Thursday, July 24, 2014

The March, Chapter 17: Brooke and Teddy Make it Weirdly Official


Right in the lumberyard
-        Caddyshack

Back at The March, Brooke was completing a dispirited waitressing shift.  She was depressed by Teddy’s rejection and the echo of his lazy nihilism and enervated by the general malaise that comes from being fresh out of college and not yet having set the world afire.

She approached the bar to give Caleb her cash envelope before going home to sleep.  Or have some pasta.  Or something.  She wasn’t sure.

Caleb, accepting the envelope, asked her if she wanted a drink.  “You look depressed, Brooke!”

“I’m fine,” she said, turning to leave.  “I’m just going to go home.”

Caleb wondered why a blooming young girl like Brooke could be so heartbroken over a dried up old turd like Teddy.  But then he shrugged and thought, “I’ve had my fair share of mystifying love affairs.  They sort themselves out in the end.”

Brooke emerged on the night street and reached down to unlock her bike.  As she was wrapping the chain up, a gravelly voice above her said, tentatively, “Brooke?”

Her heart seized up as she said, “Oh!  Teddy! Hi!”

He indicated the steps of the apartment building next to The March and she sat on them.  He joined her, clearing his throat.

“Brooke,” he said. “I apologize for my rudeness yesterday.  I should never have ignored you like that.  I’m not sure really how to act in a situation like this…”

“That’s OK” broke in Brooke, eagerly.  “I’m just so happy you’re not angry with me.”

“Please let me continue,” said Teddy.  “This is rather difficult.”

Brooke, nervous again, nodded.

“I have discovered,” Teddy began, launching into prepared text.  “That I have romantic feelings for you.  This surprises me as I have not felt this way for many years and there is, er, a rather significant age difference.”

Brooke shook her head vigorously and waved her hand in the air to indicate that this age difference simply did not signify.  She was overjoyed, but kept the required silence.

“I do not hope that a woman as young and beautiful as you could return my romantic interest, but I thought it best to tell you my feelings in the hopes that you would forgive my rudeness yesterday.  I acted churlishly and I regret hurting you.  Can you forgive me?”

She nodded and turned her face up towards his, eyes shining, lips parted, transmitting the invitation for a kiss as bold as semaphore, as loud as a siren.

Teddy cleared his throat again and turned to her.  He lay his arm across her lap, leaned in awkwardly and kissed her.

The embrace ended seconds later, and Brooke nestled into Teddy in a rhapsody of scents: old papers and cigarettes, fresh night air and Teddy.  Teddy put his arm around Brooke and looked across the street, as surprised as Brooke to find his attentions reciprocated.  He was on the tail end of middle age and had long ago given up on the idea of a relationship.  The few encounters he’d had with women had been brief, sordid and unsatisfying.  And yet here was this lovely girl with her face half buried in his old jacket.  It seemed almost too good to be true.

Brooke broke the silence. “Are you hungry?”

Teddy said, “No, I had my dinner earlier.  However, if you are, I would be happy to take you to dinner.”

Brooke said, “Oh, if you’re not hungry, please don’t worry about it.”

“Brooke, darling,” said Teddy, smiling.  “I would like to buy you dinner.”

And so they went to a nice Italian restaurant just a block or so away from The March.  The waiter was befuddled by the pairing: a 22 year old woman in a faded Green Peace tee-shirt, beaming across the table at a fifty-something man in a ratty jacket who was expostulating academically on the imminent demise of the world.

They passed the meal pleasantly.  Brooke had a rich vegetarian pasta and Teddy treated himself to a couple of nice bourbons.  Their conversation flowed, with Brooke eagerly asking for more detail, for explanation of theories and anecdotes from his research.  Eventually, their academic conversation gave way to a more personal one.  They discussed their future.

By the end of the meal, Brooke had agreed to leave the apartment she shared with her sister and move in with Teddy.  She could help him better with his research and filing if she were there more.  With her help, Teddy would be able to finish his great work.

Does this seem so fast as to strain credulity?  It does to me, and I saw it happen in real time!  Neither Brooke nor Teddy had even thought about cohabitation before the coffee arrived.  But it’s not as though either were equipped with a wealth of romantic experience.  Neither had been in love before.  Neither had engaged in the casual sniffing around that most people do as a preliminary to a relationship.  They didn’t know how to flirt.  They’d never remarked conversationally to a friend that this guy was kind of cute or that girl was looking particularly good that night.  They hadn’t gone on dates or had awkward conversations in which the parameters of a relationship were defined.  They’d never settled into a comfortable routine with someone they were having sex with.  They hadn’t had explosive fights or tearful break ups. 

