Chapter 3: Errands
Outside everything is an foul yellow-beige. The sun beats down on me through a cloud of toxic exhaust, turning ultra-violet rays into burning lazer beams that sear my face, like I’m under God’s magnifying glass. Every storm drain and grate simmers to a rolling boil and spews slow-bulging green-foamed runoff that burns the nostrils and swells the windpipe. But we are out of milk, bacon, light bulbs, and apples.
Wash Heights is almost worse in daylight, when the fatigue of every life seems to hang on it damply. All of the Dominican moms are out, spherical women with grim mouths that elbow past me as they wheel their square metal grate carts full of fruit and empty plastic bags along the streets. Swollen old men men call out to them from milk crate seats (my Spanish is just good enough to tell they aren’t saying anything important). The trolls, sensitive to daylight, are even more grotesque, covered in thick layers of patterned cloth, eyes shielded by dark glasses and tails bunched in the back of their pants like they dropped a steaming load. But even they are a fuckload more pleasant to deal with than the old Chinese ladies at United Supermarket who stare at you like you’re a mental patient.
At United Supermarket, I duck past the mamacitas and manage to grab a half-gallon of milk, a pound of bacon, and eight apples. Part of me considers loading up on candy and baked goods, but my self-disgust over my drinking and cocaine use the other night keeps me virtuous, and instead just take my meager victuals up to the counter. The girl who rings me up is unspeakably attractive, mily-coffee-colored skin with freckles, silver eyeshadow, a nostril ring, and a massive rack. She wears a tight T-shirt that shows her midriff, the skin of her belly looking soft and smooth and scented in the way it shifts as she lifts the apples, milk, bacon, and then raises an eyebrow at me.
“Twenty-one forty-one,” she sighs, and then squints at me. “Hey, I know you.”
“I live around here,” I say, handing her my credit card.
“Not from around here.” She squints harder, then calls out, “Jutta, baby.” Two check-out lanes down, a teenage troll looks up at me and arches a scaly eyebrow. She’s marine-skinned and lanky with small but heavy breasts and lower canines poking out from her black lips,
“Where have I seen him?” says my cashier, pointing a plastic fingernail at me.
Jutta scratches her chin with her thumb-nail, then smirks. “He’s the dude from Bad Pastor, remember?” Her friend’s face curls up like a pug’s, all wrinkles. “Remember? Mumbles?”
“Oh shit,” she says turning back to me with a cackle. “Yeah, I remember. You sat in the corner mumblin’ into a tape recorder the whole night. We were like, what? On Nickelodeon night?”
The evening comes back in a bubble of acid reflux—Bad Pastor, the clergy-themed club in midtown, the night Winnie told me to never speak to her again for both our sake’s, using the voice recorder for the second time ever. Too much communion wine. The crackers were good. “Yeah, that was me.”
“What’s your deal, anyway?” PR girl tucks in her chin. “You health code?”
“Nah, I’m just a…club reviewer. Whatever. I review places like that.”
Here it comes. “Nightlife Now.”
She clucks and nods, impressed despite herself, despite me. “Man, I love that site. That’s a cool job,” she says. “How’d you get to do that for a living?”
What little moxie I showed choosing to run errands today flatlines hard. It’s too bright and too hot for me to have this fucking conversation, and if this is what impresses someone about me, they don’t deserve my time. “Responded to the wrong classified ad. Sorry, I have to go home.”
“Well, maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, well.” This is where a dude with any game would ask this girl out. Instead, all I can I think about is my unwashed face, the sweat inching down my belly, how I must smell (you know Jutta can smell me, trolls are hunters by birth), so I just sign my receipt and say, “Uh-huh,” then head out, shaking my head at my own shittiness. I haul to the hardware store, a claustrophobic room dripping with extension cords and lock components. The cashier’s a nice old guy, and knows I don’t like to talk much, so he just rings up my light bulbs with a nod, and I’m on my way.
My job. Everyone wants to talk about my stupid fucking job.
Halfway to my building, I remember that we also need beer, or liquor, alcohol for drinking, because last shopping trip I had planned was cut short by having to go out to the Fat Piece and get a professional case of the blue balls. The idea of turning around and walking five blocks to the liquor store hits me with an overwhelming wave of sorrow. , and I almost cry, literally. My eyes sting, and I have to stop, put down my bags, and shake my head for a minute before turning around and heading back up to Broadway to the closest liquor store, named, as though it was started by a poet, Broadway Liquor & Lotto.
The store is heavily air conditioned, which is a nice break, and seeing all that alcohol in one place is comforting—it’s all going to be okay. But having to scoot around old people buying lotto tickets and box wine makes me antsy and edgy, makes me want to shove them out of the way, punch them in the fucking face, then steal my bourbon and run weeping. Especially at this hour, I wonder what kind of things people chat about at the liquor store, and decide that it’s probably me.
Today, it seems that the topic is nailing plague chicks.
“Nothing to it,” says the barrel-bellied older man, leaning against a tropical rum ad featuring a palm tree and a happy couple clanking drinks together. Wherever these people are, there’s no way it’s as hot there as it is here. “You just have to know how to talk to them.”
“But they’re such snobs, man,” says his younger buddy, a muscular kid in a double-XL T-shirt. “And does it catch?”
“Nah, that’s the best part, you gotta live with them for that. Maybe you get a cold, nothing else.”
“How many you been with?”
“Three girls. Met them all at bars, and just talked to them.”
“What’d you talk about?”
“About them, about the weather, TV, I don’t know. That’s not the point. Point is, they were hot, you know, plague hot.”
“Hottest chicks I’ve ever been with, man. Way better than most of the girls around here.”
“Huh. You didn’t have to flash money or anything?”
“They’re used to that. They just want to talk, feel normal.”
“Then why they go plague in the first place?”
“Ha, okay, good question.”
Behind three inches bullet-proof glass sits the hard stuff I need. Sadly, the cashier is a zombie, relatively fresh, his eyes milky like tap water from a shitty neighborhood. I gird myself for the exchange that’s about to take place, and hope that he at least speaks some English.
“Bottle of Old Grand-Dad, please. The larger one.”
“¿Que?” asks the zombie in a raspy monotone. Fucking fantastic.
“Old Grand-Dad,” I say, making my lips move in slow, careful shapes so he can read them, praying for a miracle. “Old Grand-Dad bourbon. Twenty-three dollar bottle. Middle. Shelf.” He turns, stares at the rack of liquor behind him, and slooowly reaches up and takes a bottle of Evan Williams down, his elbow popping as he moves. My mind blazes with protest, and the sound of clashing plates fills my ears, because Grand-Dad is life blood and Williams is trash, but I know it will take too long for him to put it back and I’m sweating too hard to complain, so I pay for it and power-walk home.
The inside of my building is a sagging linoleum-floor hell; at all times, a dog, baby, or woman is crying loudly somewhere in the endless helix of staircase that stretches up through the middle of it. When I get upstairs, I crack the Evan Williams, realize it’s only eleven in the morning, swear at no one in particular, and go write that Fat Piece review as my shirt slowly sticks to me more and more.