Erich, Fireworks, White Castle
“How was your weekend?” Erich asked.
I dislike Erich. I receive his questions like an annoying slap to the back of the head. He is a senseless automaton and only asked that question so he could coolly segue into his own over-indulgent story of his weekend.
“Good,” I replied.
“Anyone barbecuing? Beach? Cape May? Parents’ house? Your parents? Her parents? Eh? What’s the deal, what’s the story?” With this horrendous line of questioning lingering in the air, he stood there with his mouth agape and the stupid smile of a senile dog coming off the effects of anesthetic. It took a tremendous amount of self control not to erupt into laughter as the language to describe his sickening presence unrolled in my mind.
“Went to my friend’s place. Brooklyn.”
“See any fireworks?” I finally turned away from my computer to face him directly. From this angle, he looked to me like a Sesame Street puppet that was electrified into consciousness by the intake of amphetamines. He radiated a lurid energy. He seemed so interested, but in such a fake way. I decided to get rid of him.
“Oh, yes, certainly,” I said, leaning toward him in a way that made his tail wag. “We had lots of them.”
“Do you have any pictures?” he asked, salivating and panting and spinning in circles.
“Oh, no, no, nothing like that,” I said gravely, shaking my head. “One of my friends blew his hand off. Another died.”
At this, he looked at me slack-jawed. Just then the phone rang. I deduced from the caller ID that it was Scary Mary. I looked at the phone, then back at Erich, and smiled like I was on day leave from the lunatic asylum.
“I’m, uh, sorry… I, uh… sorry to hear that… I’m gonna, uh, go get that…”
That, of course, did not happen. It was actually a rather pleasant evening. All kinds of zany characters came out to Martin’s for a feast of friends and fireworks. After Jeffrey and I tactlessly ruined the dignity of several opponents in beer pong, I spent an unusually long time out on the street with a group of young Mexican kids. They ranged from five to fourteen and asked me repeatedly if I was “a hippie or something.” I liked them. The oldest among them asked me a cool seventy-five times if I would give him a cerveza. When I finally agreed, he sheepishly said he was only kidding. The smallest kid had maybe eight teeth and didn’t believe Maxine was my girlfriend.
“No way, Jose,” he said.
I called Maxine over and she told him she was my girlfriend. We kissed to prove it. She smiled at him and he hid behind his brother. “No way, Jose,” he peeped.
When the fireworks began, I gave them Roman candles and some decades-old bottle rockets that Elliott brought. They shot them at each other like I used to do when I was an idiot kid. Zaid came through with a ton of shit he’d gotten in Pennsylvania. The sky was covered in flowery explosions of chrysanthemums and peonies and time rain. It seemed the whole world was involved in a very beautiful siege. I thought of Rios’s father wincing in his bedroom. I thought of pasta arrabiatta. I thought of flamingos and psychotic breaks. I thought of stucco and the Egadi Islands.
When we got back to Sunnyside, I went to White Castle, where I was met with such an uproar that I momentarily considered running for president. I know none of their names, but every one of them knows mine. One lady, who is the one responsible for these electric receptions and seems to me like an eccentric aunt, said, “Look at him. Look at his face. How much did you have to drink tonight?”
“Ah, you know,” I said. “Enough.” She laughed. “You guys should close up shop. It’s a holiday.”
“You need your sliders, hon!” she shouted. “You need to eat something!”
I’m going to miss them when I move. The lease is up in three weeks and it’s on to bigger and better things. We’re thinking Yorkville. Wouldn’t it be glorious to finish my book so geographically close yet so spiritually far from my humble and hilarious origins? Wouldn’t it be wonderful and cosmic to live in Yorkville, where my great-grandparents settled when they got over here from Ireland? I am already so far now from where I started this odd piece of writing. Where will I be next…