then, practically out loud, almost made argumentative by the heat, the drink, the creeping dread: “Don’t confuse me, horse, I gotta hot tip.” He needed one pay-off. One lousy pay-off and he would be out. Say goodbye to Cap’n Hook’s and take the lousy godforsaken Israeli Kid with him. Astaire moved on. Abe flashed on the upstairs screening room, the naked body parts invading with mechanical repetition, fritzing the eyes. He breathed down the urge to puke, rolled up his form, and tapped the banister, and headed for a refill.

Lines were forming—old men but also young people, lots of them, all walks. Abe had their number. The crowd wanted “an ironic horserace experience”—but the money was real. Some pretty ladies dressed for the occasion in the old style, with ‘40s hats like his mother wore and so forth, great shiny black and white shoes that teetered on the grass while they got their pictures taken digitally by horny boyfriends in Hawaiian shirts and pinstriped gangster suits. Abe was caught with the strangeness of humans making merriment, or some kind of act of merriment: in his heart he didn’t like it, and he also didn’t like himself for not liking it. He thought of Astaire-on-the-Air, born and raised to run in circles and make these shmucks cheer, and he had half a mind to walk right out then and there. If he could, he’d take Astaire with him.

Instead, he took what was left of his money not in the envelope and played the first two races. Fifteen bucks on Saint Jack’s took it home and he snapped his fingers in approval, revenge against the fun-lovers. Another $12 trifecta hit on Hearsay to show in the second. Now he was up $230 and there were still 27 $100 bills in his pants pocket. He’d put Lydia in the best room on the cruise. POSH stood for Portside Out, Starboard Home. Dumb, but he remembered it. Race 3 announced. Oktoberfest was ready. It was time. The place was packed now, lines were like a trough at a concentration camp. You shuffled; you didn’t push but you didn’t get pushed either.

The elderly, bony bookie counted out Abe’s 27 quick and without fanfare. He signed and handed Abe a ticket, then looked right through him and said, “Next.”

And now, Abe took a higher vantage point, the nosebleeds. The Arcadia sky was streaky white. Even from up here, he could see Oktoberfest gritting in his cage. As per reliable sources, the beast was warlike beyond the call of duty.

A familiar ripple passed through the crowd, pre-run. The anxiety is what they paid for. Suddenly, that seemed nuts.

With a crack-shot, the horses were off. Abe didn’t scream with the mob, nor did he lean. As they tore around the dirt oval—these riders, marauders, furious for advantage—Abe made a single, slow-motion nod, acknowledging. Simultaneously, he conceived a counter-image: Oktoberfest running so fast that he bucked the jockey, sprouted wings like Pegasus, threw back his legs and leapt over a snow-topped mountain into the streaky sky.

The familiar roar was followed by the familiar confusion, and then the numbers. The El Salvadorian was sweating in satin now, tugging his mutt proudly out to the photo mound. Trophy in hand, the winning pair posed in the blinking white light. However, Astaire, the horse himself—and Abe was absolutely convinced of this—was resentful. He looked all the way up at Abe in the bleachers as if to say, “I begged you to believe. But you wouldn’t listen. Now all my work is in vain.”

The walk out to the Santa Anita parking lot was never easy, but tears was something else. They didn’t come until Abe made it to the Dodge, a man on the dirt, holding no ticket, a man leaning on the blue door dead from the heat, an old man, fumbling in his pocket for the keys and weeping, weeping now because his wife who believed in him was probably stirring spaghetti, patient on his return.

◘◘◘◘◘◘◘

Lydia slept.

The Thursday morning sun lifted slowly over Hermosa, refracting the sidewalk’s dirty glitter. Abe backed the Dodge Dart Swinger out of the driveway in silence, the Kid sat shotgun. They drove up Ripley to Hawthorne Boulevard like two uneasy share-a-ride commuters. When Abe bought the car in ’79 she was a beaut, but Abe should have known that the world was gonna take a turn for the worse when they started naming cars after immoral sex practices. They drove past Pioneer Chicken, Le Sex Shoppe, and Mongol BBQ. An old blue-haired broad waited at a busstop with a bag that said Lucky Supermarket. With eyes of judgment, she followed.

No surprise, the Kid wouldn’t shut up. “Why they shoot in the morning, Uncle Abe? McGuire says I got a handsome face. Do you agree? I agree. He says my partner is hot unbelievable babe like you never knew. I make $300, you think that’s enough? They pay me to do that, it’s like a joke, Uncle Abe. He says he’s gonna help you too, right? You get something out of deal too, right, Uncle Abe? You don’t gotta tell me what. I am ready. I heard Sly Stallone made a few movies in the naked too, before he was Rocky and Rambo. This is just one big break, Uncle Abe. Do you think so? I do.” They pulled into the mini-mall, parked next to Song Hay Dim Sum Palace. The front door of Crazy Girls somehow looked like a back door in the morning when the joint was closed.

“You think I’ll be alright, Uncle Abe? With all the lights and—”

“How many times I gotta tell you I’m not your goddamn uncle?” Abe said, pulling out the keys, feverish now, sickened, responsible.

