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by kathleen maher
pictures by rhoda penmarq
13) Swiss Crown, week 2
Tuesday, June 5
1. Without my store
2. Without my home
3. My life has no structure
4. MY LIFE HAS NO MEANING!
Wednesday, June 6
1. Why was I born?
2. Why am I alive?
3. Why, I have no fucking idea!
14) And the Bottom Shall Be Top
I hate it here. The environment is so artificial, so studiously deluxe but not offensively grand. It’s a glass-walled prison, high in the sky. Everyone’s buzzing about, concerned and busy, and quick to defer to the tiniest alteration of my mood.
“It’s a fucking fish tank,” I complain to Carlos, who then informs me the construction on the Linden Street shop is stalled. “Some kind of fuck-up with Mad Mike’s shipper,” Carlos says. “And a few problems with variances.”
“Meaning we stay here another two weeks,” Carlos says, “give or take.”
“Five weeks in the Swiss Crown?”
“You know, the shop in Lincoln Park opens in a few days. Stephanie wants to manage it, and the prospects look very promising.”
“I don’t know,” I tell him, dejected by his ‘promising prospects.’ “Past a certain point—taking this long, costing this much—it’s not worth it.”
“The money? You’re worried about the money, Malcolm? Christ! Just do the éclair thing in the mornings, at every new shop. That’ll cover the hotel bill.”
“That’s twice a day at the shop in Bucktown, twice in Wicker Park, and twice in Lincoln Park, right? Old Orchard. Northbrook. On top of the regular meetings, the shows.”
“That’s right,” Carlos says. “Think of them as shows. Easy gigs, as natural as breathing. That’s how good you are. Just go out, sing and dance like a trouper, and leave ulterior motives and concerns about your quivering little ego for later. I’m negotiating with some people now about a book, a Doctrine, if you will. That’s where your real life, real beliefs will come in.”
“I don’t think so, Carlos. I want to get out.”
“Will you stop? Everything’s going great. Two, three more weeks you’ll be home, and all this disorientation, all the work, and showmanship, will be more than worth it. Way more! Why, half the money coming in is going right back out to work for us.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m investing it. You’ve got to pay yourself before you pay creditors; we want that money working for us.”
“Carlos, if you’re talking about stocks, tell me you have some good advisors.”
“Strictly blue chip,” he says. “Nothing fancy. A few mutual funds. But even in this market, if we set up one branch in Europe, one in the Caribbean maybe, South American, we can retire.”
(Is Carlos stupid? I never thought he was stupid. He acts so smart. He’s gotta be kidding.) “Will you show me the books?”
“Sure,” he says. “I’ll show you anything you want, anytime you want. Just so you understand upfront that very temporarily, what with all the new stores and keeping the suites for a couple of weeks, we’re going to have some heavy outlays.”
“So you need me to do the bread and éclair thing at five, or is it seven?, new stores. Twice a day, each day, on top of the meetings.”
“It’s not that much, Malcolm. I mean if you think about it, it’s a hell of a lot easier than most jobs!”
(I wish you could see his face, how instantly Carlos goes from reproving appraiser to ardent lover.) “God, I love you!” he rasps, eyes on high beam as he slithers over to hug me. “Oh,” he says, his voice choked, his gaze hot and skin flushed, “You are such a pure and perfect soul!” Carlos can really turn it on and off. Tell me I never bought his shit, though. He’s not just transparent. Ridiculous. So, you know, I laugh.
“Oh, I know,” he says, shaking his head. “For you it’s this big joke. When I’ve been dying for you—really dying. You’ve no fucking idea how hard it was to get through all these years, keeping my need for my boss under wraps. I mean,” Carlos says, “here you are, sexiest thing in the world, out of my league, but not out of reach. And I maintain. I play my part.”
It’s preposterous. He’s not playing it right—so overt and abrupt. But, dumb, needy me. I step closer to him. Carlos takes my head in his hands, and the sheer nerve! Once he’s sure I’ve noticed how dark and liquid, how reflective and shining his eyes are, he dips his face to my chest, and pleads into my shirt. “Malcolm, you’ve no idea how bad I want you. And it never lets up. It kills me.”
“If it really killed you, it’d be over.”
And he looks so shocked, so stung, I can’t help it: I let him win; I let him lead me into Suite 3601’s blue bedroom.
Locking the door, he mews into my neck and peels off my clothes. Except first, I lay down a stipulation: we switch positions. Today, since I’m the top in real life (well, I am, aren’t I?) I’ll take the bottom in sex, and as he in real life is beneath me (this is the way it is) he’ll take the top. And right away the reversal feels new and fantastic. The whole sexual act is scream-out-loud thrilling. I thrash and cry—it’s scary how good it feels! And yet, and yet—this is the amazing thing: A minute afterwards I’m miraculously indifferent. I can take Carlos, I can leave him; I really don’t care.
Ten days later and I am still indifferent to Carlos. In fact I am indifferent to everyone and -thing except: one hopelessly unrealistic hope.
For ever since my sweet, quickening encounter with the beautiful boy Tyler, when he so innocently and sincerely asked, did I mind? (Did I mind if he and his friends smoked dope on my time?) I can think of nothing else!
Every three seconds he’s back, the soul of concern, of sweetness, light, peace, joy and hope, swaying politely in front of me, blunt in hand.
I can not concentrate. I can not eat or sleep, I’m so fixated on that tool belt that seems to be wearing him more than he’s wearing it. In my mind it’s slowly sliding off of him, and I can’t decide which I want more: to pull it up or down. Tyler, Tyler, Tyler! If anything else matters, I don’t care. Or remember.