Friday, March 12, 2010


I was headed over to Spazzo’s to play catch up with an old friend of mine Max Edleman. He was always going around with his tie half-undone, giant sweat pits on his button-down white shirts, face having ideas about a beard, and talking a blue streak about scraps of nothing that he’d stitch together with curse words and spittle. Fun guy to have lunch with. The sky was trying to decide about raining, kind of purpling, with some black-bottomed clouds curling in, which the sun was taking peeks out at things from behind.

Edleman wasn’t there yet when I arrived. He’s always late, that guy. So, I ordered a coffee and sat down at a small round table to wait for him.

The place wasn’t too crowded; it was kind of late in the afternoon, and the lunch crowd had mostly gone back to their offices to play their mindless games of making a living. Max was one of them, but kept strange hours, staying late, burning up whatever was left of his soul under bright halogen bulbs. So, he usually took long, late lunches. I never did much of anything except mope around, which made these after-hours lunches very convenient for us both. Spazzo’s was an old place. The windows were thick; the dishware was chipped, cracked, and stained; the tables were covered with graffiti and knife carvings; the pictures on the wall covered ten decades of proprietorship, showing smiling celebrities from all eras of stardom, locals in myriad styles of times gone by, and dogs whose children’s children were probably long dead. You could count the age of the coffee cups by the rings of brown stains in them, which were many.

I leaned back in my rickety chair and heaved an aching sigh. I was pooped. Everything seemed meager. I couldn’t muster enough mettle to finagle my way out of things as they were. It was like a blanket of fear and pain was covering everything, and the more I tried to punch my way out of it the more it trapped me, like one of those nets they use to catch apes in.

I was busy contemplating the drooping nature of the ceiling when Max crashed his way through the door. He was all hustle and gumption, and it always seemed like a flurry of bristling energy followed wherever he went. He gave me a hearty handshake, slapped me a few good ones on the back, and slammed himself into the chair across from me. There was always a great commotion about the way he went about things. He began to talk.

“Well, what, ah, you know, everything! Yes. I know…so how’s it? Going? Going? Gone! Ha.”

“Max. You know how I go.”

“Oh. You and your damn mopery. Come on. Light a fucking fire under it already. Get your ass in gear.”

“I’ll get right on that.”

“Oh shit. So. I almost forgot…”

“I doubt that.”

“So, I’m like headed home last night, you know, after a long session under the fluorescents, staring at spreadsheets, rewriting by rote, chewing all kinds of fucking gum, you know, just kind of in a daze, a post-work scramble of brains and weariness, and this girl is out there, you know, she’s just like selling her wares, dangling around on street corners, swinging her purse all around, smiling all big and rosy at everything. And so I’m just kind of like walking by her, and not really noticing her much, you know, except a little here and there, in bunches, in spots, in little drags of attention. And I think she’s really privy to the how-shall-we-say…desirous energy of others? Something like that. Anyway, this broad, she knows the score. She knows the cut of my jig within a few seconds. She knows exactly what I would and would not ever do, and how much—down to a few bucks—I’d pay for it. She’s an expert at making eye contact. So, we’re caught in this little staring match of a sort. And I immediately sense that I’m in a motherfucking pickle, like danger signs are flashing, disaster is imminent, you know? So, I try to kind of break the meager sight lines we’ve established, or rather, that she’s established…”

“The looker and the lookie. The difference between the you of it and the it of me.”

“What? Can you just shut up and let me tell the fucking story? You’re making me lose my train of talk.”

“Sorry. Want to order something? I’m a growing a mighty bit hungry here doing all this listening.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Go order me a steak. Rare as hell. No. Bloody. Tell them I want it to fucking moo at me.”

You had to order at the counter at Spazzo’s. It was one of their long-standing traditions. It made you not want to tip so well. I mean, you were doing at least some of the leg work. So I went up to the counter and ordered two steaks: one alive and one more than a lot dead. Then I went back to be regaled some more by Max’s tale. At least it was a break from doing nothing, which made up most of what I was doing at the time. He immediately started back in as soon as I plopped back down in my chair.

“So this chick is like giving me that old conniving smile, that charming buyer’s market gimmick. The one that makes you feel, I don’t know…special. In a stupid, lowly, tired way of course. An easy way to feel. Something you don’t really have to work at, like having a real sharp steak knife to eat with. How’re the knives here?”

“Sharp enough. Don’t worry. You’ll be able to slice through the skin and hair and into the gristle no problem.”

“Ok. Anyway. For some reason…and you know I’d usually just smile politely and keep walking on by…but for some reason I just let myself get snared on this kind of pseudo-magnetism of hers. And we fall into a conversation. The light’s red anyway. So I’m just standing there, you know, trying to look anywhere but at her. But she’s not making it easy. She’s a professional for christsakes. She knows what she’s doing. And we start having that stupid chitchat that you have in these kinds of situations. Hey there. How’s your night. How’s your life. And all that crap. Just fodder in the trough of time going by. And I know at some point she’s going to like offer herself up to me.”