Instead, one day they met, had a few conversations and fell in love.  It didn’t occur to them to examine this.  They accepted the miracle and moved onto what they felt the next logical step was: beginning a life together as quickly as possible.

When they left the restaurant, Brooke took Teddy’s hand, excited to return with him to his apartment.  But he walked her back to her bike and said, “Tonight, darling, perhaps you had better return home and explain to your sister your plans.  Let me have the weekend to put my house in order for you.”

“Oh,” said Brooke, “Of course.  Thank you for dinner.  Thank you for wanting to be with me.  I love you.”

Teddy smiled, ”And you, Brooke.  I look so forward to beginning our life together.”


He watched her ride away and then decided to have a nightcap at The March.  My, it had been an eventful day!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The March, Chapter 16: Rosie and Tre at the OTB



You wanna make a memory?
-Jon Bon Jovi

They got to Sidetracks, a divey little bar tucked away in the south loop, at 4:00ish in the afternoon.  Sidetracks was underneath the el tracks, identifiable only by a faded paint sign above a wood door and a flashing red OTB sign in its one window.  They walked into an unexpectedly large room, carpeted with an ancient green wall-to-wall that might be more cigarette ash and dashed hope than polyester fiber now.  In lieu of pub tables or booths, there were rows of tables all facing a big screen TV.  The tables were littered with old racing forms and short pencils, teeming ashtrays and mugs of beer.  Men of all ages and various dispositions (but all men) sat at the tables, eyes glued to the race.  Some jawed companionably, others focused on the races with manic attention. 

Rosie walked through the room like she was lit by a spotlight, the only bright thing for miles around.

She led Tré to the cashier where they got forms and she helped him make a few bets.  Rosie knew a bit about racing.   Her brother, Fred, was inclined to gamble and had told Rosie about Sidetracks when he’d discovered it.  Rosie thought slumming it there would add to her cool cachet, and so she’d nagged Fred to take her with him a few times while she learned the ropes.  She went a couple of times a month now, and if she lost her tips for the week, what did it matter?  It’s not like her tips were keeping the lights on.

Bets made, Rosie and Tré bellied up to the bar.

“So, what do you think, Tré?” asked Rosie.  “Are you ready to class up this place?”

“I don’t know,” said Tré, looking around.  “I think this place might be beyond classing up.”

Rosie had a vodka/soda with a splash of cranberry (a low calorie cocktail).  Tré had a Heineken. The bar had small TVs mounted at various intervals and Tré and Rosie found themselves huddling closer and closer together to watch the race.

Tré’s was the only black face in the room, which was old hat to him.  He’d grown up in a small town in Ohio, where his family was one of only three black families town. When he decided to take Chicago by storm, he headed to Northwestern, not Chicago State.  He lived in Wrigleyville, not Hyde Park.  He worked on the near north side, not the far south side.  Tré had spent a lot of his days as the only black guy in the room.  Through a life of careful study, he’d learned to be cool without being threatening.  He nodded appreciatively when white friends waxed rhapsodic about Public Enemy to him (only to him).  He suffered countless appeals for his expertise after various first time viewings of Spike Lee films.  Tré was a pro at being the only black guy, inured to being the stranger in a strange land. 

He was supremely cool.

He was finding, however, that it was hard to keep up this practiced cool around a girl like Rosie.  While Tré had been mastering Non-Threatening-But-Cool, Rosie had mastered The-Only-Woman-In-The-Room.  She was a practiced flirt, approachable but unattainable; she could talk to any guy about music, sports, movies.  She knew when to laugh and when to make the joke.  Rosie wasn’t just hot, she was bright and funny and smart.  And she really liked Tré.

They sat at the bar, placing bets, drinking, flirting all afternoon. And through it all, Tré kept thinking, “I’m just flirting a little, just having some fun.”  Bur the bartender knew (as would you, if you’d been making bets on that Thursday afternoon in 1990) that Tré was doing a little more than flirting.

After a few hours, the flirting got a little heavier, the sheen of romance got a little thicker.

They left Sidetracks in the early evening, about 8:00, as the sun was setting and the Loop looked romantically derelict.

Just a few hours ago, the Loop had been a corporate hullabaloo; throngs of respectably attired professional people racing to make their trains, abandoning the Loop for their other lives.  At 5:00 pm, when the el thundered past, it was just background noise, muted by the presence of all those regular people.  But late on this Thursday evening, when the lawyers and the office managers have made way for the homeless, abed in pallets in doorways, and the street cleaners picking up trash, the noise of the el was enormous.

And as it roared by, Rosie, a step ahead of Tré and in the middle of a sentence, swiveled and put her hand on his stomach.  She meant to get his attention to point out some sight, to wait for the sound of the train to stop and then carry on with their conversation.  But the heat from Rosie’s hand on Tré’s stomach raced through his body.  He was full of the sound of the train, the loneliness of the street and Rosie.

