Senin, 13 Februari 2012

BAD INFLUENCE by Peter Nolan Smith

Last February the president of a private jet charter service invited me to dinner at the Oyster Bar. We’re old friends, even though his family forced him to quit drugs and drink. Overweight and overdose. Death was knocking on his heart. 2 weeks of cold turkey rehab and Enos was clean for eternity.

“You don’t mind if I bring my girlfriend and her daughter?” Enos liked to compartmentalize his world. I had met his lover once. She was older.

“Why would it bother me?” I was dying for a good plate of oyster followed by a pan-friend lobster stew.

“Just I don’t want to hear anything about a diamond ring.” My boss constantly bugged Enos about not making his girlfriend his wife. Richie Boy was fixated about selling diamonds. He had a lot of expenses.

“You and I go back before I was diamonds.” My cousin Ty Spaulding had introduced us in Hawaii. “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. “I’ll see you there a little after 6.”

“I won’t be late.” The Oyster Bar had the best shellfish in New York. The vaulted tile ceiling offered the illusion of timelessness permanence and at 5:50 I descended from the main floor of Grand Central Terminal with an appetite bolstered by memory. I spotted Enos at the entrance.

“Good to see you.” The big man greeted me with toothy exuberance. He was wearing a tailored suit. Business these days was good as long as you dealt the rich.

“It’s been a while.” Maybe two years and Enos didn’t look any heavier than the last time I saw him in Far Rockaway. “How’s your dad?”

“Holding on? What about yours?”

“Passed last November. Don’t say sorry. He had a good life.” My father loved oysters. “He used to eat fried clams from Wollaston Beach and wash them down with a chocolate milk shake. Not even a belch afterwards.”

“I wish I had that stomach.” Enos tapped his bass drum girth.

“Where’s your girls?” Enos had been dating the same woman for over ten years. She had a daughter. I couldn’t remember how old.

“They’ll be coming later.” Enos led me inside the restaurant and we sat at the counter. Tables were for out-of-towners. “Cheryll’s daughter is a vegan. She doesn’t eat fish.”

“No oysters?”

“None.” Enos came from a good Jewish family, but nothing was too tref or unclean for his palate. The ancient waitress approached us with menus. Enos waved them off. “Mind if I order for us?”

“Not at all.” It was his call.

“Clams casino and a glass of Reisling for my friend. I’ll have water.” Enos had stopped drinking and drugs three years ago. It was either cold turkey or a cold grave. He looked better for it.

“I have a question.” The Bangladeshi waiter brought an Austrian Riesling. It tasted of the Danube.

“What?” Enos asked, as if I needed a loan.

“This is a dietary question of religion.” I had sold a big diamond the week before. I had enough money to quit work for a year. April 1 was scheduled to be my last day at the diamond exchange, although Richie Boy thought that I was kidding.

“Meaning a Jewish question.” The waitress placed the clams casino between us.

“Yes.” I had been the sabbath goy for two decades and considered myself a scholar of judaica. “It’s a simple query. Bacon is tref and clams are tref, right?”

“Right.” Enos lipped the delicacy with pleasure.

“So in physics and mathematics two negatives make a positive, right?” I picked up one and popped it in my mouth. The combination was a sin in delight.

“Right.” The first plate of malbecs arrived at the counter.

“So if bacon and shellfish are both tref if you eat them together, does that make them non-tref?”

“According to my calculations, yes. My father would say no.” Enos popped two oysters into his mouth. He might have stopped blow, but he regained an unhealthy appetite for a man approaching 250 at 50 and for good reason. “They’re a mitzvah as long as we eat them before my girlfriend’s daughter arrives. She’s a vegan Nazi.”

“Vegans 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 older, but smart and funny. Cheryll also liked Enos, which in many ways was better than loving him.

“This is Naomi.” She introduced her twelve year-old daughter. “She’s an actress in training.”

“Hello.” Acting is the world surrounded by nos. Her skinny daughter might have been small, but her eyes exuded a toughness carved by a thousand refusals. She pointed a finger at my plate “Did you eat dead food?”

“We had a bi-valval feast.” The Malpecs had tasted of a cold Atlantic ocean.

“You’re a bad man.” Her neo-ingenue eyes were trained to seduce casting directors. Her scrawny beauty would blossom into stardom with the right training. At this point her Lolita power could overwhelm the weak. Her succubus eyes disregarded my age. I was simply another old geezer to wrap around her accusing finger.

“You couldn’t believe how bad.” Enos and Cheryll 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 in Boston’s Haymarket back in 1970 with a hippie friend. We both agreed it was better than beef, but once was enough for a lifetime. I didn’t tell this to the little precious actress.

“You’re worst than bad.”

“Evil?”

“Fucking evil.” Those two words got her mother’s attention off Enos’ cock. Her daughter and I smiled without explanation and I lifted a finger. “I like your conviction. You want me to give your headshot to a casting director?”

I mentioned a name. The woman was the biggest casting director in the city. The skinny waif flip-flopped with delight. Her mother dreamed of Naomi in the movies. Enos would be happy with her asleep in the next room while he was on top of her mother.

“Could you?”

“It’d be my pleasure.”

After all it wasn’t every day you got called evil by a twelve year-old girl.

This is what dreams are made of.

Sugar and spice and everything nice and certainly neither oysters nor whale.

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