“Why would she not? You’re a sharp-dressed man.”

“What the…? Do I have to spell it out for you? The lady is a fucking hooker! She’s classy though. Damn classy lady. But she wants me to pay her in exchange for sex. You get this, right?”


“God. You’re so damn oblivious sometimes.”

He was right. But this obviously wasn’t the case here. I just liked annoying him with a little disingenuousness. But suddenly I didn’t feel so hot about interrupting him anymore, so I relented in my wiseass crack-making. Anyway, our steaks came and I concentrated on eating. The steak was damn good, so was the horseradish. It burned a fiery death in my nasal passages. I loved it. Max continued as he shoved hunks of underdone steak in his mouth, not minding his manners one bit, chewing while talking and inhaling and spewing blood-red phlegm all over the place. It was not pretty. I tried not to look.

“So we get to that point, you know, where she’s like, ‘Hey hon. You want a little company tonight? You looking for a good time?’ Or some garbage like that. I don’t know. You get the gist of it though. And so did I. I’m not dumb. I know the score sometimes. So, I kind of toy with the idea a bit. It would be okay. I get lonely, just like everyone else. I get down. I want somebody to like me, even if it’s just make believe. I want to be liked. Everyone wants to be liked, right? I mean, when you get down to it, that’s all there is. That’s all that matters. I want people to like me…or maybe I just want to feel that they like me. Whatever. I don’t know. So, anyway…God, this steak is fucking delicious. I mean, shit…how’s yours?”


“Ha. Yeah. Whatever. You’re such a fucking downer sometimes. We’re eating steak in the late afternoon, enjoying each other’s company. This is the life man! Come on. It ain’t no sin to enjoy yourself every once in a while. We have these things, you know?” He brutishly swiped his thick hairy knuckles across his nostrils and sniffed with a wild rasp, and then cleared his throat of what must have been a thick tarry substance festering somewhere deep inside of him. “Anyway, so this classy lady of the night is like getting all personal and a tad more than a little friendly with me. And I have to admit, it was nice. I liked it. It made me feel good. Better than I had been feeling, that’s for sure. It was one of those really starry nights too. One of those nights when the sky is like blanketed with fucking stars. You can see all kinds of scintillating shit going on up there…well, and, um, down here too, if you know what I mean.”

I didn’t. But I also didn’t care.

“This lassie was like all decked out too, in full prostitute regalia, you know, with the way-too-short skirt and high heels, and the black fishnet stockings, and globs of candy-apple red lipstick, and her hair all done-up, you know, all blown dry and hair-sprayed and curling in thick masses all over the place.”

“Thick masses?”

“Whatever. You know. She was looking all hookertastic.”

I made some kind of feral regurgitating noise. I could taste some vomit in my mouth.

“And so she’s got an unlit cigarette twitching like a seesaw between her lips, of course, so she asks me for a light, of course, and I’m like sure, what the hell, I’ll give the poor girl a light, you know. So I do. And she’s happy as a horse. Practically glowing with gratitude. I know she’s faking it of course, hamming it up for me, trying to make me feel good. But I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all that she’s like feigning her affection. I actually kind of start to prefer it to the real thing. I don’t know why. And we’re talking there, you know, having a conversation, and I’m thinking, shit, I could really go for this. It was like, I don’t know, somehow better than the real thing. I knew that she was only acting this way in the hope that I would put some money in her pocketbook at some point. And I also knew exactly what it was that would make me put the money there, and I knew that she knew all this too. It was like by lying in this way we were being truly honest with each other, like, in the knowing that it was all an act, all a charade based on lust and money, well, we were having a very real interaction, even more real than a so-called 'real' everyday interaction out in this miserable contusion-giving world of ours.”

I sneezed into a napkin.

“I know this is all sounding a bit strange, but just stay with me here. I think I can explain it a bit better.”

I wasn’t so sure of this, but I knew he’d give it a good go.

“So, this girl knows that I know she just wants to make some money off of me. And I know that she will, very generously I might add, let me have my way with her body to do with what I will if I offer up the right amount of cabbage. And, might I also add, it was a very nice body, even to have on rent for a limited time. Curves. Supple. Skin that would make me go out of my head. Out of my head…over you! You know that song?”

I did.

“So, we were having this inane banter, you know, just fucking talking rot and the likes, and we both knew things about this interaction in a very real and truthful way. Any deception that was happening was only in the degrees of things, like negotiations…well, so, maybe that might have been the part that was more up for grabs, and maybe a lot less real…but no…wait. I don’t even think that’s true. Hold on. Let me contemplate this a bit here while I finish off this steak.”

Let me add that this whole time he’d been talking he’d also been gouging away at this bloody slab of gristle and bone on his plate, that was now starting to look like a de-skinned car accident victim, and chomping on the hard-to-chew rubbery chunks while he talked. I was glad to have a break from this to say the least. Unfortunately this didn’t last for long. Soon he was bloviating his was through my peace of mind again.