So he kissed her.


And she kissed him back.

The Halcyon Days of the Incredibly Parlous, Violent Decade I Grew Up In

On Friday night, I was chilling on the sofa, reading a book and listening to a Sirius station dedicated to mellow music from the 70s.  By the time they played a third James Taylor song, I had rested my book on my chest and begun to drift off into a pleasant snooze when a thought flitted through my peaceful mind: "Boy," I thought, "I wish the world were as peaceful and easy as it was when I was growing up."

This thought was so dumb it yanked me out of my quietude.  Are you old enough to remember the 70s?  The 70s were a goddamn mess!  Vietnam. Pinochet. The Khmer Rouge was filling up the killing fields while James Taylor was seeing fire and rain.  The cold war was getting really hot.  Patty Hearst was going by Tania.  Squeaky Fromme was pointing her gun at the president.  Terrorists were taking Olympic athletes hostages.  912 people drank poisoned Kool-Aid in the Jonestown compound in Guyana.  The Beatles broke up. The first Ebola virus struck in Africa.  Pol Pot took over Cambodia.  Watergate.  And that damn hot mess of a decade ended up with 52 American citizens held hostage in Iran.

And the crime!  I mean the only thing to say about 1970s crime was at least it wasn't 1980s crime.  Those 1970's salad days that lazily crossed my addled pre-nap brain were about the time when crime was peaking in the US.  It's been on a decline since 1990, you guys!

Lookit: I woke up and realized that I was being nutty.  But I've told this little self-recriminatory anecdote a couple of times over the weekend and have repeatedly been met with, "Oh, no!  The world is way scarier now than we were kids.  You have to be so much more careful."

In a sense, this is true - the world is much scarier without Mom and Dad to take care of you.  But this fact is independent of the decade.  There are mortgages to pay and jobs to go to and the utterly pants-shittingly terrifying project of raising children.  And, right there at the apex (or the nadir) of adult terror is the profound, constant awareness of one's own mortality.  When you're 11, you're pretty sure you're never going to die.  When you're 45, you're all like, "Gee, I hope I make it through the afternoon." Even worse, when you're 45, you're intimately aware of your own child's mortality, which is the scariest thing in a world that you're increasingly aware is really fucking scary.

But the data matters.  The world itself is not, in fact, scarier than it used to be.  So let's all drop our weapons, nod politely at our neighbors, answer the door, proffer directions when a stranger looks lost and just, you know, relax a little.  It's scary out there.  Sure. It is.

But it's always been scary.


Monday, July 14, 2014

The March, Chapter 15: Wally Cadwallader Has the Perfect Cosmetic for You

Chapter 14

“I’d buy that for a dollar”
Robocop

One Thursday afternoon, Mary paid a visit to the Lightweight Group offices to drop off some receipts.  She was surprised to run into Rosie, who was cheerfully fending off a sales pitch from Lightweight’s secretary, Francis Cadwallader, called Wally by most of the L.G.E. staff.

Wally was a Lightweight institution.  He’d been around since Bulstrode had first incorporated and knew the ins and outs of every bar and restaurant in the group.  He managed all the HR, a good chunk of the accounting and still managed to keep on top of the best gossip.  But what he really wanted was to be self-employed.

“Rosie, your skin is beautiful now, but you need to start a better regimen,” said Wally, brandishing a variety of Ooh La La brochures.  Ooh La La was a cosmetics and skin care company in the model of Avon and Mary Kay.  Wally was operating as the only male Ooh La La sales consultant,  leveraging finger snapping fabulosity and separating the ladies of Lightweight from their tips.  This Ooh La La thing was a niche made for an old queen like him.  He thought the make-up was fun.  And he really enjoyed discombobulating all the old biddies in their knockoff Chanel suits at the biannual sales conferences.  

“Thanks, Wally,” said Rosie.  “But I’m fine on makeup right now.  But how are you doing?  Working too hard?”

“Of course not,” said Wally.  “Doing quite well, thank you.  Well, except your father is being difficult about sponsoring some Ooh La La parties at the bars.  He thinks it’s weird.  But I won’t give up.  There are too many beautiful young girls working in all that smoke and keeping those late hours.  They could all use some good product.  He’ll give in eventually.  In the meantime, you’d better rethink some good moisturizer from me. You won’t always have that wonderful skin.  Start now, and your skin will look as good as mine when you’re 45!” 

(Rosie had attended Wally’s 50th birthday party four years ago.)

Rosie grinned and cheerily agreed to attend any Ooh La La party that Wally threw.  The Lightweight offices were a much brighter place due to his relentless sales pitches.

