When I Was Working The Coat-Check / 28 February 2002
When I was working the coat-check at Giant City — this was a few years ago now, the year our president said the thing about endless fucking torment on the radio — one time this woman drops off a sort of bright red vinyl slicker with raccoon along the collar and fringes hanging from both sleeves. I say something about one fine coat and make the usual joke (frowned upon by mgmt) that it may not be here when she gets back, that the next time she’ll see it will be when she spots me jumping on top of cars in traffic, dancing with glee at the luxuriousness of my newly acquired coat. She says if I refrain from doing that then there’ll be something sweet in it for me. I give her a noncommittal salute.
She returns a few hours later, somehow carrying four cocktails, each one the color and consistency of a sleet-packed cumulus cloud. She says something along the lines of: “You’re going to have to help me get my arms in the holes of that jacket,” except it sounded practically obscene the way she said it. Getting her coat on while she juggled the cocktails was like a mathematical story problem come to life. She asks me to bend over and I do. She lifts up my shirttail and writes something on the small of my back, then vanishes before I even turn around again.
Back home, it takes three mirrors to make it out: KLondike 3-5652. Ma says I should act now before she passes out, I argue that she seems like the type of girl who would stay up late with a bottle of white wine, scrawling poems on her wallpaper with bloodied fingernails. She needs to simmer. So I wait an hour and give her a call and she answers on the fifteenth ring. “I’m ready for something sweet,” I say, pitching my voice a little lower than usual. And she says I have to pass a test first and I say something like the lady teachers always gave me straight A’s, so:
“Let’s say we went out to dinner,” she says.
“You bet,” I say.
“And I start crying, just right out of nowhere.”
“Oh sweetheart, that’s terrible.”
“And I say daddy never loved me and I want to kill myself and I’m trying to decide which piece of silverware I should use. What would you recommend?”
“Can’t go wrong with the knife, but— “
“But! Anyone who can get the job done with a coffee spoon will earn the respect of even the most hardened coroner.”
“Interesting, OK, I’m writing that down, hang on. Now. Which of the following four items most appeals to you? A ball of— “
“Appeals to me in terms of what?”
“In terms of overall beauty and value.”
“A ball of clay, a black brassiere, a puppy, or a can of peach halves in heavy syrup.”
“What color is the puppy?”
“The puppy is chocolate brown.”
“Peach halves in heavy syrup.”
“Are you picking that one because it was last in the list and clearest in your mind?”
“I don’t think that’s relevant.”
“OK, John, howsabout— “
“Josh, there is a sealed room, no windows, no doors, plain white walls, a simple wooden chair and desk, a single piece of white paper and a silver pen filled with black ink. A man appears in this room, right out of thin air, and he sits down and writes a single sentence on the paper. What sentence does he write?”
“Now I know how she feels.”
“Or maybe— “
“John, I’m going to have to cut this short.”