“It’s kind of like this I guess. It all comes down to, I mean…it’s always been this way in my life. Like I’ve always wanted attention. I want people to pay attention to me. And it’s never enough. I feel ignored. I never feel like people are really listening to me. Maybe that’s why I’m always repeating myself. I don’t know. But, anyway, it’s this same thing. This wanting to be liked. It’s mostly just that I want people to pay attention to me. I can never get enough of their attention. It’s like I’m just setting myself up for failure, and I am fucking relishing it too. It’s like I want to be seen as a failure, then…well, then I don’t ever have to try.”

This talk was all a bunch of hot air to me, but I couldn’t get away. I sat there eating my steak, trying to act like I cared about any of what he was saying. I’m pretty good at this, but it was getting difficult. It was really tough to look at him with all that mush in his mouth.

“And so here is this girl, this fucking angel as far as I was concerned, letting me get close to her, letting me smell her wonderful smell, and I knew it’d be just unbelievably fantastic to spend a few horizontal hours with her. I wanted to feel liked. That’s all I really ever want I guess. It’s all I hope for.”

I felt bad for the guy. He wasn’t easy to like. There was something ruefully disastrous about him, something unhinged. You felt like at any moment he might reach over and strangle you on a whim.

“Is our…I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but I just feel like maybe I’m deficient, somehow lacking in this quality, this capacity to love, and, more importantly, to be loved. To let myself be loved. That’s what is so damn difficult for me. I just don’t feel worth it. I guess that’s why the prospect of paying somebody to like me, to be forced to like me, was so enticing.”

I wanted to interrupt him, but somehow felt lacking in this capacity at the moment.

“It’s so easy for me to fall in love. It happens to me all the time. Every day. But I don’t know if that means anything, you know? Who the hell is meant for me? Who am I to think that some girl’s going to fall in love with me? What the hell do I have to offer her? Just emptiness. Just nothing. Just me.”

His steak was gone, and he was drumming at his bloody, cleaned plate with his knife. It scared me a little, but I didn’t let on.

“I just want to be appreciated. And I want somebody else to know how much I appreciate them. Ah. I don’t know. It’s all a fucking scrambled mess in my head.”

He lost his knife. It bounced and skidded its way to the floor.

“Shit. I’m sorry.”

I raised my hands with the palms out towards him, as if I were being mugged. “Max. It’s okay. Look. No harm, no foul.”

He didn’t seem to notice my gesture. His eyes were focused on some point behind my head, kind of bleary, and filled with some odd scrap of disenchantment. It was like he was worrying real hard about something, and was sad about it, but couldn’t do anything to make it go. He didn’t say another word. He just sat there staring behind me like that, his mouth slightly gaping with some crimson spittle dripping from his lip. I figured it was time for some action on my part, or at least some talk.

“Hey. Come on Max. Everybody deals with these things. Nobody likes being not liked. We all want to be accepted to some degree, whether we realize it or not, and we all go about it in our own nebulously self-centered way. Well, it’s like you need to open yourself up to…well, you need to have the capacity to be loved, not just to love. Nobody is going to care about you just because. You have to get over these delusional egocentric hang-ups. All you ever need to offer is yourself. I mean, take this hooker you were bantering around with. Would you have even cared about her more than a twig if she hadn’t been willing, oh-so-generously, to offer herself to you? Anyway, it’s a lot easier to fall in love than it is to fall out of love. Maybe the difference between the two doesn’t matter so much.”

Max just kept staring with the doleful look on his mug. His eyes were like empty saucers somebody’s gone and spilled some coffee on. It wasn’t fun to look at him like that. I knew he wasn’t having a grand time either, and started to wish he’d just go ahead and finish his story about the hooker. I decided I might as well continue with my ranting. At least I wouldn’t be interrupting him.

“Okay. Well, you know when I was a kid I was really fast, and I was funny too. I was a funny and fast kid. I’d race anybody, and I’d win. My jokes were legendary on the playground. What starts with an ‘f’ and ends with an ‘uck’? Firetruck. That was one of my classics. Big laughs with that one. But the thing that scared me to death, the one thing I could never bring myself to do, was to talk to girls. They freaked the hell out of me. It wasn’t just sweaty palms and all that jazz. I honestly could not even utter one word around a girl. I’d sometimes faint when a girl got close to me. It was insane. And I don’t think it was just some combination of shyness and nervousness, though it was that too, but it was mostly just this lack of faith in the reality of the situation, and of course in myself too. I was puddling around in daydreams. It was hard to make a connection between what I felt and what I experienced out in the big old world of experiences. Anxiety was my only answer to the thorny problems of social interactions.”

A waiter dropped a plate. Max came out of his trance.

“For fuck’s sake! What the hell are you talking about man?”

“I don’t know. I have no idea. I never know.”

“Tomorrow never knows.”


I went back to my steak. Max leaned back and straightened out his tie.

Everything was clattering. That special clink and ting of silverware, and the scrape of knives on plates. Some guy was reading the menu out loud to an old woman seated next to him. A stray cat wandered in the door and hissed at me. Max smiled at this. It seemed appropriate. Love was in the air.