“Hi, Rosie,” said Mary, who also enjoyed the sales pitches.  “And, hi, Wally, how are you and, no, I don’t need any moisturizer.”

“Ah, youth,” said Wally.  “When I was your age I was sure I’d always be 25 too.  Let’s look at your pores. I have a marvelous pore reducer.”  He thrust a hand mirror in front of the two young faces.
Mary looked into the mirror and saw her face next to Rosie’s. She sighed a bit wistfully.  She was three inches shorter than Rosie, and fifteen pounds heavier; her hair was a sort of dull brown.  Her face was pleasant but plain.  Next to Rosie, she felt a little like a donkey next to a unicorn.

“I swear,” said Mary.  “It’s hard to maintain any self-respect when I look at me next to you.”

“Well, a little makeup could fix that,” said Wally.  “And you’re prettier than you think you are, Mary.  You just need a little oomph.  I have just the thing.”

“It’s not makeup you need,” said Rosie.

“Yes it is,” mumbled Wally as he rummaged in his case.

“You need to get laid,” said Rosie, ignoring him.  “You should take pity on Fred.  He’d gladly buy you dinner and shower you with compliments and then take you home and let you order him around in the sack.  That’ll put a shine on your apple.”

“Uh uh… no,” said Mary, shaking her head.  “The day I let some guy determine my self worth is the day I just give up all together.”

“Well, you should give him a break anyway,” said Rosie.  “He’s an idiot, but he’s sweet and he really is crazy about you.”

“He only thinks he’s crazy about me,” said Mary.  “But I think he thinks I have my shit together and that I can help him get his shit together.  I, on the other hand, am only interested in a guy who’s got his shit together already.  Once he gets there, he should pick up the phone and call me.  I might fucking answer.”

“Here we go!” said Wally, holding up a blusher.  “This will put roses on your cheeks.  And Rosie is right, I think.   About Fred. He’s a good boy. Going on a date with him doesn’t mean you’re going to get married.  I think you’re thinking too hard about it.  It’s clear you like him.  And you swear too much.”

“I swear just fucking enough,” said Mary, smiling.  “And I don’t like him like that.  He’s not done baking yet, you know?”

Rosie stopped listening.  Tré was walking in with her father.  Mary and Wally weren’t offended, though.  They were used to Rosie’s short attention span.

“Rosie,” said Bulstrode.  “What brings you here?”

“Mommy wanted me to come in and remind you about the benefit tonight,” she said.

“Why didn’t she just call,” Bulstrode asked, glancing through the day’s mail.

“I told her I was going to be down here anyway,” said Rosie.  “And I’d make sure you remembered.”

“Well, I hope you remember about church on Sunday,” said Bulstrode.  “I want you there on time. And dressed decently, for God’s sake.”

“I don’t wear decent clothes,” said Rosie, throwing a little side eye at Tré. “I wear fabulous clothes.”

That was true.  Rosie was famous throughout the Lightweight empire for her ensembles. She dressed for maximum attention.  It wasn’t that she dressed revealingly, although she wasn’t shy. It was more that she dressed outrageously, in the thrift shop chic that was popular in those days.  This afternoon, for example, she was wearing one of Fred’s sweaters, which came down to mid-thigh, Chuck Taylor high top and a backwards baseball cap.  No pants.

“Sunday,” said Bulstrode.  “Dressed respectably.  I want to be seen with my family.  I’ve been told I’m being considered for the board and I want it.  I need my family showing up looking civilized.”

“I’ll be there, Daddy.  Dressed just this side of Mennonite,” said Rosie, still looking at Tré.

Bulstrode shook his head resignedly and turned his attention to Mary.  “Do you have receipts?” he asked.  “Wally, find the receipts from last year.  I want to see sales comparisons.  Tré, you carry on with what you were doing.  I like the L.G.E. Presentation idea.  But I’m not sure about making The March a flagship. We’ll talk more later.”

“One second, Bully,” said Wally.  “I would like to throw an Ooh La La party at The March.  You’ve hemmed and hawed too much.  I want a verdict and I want it in front of witnesses.”

“Fine, Wally,” said Bulstrode.  “You can have your damn makeup party at The March, provided you do in on a Sunday before football starts and you don’t bother any guests.”

“I want wine too,” said Wally, following Bulstrode into the office. “You can give us the cheap stuff.”
Mary shook her head and trailed after them.
 
“So,” said Rosie, pleased to find herself alone with Tré.  “I didn’t really come to relay a message to my father.”

“No?” said Tré. “Then why did you come?”

“I was thinking I could help you out a little,” said Rosie, moving a little closer.  “I was wondering if your tour of Lightweight had taken you to Sidetracks, yet.”

