Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel (Friday, at work. The Greatest Love of All. Polye Thylene.)
In the kitchen Angela, the kitchen manager, is standing with Amer, who you have christened Mersault from Camus’ The Outsider.
They must be in a draft because their hair is billowing. Their lips are pressed together like young lovers and Amer’s hand is tapping Angela’s arse in time to the rhythm of a music beat in his head.
They are doing this to taunt you.
If you had zen breathing techniques this would not bother you.
You do not have zen breathing techniques.
You notice that Amer has left his apron neatly folded on the drainer. A dishwasher’s apron is akin to his soul. You snatch it up and take it into the staff toilets where you drop your pants and wipe it on your bum. You pull it backwards and forwards between your legs like the boys at school did with your towel and your school uniform when you were all naked and before you had showered after games.
They did this every week for a year.
This was when you were homeless and you didn’t have access to a washing machine.
You used to rinse out your clothes in the bus station toilet, crying, as the cruising men would eye up your bare arse.
Sometimes you would go into a cubicle with them for 50p.
“Oh yes,” you say. “Oh yes.”
You hold Amer’s apron up to the fluorescent light. When you put your mind to it you can really achieve something.
Angela will see Amer’s stained apron and she will balk at his poor personal hygiene. She will longingly recall your fragrant underpants. It is impossible she will love him anymore.
She will love you.
But when you go return to the kitchen Amer is standing at his station, washing pots and he is wearing an apron.
It is spotless.
It is almost a shroud.
It is then that you realise your mistake.
You have wiped yourself on your own apron.
As you put it on Amer looks at you and sniggers.
He goes to each other staff member individually and you see him pointing over to you.
You hear the word ‘shitstain’.
Or maybe it is two words.
Telling Angela you are going for fag break you go and see Clive in resource management.
You ask if he has a spare apron.
He does not.
Not until Tuesday.
Will he see you then?
Yes you will, you say, you will see me then, and you return to the kitchens wondering who will love you now?
The greatest love of your life happens in New York. Poly Thylene is a performance artist who reads her own poetry while dangling from a small hot air balloon in Central Park. She does this while completely naked except for her wrapping of clingfilm.
“Which is where I get my stage name. Polyethylene is what clingfilm is made from.”
You realise almost straight away that she is nuts but as she is pretty and appears not altogether unwilling to sleep with you at some unspecified date in the future you do not mind this fact and in fact you encourage her to be kooky because the more kooky she is, you believe, will translate into her being more adventurous in the bedroom and you spend many hours imagining the exotic adventures you will enact.
This does not happen.
Although she does not touch you, when she is high on her ‘ludes’, which is often, she will allow you to strip naked and to rub yourself slowly against her clingfilm wrap while she stands upright in the centre of her apartment reciting the poetry of Walt Whitman backwards. In the room also have to be several of her heavily bewigged art school associates, Chloe, Vince and Speedy Gonzales. They film you on VHS for a video project they are to release on huge Scopitone jukeboxes around the East Village.
You do not like to be filmed.
You do not like the poetry of Walt Whitman backwards. You do not even like it forwards.
You do not like the touch of clingfilm against your skin.
You are reminded of the sandwiches your mother used to make. The ones you would take to school and which the other boys would urinate on and then make you eat.
And so you ache for Polye Thylene as you glimpse intimations of her flesh beneath the cling film as she floats above you tethered to her balloon, reading aloud her poetry through a megaphone.
You wish she would write a poem just for you.
You will turn up to her apartment one day and find it pinned to her door.
This is just to say
I have removed the clingfilm.
You will find me on the bed
Spread eagled and willing
I couldn’t help myself
I find your body so erotic
And your missing foreskin
And so warm
You are together six months. In the summer you find it romantic to lug her balloon to Central Park every afternoon after class when the sun burns and you can lie on the grass and you can plug your ears with wax to block out the dreadful poetry. In the winter it is less romantic when there are icicles hanging from your nose and eyebrows. You dread the cold of her apartment, of having to stand naked while you grind yourself against the clingfilm, the whoops of encouragement from her art school associates behind you.
But still you are heartbroken when she breaks up with you. You get down on your knees and you tell her you are thinking of becoming a performance artist yourself and you are going to wrap yourself in tinfoil and perform adventurous handstands below her balloon while she pauses between her poems and your stage name will be Jack Haley after the actor who played The Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz which is a film you know she loves because she has it on VHS tape and you have watched it together three times.
“Look, you,” she says, she always calls you you in that kooky / nuts New York way of hers, “I’m sorry. It’s over. Capisce?”
And while you are silently sobbing she goes on to tell you that her clingfilm phase is over and it is time for her to move on as an artist and as a person.
You see her just one more time.
You have been standing outside her block for three days, using an alleyway with cats and rats and dustbins to perform your ablutions, living on coffee and donuts from the local donut shop for sustenance, when you see her coming down the road. You have planned many speeches but these all go out of your head when you see that she is arm in arm with a muscular lunk sporting a slick buzz cut.
You slink back in the doorway.
You tell yourself that he is just a friend.
You know by the way that he has a proprietary hand on her ass that he is not just a friend.
You vow that you will take revenge and that she will rue the day that she ever did the dirty on you.
Five minutes after they have gone into the building you follow them in.
