Selasa, 22 November 2011

BAD INFLUENCE by Peter Nolan Smith

Three years ago Enos Washing had overdosed from a long night of too much of everything. The Rockaway Beach native had been surprised to wake up alive and submitted himself to cold-turkey from his excesses, for his weary heart had been knocking on death's door like a V8 engine without any lubrication. Enos had deleted most of the telephone numbers on his cell as an act of self-preservation. None of his friends complained about his salvation. We liked Enos better alive than dead. Two winters ago Enos called me at the diamond exchange."I heard from your cousin that you had come back from Thailand." Enos had visited Ty Spaulding in Pattaya and the then-broker had thought the Last Babylon 'dirty. "Back almost a year." I hoped Ty had said nothing about the circumstances surrounding my return. I already had a reputation and it wasn't good."You want to have dinner. On me. I'm doing good." Enos explained about his kicking his habit and I congratulated his success. "What about the Oyster Bar?""Good idea, it's only a few blocks from my office." Enos was running a private charter jet service for bankers and hedge fund investors. Times were tough, but the rich still liked to keep their distance from the mob. "Do you mind if I bring my my girlfriend and her daughter?” “Why would it bother me, of it doesn't bother you?” Enos liked to compartmentalize his world. I had met his lover once. She was older."Why would it bother me?""No reason." Explanations were wasted on old friends.“Just don't say anything about a diamond ring.” My boss constantly bugged Enos about not making his girlfriend his wife. “Not a word. We go back before I was diamonds.” My cousin Ty Spaulding had introduced us in 1992. Another three years would be two decades that we knew each other. He had never come close to getting married in that time and I didn't see him standing on the chuppah any year soon. “The Oyster Bar is about eating fish, oyster, and lobster.”“Exactly.” Enos was more interested in pussy. He said his girlfriend was great in bed. That was good enough for me. "See you there after work.""Good for me." I liked eating early. It made going to sleep early easy."Where you going?" Richie Boy asked after I locked the safe at 6pm."To the Oyster Bar." I twirled the combination and turned on the alarm. We were good to go. "I'm meeting Enos.""He going to buy his girlfriend a diamond?""No, we're eating oysters and fish. You want to come?" I was being polite, knowing Richie Boy considered any venture without the potential to sell a diamond as a waste of time."No." Richie was more into trendy restaurants with skinny models. They served shitty food, but the crowd bought diamonds. They were mostly bankers."See you tomorrow." I left the exchange before I got got caught up in a conversation about work. To Richie Boy this was his business. To me it was just a job.I walked over to Grand Central Terminal guided by the lit tower of the Chrysler Building. Commuters were swarming into the train station bound for suburban destinations. I descended down the incline from the Grand Concourse to the Oyster Bar with an appetite bolstered by memory. Enos was waiting at the entrance with a tooth smile. "Have you lost weight?" I asked everyone that question. It put me in their good graces."I don't think so." His belly was hanging over his belt, but Enos looked better than he had in years. His skin was clear and his face shone with health. Sobriety agreed with him."Let's get a seat." Enos led me inside the restaurant. The Oyster Bar had a few good selling points. The first was the best oysters in New York. The vaulted ceiling lending the underground restaurant a timeless permanence came second and fish fresh from the ocean brought up a close third. We sat at the counter, instead of a table.“Where’s your girls?” I didn't bother to pick up the menu. I knew the menu by heart.“The daughter is a vegan. She doesn’t eat fish.” Enos signaled for the waitress.“No oysters?” “None.” Enos came from a good Jewish family in the Rockaways, but nothing was tref or unclean according to his version of the Torah. The veteran waitress was waiting with a pencil in her hand and Enos didn't hesitate on his order for an appetizer. “Clams casino. You want something to drink?""A Riesling." The white wine went well with fish."A water for me and we'll order the rest of the meal in a few minutes."The waitress went to get our drinks and I put my arm around Enos. It was good seeing old friends, especially in better condition than the last time you saw them.“I have a question.” "Shoot." He grimaced like I was going to ask him for money.'Just a sec." I wanted him to suffer a little and I waited, as the waitress deposited our drinks on the counter an Austrian Riesling. We both ordered the pan-fried lobster and after the waitress went to the kitchen I said to Enos, “Bacon is tref and clams are tref. So if you put them together, is that like two negatives equala positive?”“Like bacon and shellfish aren’t tref if you eat them together?” Enos might have stopped blow, but he had regained an unhealthy appetite for a man approaching 250 at 50.“Yes.”“As long as we eat them before my girlfriend’s daughter arrives. She’s a vegan Nazi.”“They hate us.” We were omnivores and finished the clams casino, a dozen Malpecs, and a lobster stew before his dates entered the restaurant. I liked Enos’ girlfriend. She was smart and funny. Helen also liked Enos, which in many ways was better than loving him. She introduced her daughter. The 12 year-old was a child-actress, skinny, cute, and more than precocious. Her name was Naomi. “Did you eat dead food?”“We had a bi-valval feast.” The Malpecs tasted of the cold Atlantic OCean“You’re a bad man.” Her neo-ingenue eyes were trained to seduce casting directors. At this point her Lolita power overwhelmed the weak, yet her succubus eyes disregarded my age. "Bad why?" I was simply another old geezer."For eating animals. That's bad." Her beauty would blossom into stardom with the right training, but her attitude would contradict any benefit of acting lessons."Bad?""Very bad."“You couldn’t believe how bad.” Enos and Helen were deep in conversation, happy that I was diverting the little monster. “I was brought up along the coast of Maine. Every summer a whale would get confused in the shoals and end up beached on the sands as the sea retreated on the tide. The fishermen fought off the sharks and cut off the best pieces of whale meat for their families.”“You ate whale?” Her eyes widened in horror. She was no longer acting.“And it tasted good. No, actually it was the best thing I’ve eaten in my life.” The story was bullshit, based on a A Whale for the Killing by Farley Mowat, but I had tasted whale meat at Boston’s Haymarket in 1970 with a hippie friend. We had agreed that it was better than beef. Once was enough for a lifetime. I didn’t tell this to the little precious actress.“You’re worst than bad.”“Evil?”“Fucking evil.” No one had ever called me 'fucking evil'. This was a first."Naomi." Those two words got her mother’s attention. Her daughter and I smiled without explanation and I lifted a finger. “I like your conviction. You want that I give your headshot to a casting director.”I mentioned a name. The woman was the biggest casting director in the city. The skinny waif flipflopped with delight and her mother dreamed of her in the movies. Enos would be happy with her asleep in the next room while he was on top of her mother.“Could you?” She fished a resume and headshot from her over-sized purse.“It’d be my pleasure.” Simply sending a picture and making a phone call was no skin off my back."Thank you, mister." The little ingenue was playing nice."No worries." I wanted to force an oyster down her throat, but like Enos I had kicked my worst habit and pretended to be nice. For both of us it was a good act, but neither Naomi nor I was buying the show. We parted paths at the entrance of the Oyster Bar. "See you soon." Enos had paid the bill. My offer had made his night. He was a happy man. We all are, if a woman has a smile on her face.The next morning I posted the resume and photo to the casting director with a glowing letter about the young girl's talent. It was a small thing to do, but i was glad to help, after all it wasn’t every day you got called evil by a 12 year-old girl.

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