Upstairs, McGuire greeted them with a clearing of the throat. M.V. and a cameraman hassled with cables. The setup was minimal. Lights, reflector shields, orange couch. Two dopey middle-aged men slid a potted plant into place, God knows why. Abe fell into a seat and covertly looked around for some woman. No girls on site. M.V. looked up at the Kid and said, “You. Shower.”

Then, through a cracked open door, Abe saw just a sliver of female in a see-through sundress, leaning, drawing eyeliner with precision. Her fastidious and unemotional relationship with her own face intrigued Abe. He was not a conservative man. He indulged in a few pleasures in his day and they weren’t all something to put on the cover of the New York Times. But Abe couldn’t help but wonder—do they feel pleasure with all these people watching? Not sensation, of course they felt that. But did they feel that deep, that natural thing? Scary thing was, they probably reached for it, but couldn’t.

McGuire and M.V. huddled with the other men, exchanged strategies. The Kid came out clean in a slightly too-large plumber’s outfit, holding a prop toolbox. Did it have actual wrench and hammer inside? Or something else? They had the Kid stand by the couch, did some kind of camera test.

M.V. said “Irina?” and the redhead came out, all made up now in invisible sundress, purple underwear and heels. The Kid always looked a little drugged before 10am, but now he really spaced out as he watched her approach. She said “Hi baby” and invited him to sit alongside her on the orange couch. He awkwardly put his arm around her; this, of all things, seemed to embarrass her. When Abe noticed that one of the men in the crew was holding up a boom with a black microphone, he realized the camera was already rolling. M.V. started firing off questions: How old are you (“I am 19”), where are you from (“Bellarusse—is next to Ro-sha”), what’s your bust size (“34D”). All questions for her. The mute Kid was nothing but a hired donkey.

Then, with a phlegmy laugh, M.V. said, “Okay, kids, it’s party-time here at the Action Shack.”

The Kid, who had apparently been briefed, exited, and the redhead was handed a magazine. She started flipping the pages lazily.

“Action—let’s go!” the cameraman said.

The Kid entered, toolbox at the ready. “Lady, you called because there is plumbing problems.” The words were right but he failed to phrase them as a question.

She acted more, somehow. She grasped the make-believe. “Yes. Everything broken. I need your help.” Abe lost the plot, looked away, distracted. Israeli broken English and Russian broken English each unnerved in their own particular way. M.V. didn’t seem to care. When Abe looked back, the redhead had dropped to her knees with her back to the camera, purple heels cutting into her underwear, polka-dotted with slot-machine cherries, peeking out under the hiked up sundress; she was halfway through unbuttoning the Kid’s jumpsuit. The Kid looked down at her with a plastered on smile and Abe’s lip started to quiver. The Kid was afraid. Abe alone saw it. He looked from the Kid to the cameraman to M.V. and McGuire and back to the Kid. Yes, he was scared. McGuire looked back to Abe and nodded knowingly. But what did he know?

“Speed it up, babe,” M.V. said impatiently.

She got up, sensual and deliberate. The sundress came off like a layer of mist. She lifted one leg onto the couch. The Kid watched her, fixed. She was going to mount him, but as she looked down upon him her expression changed—from one kind of intense to another. She froze. “You are okay?” she whispered.
The Kid was frozen, shoulders trembling, cheeks darkening, eyes heavy, but he said nothing.

We take break?” she whispered, urgent.

“There a problem?” McGuire said out loud, and the man with the boom looked up at his dangling black mic.
The Kid’s freckled face went crimson and he pushed himself back into the sofa. The redhead got off him, faced the lights, one hand covering her bare breasts, one raised to her squinting eyes. “Please to turn off—”
The Kid was shaking now. M.V. stood off his stool. “What the fuck is going on here?”

The redhead grabbed her sundress off the floor and said, “Watch your voice to me like that. You want I work you find new one.”

The Kid was lost in a shameful dream world now, buried in himself. The big lights went out and the men conferred—a meeting of the dirty minds. Abe and the Kid stared right at each other; Abe leapt up–almost supercharged now with an unfamiliar fatherly electricity that was both frantic and deeply consolidating—leapt up and went to the couch and firmly led the Kid out of range. Finally, some kind of decision was made, mic man would sub. M.V. pointed at the Kid and said, “You—outta the plumber’s shit. Now!” The Kid took off for the bathroom, obedient.

McGuire shook his head in disgust, shot Abe a look. “Mr. Jew strikes again.”

But Abe wasn’t listening. His eyelids were lowering from gratitude. Like nothing, they had been spared. Both of them. But especially him, that thing, that nameless thing, had been spared. And now, it stretched out before him, a vision, more beautiful than any he had ever seen—mountains, rising, shining, sparkling mountains of ice, whiter than white.

<<<>>>

 

Daniel Weizmann’s writing has appeared in the LA Times, Jewish Journal, Buzz Magazine, Billboard, and several anthologies including DRINKING WITH BUKOWSKI and TURN UP THE RADIO. Most recently, his story “Mimsy” appeared in ROUGH MAGICK edited by Francesca Lia Block.

 

 

 

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