It feels good to be in her building again and as you go up the stairs you feel a sense of homecoming.
You are meant to be.
You and Polye Thylene will sort things out.
The door to her apartment is ajar and you go in. ‘I’m home,’ you want to cry out but you do not but you do hear someone crying out and then you see on the pull-out sofa are two naked figures and it takes you sometime for you to work out, because there are arms and legs and other body parts everywhere, that one is Polye Thylene and one is the buzz cut lunk.
“But you haven’t got your clingfilm on,” you cry when Polye Thylene finally sees you and starts to scream at you and call you a weirdo and a freak and the naked lunk jumps up and punches you on the nose and then there is blood, your blood, everywhere and after a time when you have all calmed down Polye Thylene tells you she told you already she is over her clingfilm phase and this is a new phase and you have to understand.
And finally you do understand.
But for the rest of your life you regret that you met this beautiful woman in her clingfilm phase and not her naked rampant sex phase.
At the end of your shift you watch Amer, who you have Christened Mersault after the character in Camus’s Outsider, and Angela slink off hand in hand and are surprised to find your heart is not filled with hatred and revenge.
Eight hours with your hands in soapy water washing dishes has had the same effect as a session of zen meditation and you love everybody and why shouldn’t everybody love everybody, there is enough hatred in the world without you adding to it, Angela and you didn’t work out, that was all and there are plenty more fish in the sea and then Amer comes slinking back with a smirk on his face and he tells you he has forgotten his cigarettes and you know that he is lying because he does not smoke and then he tells you the many dirty things he is going to do to Angela and do you wish that you could satisfy a lady in the same way he can with his huge dick?, and you quickly adjust your previous thought because you do hate Amer and you imagine pushing his head into the filthy washing up water and holding it until he drowns and then you would carry his dead and inert body up to Angela’s room and dump it on her bed and ask her what she thought of her brown-eyed boy now.
“And don’t come sniffing around me for sex,” you would say as a parting shot, “because I’m nobody’s second best.”
And the tears form in your eyes because on your best days you have never been as good as second best.
You had not meant to go to The Commodore Club because you didn’t want to be too drunk when you go to meet Eusavio later but you are unable to get the thought of Amer and Angela out of your head and you think you will have just one single vodka, that will be enough to calm your nerves but when you go into the Commodore Club you see lots of men and women all sitting in couples staring into each other’s eyes and it comes back to you that today is the day the motel is hosting a Happy Couples Convention and all this happiness makes you sick and instead of a single you order a triple and you ask Simon to hold the ice because you want to knock the drink back in one and you don’t want the ice to bang against your teeth and you are pleased that you have had this thought because it shows you are thinking straight.
After the first triple you order a second one and after the second a third.
This time you don’t ask Simon to hold the ice and you see him smirk as the ice cubes bounce from your cheeks and down to the floor.
You are sinking.
In New York after you split from Polye Thylene you decide you are going to be a writer because when she sees your name on a book she will be sick to her stomach and regret that she ever dumped you and she will come crawling back on her hands and knees and you will tell her you are no longer interested because you have a whole line of groupies to choose from and you could sleep with a different one of them every day if you wanted and that is what you do.
The university you are studying at has a huge library and you spend day after day in there reading to get yourself up to speed before you try your hand at your own stories and in your reading you discover the work of John Fante, Damon Runyon, Richard Brautigan, Charles Bukowski and Emmanuel Bove and you decide like them you are going to be a poet of the working classes because that is what the world needs right now, a voice like yours to show them the truth of poverty and how noble it can be.
You will write about you.
You carry a pad with you and look for inspiration everywhere you go, in the sleepy faces you spy on the subway, the workers from the department stores and donut shops, in the constant pacing of the whores that ply their trade outside your apartment and ask you every day if you would like to see a lady.
Your first story is about the tiny Chinese woman who lives in the apartment above yours. Every time you go out she always manages to catch you on the stairs and asks you to ‘just fetch me something’ and she holds her back and groans and says if only she could manage the stairs herself she would go, but at her age…
In this way when you should be writing you find yourself trawling the streets of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, looking for tiger balm, a special kind of Chinese bun, an extremely small bra designed especially for the Oriental figure.
The shop where this is sold is many miles away and extremely hard to find and it takes you many hours to find it and when you return home you are tired and aching and you are surprised to find the tiny Chinese woman standing outside the apartment block dressed in figure hugging running gear. She is jogging lightly on the spot and with her are six or seven similarly clad little Chinese women and she looks at you and asks you what took you so long and she tells you you were lucky to catch her as she was just about to go out with her running club, they are in training for the New York marathon, and she asks if you can put her bra in her mailbox and you say that you can but you do not. You take it up to your apartment and you put it on and you write your story about her.
Thieves break into her apartment. They have heard it is full of Chinese gold. It is not. Disappointed they throw the little Chinese woman out of the window for fun.
You send your story off to many small magazines.
You receive many rejections.
One of the rejections tells you that although they like the title everything that comes after it stinks.
Another editor calls you a racist and that if he met you in the flesh he would pull your ears off.
Yet another tells you that you should give up writing now and that if you carry on a lifetime of disappointment awaits you.
You sometimes think about writing back to this editor.
He was right.
Your life has been one disappointment after another.
You have never experienced that greatest love of all.