“That off-track betting dump,” asked Tré.

“Oh, it’s not a dump,” she responded.  “Sidetracks has real charm if you’re with the kind of girl who can expose them. Whaddya say?”

The boss’s daughter wanted to take him gambling on a Thursday afternoon at a dive bar.  Everything about this was dangerous.  But, damn, she looked good.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The March, Chapter 14: The Night Doesn't Go Well For Anyone...Well, Almost Anyone


Fuck me gently with a chainsaw
-Heathers

Tré Little made Rosie, who came standard with enough sparkle for two, sparkle enough for 20.

She barely noticed Brooke leaving the bar in tears, paid no attention to Fred’s alternately mournful and merry conversational gambits, and resolutely ignored Caleb’s scolding glances.  All Rosie’s focus was on Tré.  And yet, despite all that focused sparkle, somewhere just shy of midnight, Tré announced his intention to depart.

“So early, nerd?” said Rosie.  “Let’s get out of her and go dancing.”

“Can’t do it, beautiful,” said Tré.  “It’s a working day tomorrow and I need to get my beauty sleep.”  He gave her a wink and another huge smile and walked away.

Rosie was flummoxed.  Rosie was pissed.  When she asked someone to go dancing with her, they good and goddamn well went dancing with her.

What the fuck?

Tré walked to the el with his head full of The Lightweight Group.  He was thinking that The March would be a good flagship for the rebrand.  It was small enough, and in a good location.  They had a dedicated clientele; who might complain loudly about changes, but wouldn’t soon give up the place.
The March was an interesting idea.  He walked the midnight streets pondering, Should we do it like ‘The March: A Lightweight Joint’?  No… too black, too trendy.  What about just L.G.E ... like The March, L.G.E.  Focus the branding more by font and color scheme.  I need to go home and draw it up.  See what looks good. Rosie looked good. That girl is crazy hot. I should have gone dancing with her… Wait!  I’ve got it: L.G.E. Presentation.  The March: An L.G.E. Presentation.  God, that’s classy.

When Tré got home, he whipped out his notebook and drew up some nameplate ideas for The March.  He worked until about 3:00 and then made himself a sandwich, letting thoughts of Rosie dance through his brain.  She was a sexy girl and a hell of a lot of fun.  But she was also the boss’s daughter.  He’d be wise to avoid that little flirtation.

---

As Tré pondered professional and romantic strategies, Brooke lay miserably on the couch, crying quietly.  Celia sat on the floor next to her, distressed and annoyed.

“He just walked out without saying anything!” Brooke murmered.  “He was so cold!”

“He’s an ass, Brooke,” said Celia, barely tolerating even his memory.  “He’s a dried up, withered old ass.  Why do you care so much?”

Brooke snuffled, and shook her head. “No one cares about the things I care about,” She said.  “But he does. And he knows so much.  He’s brilliant.  If he taught me, I could be as brilliant as he is.  I could know all the same stuff. I could make things better.”

“Oh, Brooke,” said Celia.  “I hate it that this old fucker is making you feel this way.  Even if that old fossil has read books you haven’t, it’s only because he’s old.  You’re with ten of him.  Twenty!  A hundred!  I can’t think of anyone who’d care if he fell off the face of the earth tomorrow.  But if you weren’t around, what would I do?  See?  You do make things better!”

Brooke just rolled over and put her face into the back of the sofa.  Her voice muffled, she said, “I love you too, Celia.  But I’d care if he weren’t around. I’d care a lot.”

---

As Brooke cried herself to sleep, Fred was weaving and stumbling around the kitchen, trying to make himself a sandwich.  He made so much noise, he woke Susan up.

“Hi, honey,” said Susan.  “Overdid it a little tonight, huh?”

“Yesh,” said Fred, sitting down heavily in a chair.  “I wish Mary liked me.”

“Well, darling,” said Susan, stroking his hair.  “You’ll start school in the fall and soon enough you’ll be a lawyer and then she’ll see what a marvelous man you are.  And if she doesn’t, well, the girls will be beating down the door for a fellow like you.  I saw someone on Oprah who said, ‘As you become more clear about who you really are, you’ll be better able to decide who is best for you.’  Maybe Mary isn’t the best for you.  Just be patient.  Maybe you'll meet the right girl when you're back in school.  Now, shall I make you a sandwich?”

“Idonwanna,” said Fred, his head buried in his hands.

“What, dear?” asked Susan.  “You don’t want a sandwich?  Just go to sleep.  Sleep it off. Everything will seem brighter in the morning.  It always does!”

Fred trumbled wearily off to bed, where he passed out with one shoe still on.

Rosie flipped channels in the family room, fuming over Tré.

