Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Maybe He Ate Pennies

Chiara, Nicoli, and I went with Nathan and his brother Dan to see their apartment.

It was the sort of apartment building in the sort of neighborhood where no one sees or wants to see their neighbors, but they hear every footfall creaking on the old crunchy carpet upstairs as they come home at four in the morning. It was the sort of place about which jokes are made about cooking smells though no one is cooking. I don’t know that it was so, but in my memory everything was brown or tan colored inside.

We were told on the landing outside the door that Dan’s vicious yet independently minded lovebird, Dothead, had been accidentally left outside of his cage over the long Christmas and New Year’s Holiday and Dan had no idea how he had fared.

On this somewhat ominous note, Dan turned the key in the door and we entered into the anticipation of Dothead’s demise. Would Dan react with anger? Sadness? Bemusement? Would he chuckle?

However, the question was, thankfully, unanswered and unnecessary, as, after a moment’s inspection, little Dothead was found, no worse for wear, on top of the television.

He was retrieved (easily done since he loves to sit on any part of a person if they offer it to him and are sure not to expose any flesh - which will drive him into a murderous and bloody frenzy) and placed back in his wire cage, where he seemed content.

“Maybe he ate pennies,” remarked Dan with a sweeping gesture towards the dining table, strewn with loose change in uneven piles. It was the scene of some boozy power game from the old year - playing cards stuck together with beer, an oldish box of Uncle Ben’s, wads of soiled paper napkins, and a small bowl of ceramic shards collected during Dan’s studies abroad.

The irony may have struck Dothead while alone that, while he enjoyed unprecedented freedom unmolested in the apartment and could, say, masturbate in front of the television or discuss his to do list with himself in a southern accent, he could not get to his water or food as the only source of both remained inside his cage. And though the door to the cage was slightly ajar, it looked undisturbed.

I asked Nathan for a soda.

“Coffee or Booze,” he said, the beginnings of a shiteating grin playing around his face.

I asked for water, then.

“Coffee or Booze!” came the reply.

I felt like neither; so we played poker.

Later, after Dan was at the bottom of a bottle of Greg Norman label Shiraz, he tried to explain to me the origins of his ceramic collection: “This one is Roman, This one I found in the Thames, This one is Nabatean.”

Perhaps sensing that we weren’t as interested as we really ought to have been, he left for his bedroom in a hurry with a bottle of bourbon under his arm. For some minutes we didn’t see him and continued our game, betting frivolously with the sticky pile of other people’s pennies.

Nicoli, though technically more skilled at the game, lost miserably to Chiara, who (she said) had never played.

When Dan finally returned, he had a sheaf of his poetry in his hand and he sat down to read them to us, one by one.

Somewhat to my surprise, his poems were intensely maudlin. Personal recitations of pain and fear, peppered with epithets and conventional rhymes, but expressing (awkwardly for a mixed crowd of friends) a real anguish and even anxiety. The trope of a deceitful woman was hard to miss, as was the charming aphasia with which he (purposefully?) misspelled commonplace words to the point of rendering them almost meaningless. His tongue, swollen and made slothful by wine, often refused to cooperate with him.

If anyone saw these poems (he pronounced them “pomes”) printed out on paper, they would expect a sort of coffee-house, angst-ridden, weepy-eyed affair if they were to be read aloud. But instead, Dan seemed to find the entire enterprise of pouring out his human soul to us hilarious. He was practically rolling on the floor when he read to us about his trammeled heart and withered ability to love (like those time-travelers he once described to me).

At Nathan’s suggestion, Chiara was handed the pile of poems and read the remainder to us in her lilting accent, misplaced stresses, and phonetic renderings of unfamiliar words.

This, all agreed, really crystallized the experience.

Nicoli eventually left, and Chiara and I felt the inexorable pull toward the end of the evening. On the way home I asked Chiara what she thought of Dan’s poetry. In that way she has which I usually ascribe to the language barrier, but may in fact be an expression of her (to me) asymmetric mind, she answered my rhetorical question with another:

“What do they eat?”

I expected this was a reference to the Webber family’s notorious gassiness – an arch reference to the cacophony of flatulence always attendant to a Webbernacht, but it turned out to be literally meant. She was perplexed by their apparent lack of foodstuffs.

“Maybe they are the ones who are eating pennies,” she offered.

I complimented her on her gerund and fiddled with the radio. In his apartment, Dan threw up.

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