Tré slept like a rock.

Brooke dreamt restless, apocalyptic dreams on the couch.

Celia left the apartment to go to Gio’s where she complained bitterly about Teddy.

Gio commiserated with Celia’s complaints and then he kissed her.

And Celia was pretty happy about that.

And the next day, for every one except Gio and Celia, everything seemed pretty much the same as it had the night before.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The March, Chapter 13: Brooke Gets a Win and then Takes a Loss



You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.
-        Christmas Story

Brooke got to The March a little before her 4:30 shift started and greeted Gio, who was standing at the door acting weird.  She decided to ignore his weirdness and strolled straight into the office.  She tucked her bike seat away, grabbed an apron and tied it around her waist as she walked up to the wait stand.  She was in a great mood.  Teddy had invited her back the next day.

At the bar, Mary was leaning back, chatting with Farebrother and Fred, who was still pouring over the sports page.

“Brooke,” said Mary, handing her a bank.  Did I hear that you asked about recycling here?”

Brooke smiled and nodded.  “Caleb said we could do it if I took charge.  I called the alderman and he said he could get me the containers, but I’d have to get them to the redemption center on my own.  I don’t know how to do that.  It’s ridiculous how difficult this is.  We should all be recycling by now as a matter of course!”

‘You know,” said Mary.  “Most of the ignorant motherfuckers who come in here have no idea that they bear any responsibility for the air we breathe.   Maybe a blue garbage can or two will at least make them feel guilty.  Fred, let’s help Brooke out.  Can you find a van or something to carry recycled bottles to the redemption center?”

“Yeah,” said Fred, always happy to do a favor for Mary.  “I’m sure I can scrounge something up.”

“Really?” said Brooke.  “That’s amazing!”

“Yep,” said Mary.  “The March Tavern goes treehugger.  I love it.”

The Marshall Field floor managers wandered in and sat at their normal table.  Brooke headed over to wait on them.  She was friendly in her greeting.  Why not?  The day kept getting better!  A recycling program at The March was a quantifiable, authentic contribution to the environmental movement.  At long last she was doing something.  She was very excited to tell Teddy.

She passed the rest of her shift uneventfully.  As did Gio.  No minors tried to get past him.  No one touched her butt.  At the shift change, she tipped out $4 to Gio and then asked if he wanted to have a drink before going home.  Gio demurred citing homework and wandered home thinking less about the beer Brooke had uncharacteristically suggested and more about Celia.

Fred, typically gallant, decided to rescue Brooke who had been set to sea by Gio.  He invited her to join him at the bar.

Business was brisk that night.  The floor was full and Rosie was working the floor like a sassy tornado.  Farebrother was joined at the bar by a host of other regulars and Mary, who had been relieved by Caleb and was happy to join the regular crew to drink and argue about sports.  Caleb mixed cocktails and chatted with regulars.  It was pleasant for one and all.

At around 9:00, Teddy came in. It was late for him, but he felt that he hadn’t gotten his usual work done during the day due to Brooke’s visit.  So, he’d stayed at home compiling scientific evidence of various 19th century pollutants (you know, because we’ve always been assholes like this) before heading in for his evening beers and note review.  Or so he’d have you think.  Teddy was no stranger to the circadian rhythms of The March and he’d have known that Brooke was recently off duty.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if he wanted her to join him at the bar or if he was hoping to miss her. I’m not sure.  Teddy probably wasn’t either.

When he arrived at his usual stool, he sat down, placed a twenty on the bar, set his cigarettes and lighter next to it, and settled in.  Looking around, he saw Brooke sitting at the bar with Fred and Farebrother.  He frowned.

Brooke hadn’t noticed Teddy come in.  Both Fred and Farebrother were encouraging her ideas to green up The March and this, plus a few beers, had left her feeling a little loose and enthusiastic.  She sparkled with their attention.

Teddy watched her laughing and eagerly scribbling on a piece of paper.  It probably looked to Teddy (as it might have to you) like she was flirting.  Fred and Brooke were both, after all, good looking people of roughly the same age.  But Brooke wasn’t flirting.  Shoot, even if Brooke knew how to flirt, she was completely smitten with Teddy. And Fred’s only goal was for Mary to notice his nascent admirable interest in a recycling program.

Teddy was so sourly engrossed in observing the threesome that when Caleb approached him with his beer, he didn’t hear his friendly greeting, didn’t notice Caleb making change for the twenty, was barely aware of lifting the beer mug.  He drank, broodingly.

At around 9:30, Tré walked into The March and looked around.  “Tré!” said Fred when he spied him. “Come, join us.  I have an idea to pitch to you.”

Tré could have believably claimed that he was there to wet his whistle after a long day of work in the Lightweight Group’s office.  There was a good case to be made that he was there as part of his tour of stores, in search of “organic cohesion.”  But, let’s be honest (even if Tré won’t):  the beautiful, blonde waitress who was smiling at him from the wait station factored prominently in his decision of where he'd grab a drink after work.

Tré took the stool closest to the wait station and brushed Rosie’s arm as he sat down.  Fred introduced him to Brooke (much to Rosie’s annoyance).  Fred asked about Tré’s plans to cohere the establishments and then suggested that he think about Brooke’s green initiatives as part of the rebrand.

“Interesting,” said Tré, noncommittal at first, but warming as he thought about it.  Maybe this Brooke girl was onto something.  She was a nice looking girl, too.  A little intense, maybe.

Rosie tied of waiting for attention, so she tapped Tré on the shoulder and commenced flirting and being flirted with.  Brooke kept talking to Fred, Mary, and Farebrother about how they could manage the recycling program.  Other regulars wandered in and joined them.  Caleb kept everyone’s glasses filled. It was a cheerful little corner that evening.

Teddy left after just three beers (far fewer than was his wont) and made sure that Brooke saw him leave.  He ignored her when she called out a greeting and made sure she was upset before exiting.


Brooke left shortly after him, all her sparkle gone.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The March, Chapter 12: Brooke's Day with Teddy


220…221… whatever it takes
-        Mr. Mom

At around 11:00 am or so, Brooke walked into Teddy's apartment building carrying Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and donuts (as per request) and somewhat haughtily informed the doorman that she was there to see Teddy Causobon. The doorman responded to her haughtiness with purposefully skeevy amusement and referred to her as his "niece" when he called up Teddy to announce her arrival.

He made sure to pronounce the quote marks.

She ignored the doorman’s patronizing leers.  Riding up the elevator, she felt awkward, unable to find a comfortable way to hold the donuts and coffee.  She was overwhelmed by the scope of Teddy’s great work, the years he’d spent on this important project.  She hoped he’d be willing to teach what he could to her, allow her to assist him immediately and intimately.  She’d be happy being his Girl Friday.  She might end up indispensable. 

As she exited the elevator, she arranged a smile and endeavored to handle her parcels more elegantly.  She knocked on Teddy’s door with her elbow (rather inelegantly, it must be said) and listened for his approach.  He answered the door, a minute or so later, wearing his usual uniform: threadbare, loose trousers that sagged unattractively over his rear end, a faded too small tee shirt (it used to fit a little better) and a ratty tweed blazer than smelled of too many hours inside a bar and too few inside a dry cleaners.  There were no patches at the elbow.

Don’t kid yourself: Teddy had practiced his look until he’d perfected it: shopworn professor anti-chic.  He felt he looked very serious.

“Ah, Brooke,” he said, smiling thinly as he opened the door wider to let her in.  “How does the day find you?”

“Excited,” she said.  “And eager to help.”

“Right this way, my dear,” he said, gallantly ushering her into the main room.  “Here’s where I do the bulk of my organizing.”

Brooke looked into the great room of the apartment.  It was huge!  An expensive, worn Persian carpet lay over hardwood floors. A rich, red camel back sofa faced a working, wood fireplace that was framed by an exquisite oak mantle.  Large wing back chairs were to the left and right of the fire, each with its own delicate antique end table.  There was a gorgeous mahogany coffee table in the middle of it all.

If I stop right there, it all sounds really nice, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t. 

There were papers strewn across the floor everywhere.  Ashtrays teeming with cigarette butts littered every table, along with a shocking number of half full coffee cups and empty pop cans.  It smelled… it smelled like you’d imagine a room would smell that was full of old papers, stale cigarette butts, ancient coffee and a man who privileged a noble intellect to the exclusion of personal hygiene.

Teddy was very proud of it. His apartment was enormous, especially for this haute enclave in the city.  It had four bedrooms, two baths, with a formal dining room, a terrace and a walled garden.  It had been in the family for decades and Teddy owned it outright, his annuity easily covering the taxes and the limited upkeep he put into it. But, the place stank of stale cigarettes and not much cleaning.  There were old books and papers stacked up helter skelter in every room.  It was dusty.  There were mice.  It wasn’t exactly Gray Gardens, but it may have been nearing the verge.

Much like his sloppy, negligent style of dress, Teddy felt his apartment projected the image of a man who spent all his time working.

Brooke agreed with this tacit assessment.  She swallowed up her initial distaste and smiled up at Teddy.

“Where should I put this?” she asked, holding out the coffee and donuts.  Teddy helped himself to a donut and then pointed her in the direction of the kitchen.

“Just put it in there, dear,” he said.  “Can you bring me a cup of that coffee and then I’ll show you around?”

Brooke brought in two cups of coffee and they got right to work.  Teddy introduced her to his arcane, sloppy filing system while he expounded on his various theories as to mankind’s tragic neglect and dire predictions for its imminent demise.  Brooke spent the day scoping out research categories and eagerly suggesting alternate filing systems, all of which Teddy pooh-poohed dryly.  This, irritatingly to all except the principal actors in this scene, only served to intensify her crush.

-        What if you sorted by decade and then location?
-        I’ve thought of that, only that ignores category.
-        Well, we could add category into the system.  How about decade, location and then category?
-        Yes, but I cannot determine whether to weight category over location or vice versa.
-        Why not begin with decade and then determine the weight of subsequent sort after?
-        That strikes me as rather cumbersome, dear.  Now tell me, have you studied any American aboriginal dialects?  I could teach you a smattering of Cherokee.

Oh, how Teddy loved to be the teacher!  How Brooke loved to the student!  Cherokee!  How exciting to be with someone who knew Cherokee and was willing to teach her!  How gratifying to be with someone who wanted to learn!

There is nothing wrong with a student/teacher relationship.  We all need to learn and we all have something to teach.  But once you add romance into the relationship, it becomes unsustainable.  Eventually, the teacher decides the student is too stupid to learn and becomes wearied.  One day, the student realizes she’s learned all she cares to from the teacher and becomes scornful.   Or, more likely, one of them wearies of the dynamic, sick of being relegated to one side or the other of the powerful/powerless dichotomy.

It can’t help but get boring, can it?

Fortunately for this narrative, though, some juicy drama precipitates the inevitable end.

By 4:00 that afternoon, Brooke was dusty, hungry, overwhelmed and thoroughly smitten.  She’d learned to say “sunrise” and “pine cone” in Cherokee.   She smelled a little of Teddy’s apartment. She didn’t mind!  But she thought it prudent to take a shower before heading into work so she headed home.

---

As Brooke was dreamily washing the smell of Teddy’s apartment from her hair, Gio wandered into The March early for work and determined to talk to Mary about the Brooke Situation.

When he got there, he joined John Farebrother, who sitting at the bar enjoying an early afternoon beer.

“Mary,” said Gio, sitting down heavily, brow furrowed, the very picture of fraternal concern.  “You know Brooke doesn’t have much family, right?  Her father lives out in the burbs with his new wife and kids.  She and Celia pretty much raised themselves.”

“Life’s a bitch,” said Mary.  “But she seems to be doing OK.”

“I don’t think so,” said Gio.  “She’s at Teddy’s house.  I think she’s going to start going out with him or something.  You need to talk to her about it.”

“Me?!” said Mary, laughing.  “Why the fuck me?”

Farebrother smiled into his beer. 

“Well, you’re a little older and wiser,” said Gio.  “You could be like a big sister.”

“Gio,” said Mary, gently, taking his hand.  “What the fuck is wrong with you?  Seriously, honey, what the fuck? Did you hit your head or something on your way in?”

“Come on, Mary,” whined Gio. “You have to.  Why not?”

“Because I barely know her,” said Mary.  “And you know that.”

“He likes her,” chimed in Farebrother.  “Clearly.  And he wants you to make her like him too.”

“No,” said Gio.  “Well… at least that’s not the point.”

Mary and Farebrother exchanged a look.

“Look, Gio,” said Mary.  “From my vantage point of being all older and wiser and shit, let me drop a little wisdom on you: Brooke gets to like who she wants to.  She gets to make her own decisions.  And, furthermore, when smartypants guys start trying to tell her they know better than her, you’ll just piss her off.  It would piss me off, only I feel kind of sorry for you.  You know, because you’re such a fucking idiot.”

“Somebody besides me is the fucking idiot,” said Fred, who’d walked in with a sports page tucked under his arm.  “Thank God.”

“Oh, you’re the king favorite fucking idiot,” said Mary.  “But Gio is making a pretty good effort to unseat you.”

“You know, Gio,” said Fred, sitting down and opening his paper.  “Everyone knows you like Brooke, but her sister is the one you should be going out with.  Celia is the one who likes you.”

“She what?” said Gio.

Mary rolled her eyes.

“I remember when I was your age, Gio,” said Farebrother, smiling.  “I was almost as stupid.”

“I’m not being stupid,” said Gio.  “He’s too old for her and he’s gross.”

“I won’t argue those points,” said Mary.  “But Brooke is a grown ass woman and gets to date who she wants to, no matter how fucking weird her choices are.”

“Wait,” said Gio.  “Celia likes me?”

Farebrother decided it was time for a shot of Jameson.

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