Wednesday, September 3, 2014

THIS CAR DOWN--part deux

The next installment.  What'chall think so far?

I'd been in the elevator for, maybe, half an hour when the intercom crackled on. It made a little popping noise and reminded me of the walkie-talkie set I'd had when I was a kid. It always made this little pop and then crackled, and after that you could hear the other person's voice. Then you pushed a button, and you could talk, but couldn't hear the other person until you were done. I wondered if I was supposed to push the button again. Just to be sure, I did, and said “Hello?” I felt a little dumb for saying “hello,” but then if there was any particular etiquette for being trapped in an elevator, I didn't know about it. A voice came on. “Sir? This is building security. Are you in one of the elevators?” No, you dumbass, I thought, I'm in the Twinkie aisle at the Winn-Dixie. “Yes, it's stuck.” “Which elevator are you in?” “Umm...the one that's stuck?” And I'd thought saying “hello” sounded dumb. “Sir, if you look above the indicator lights above the door, you'll see the number of the elevator.” “'s B-4.” “How many people are there with you?” “It's just me. What's going on? Did we have an earthquake?” “Yes, Sir. There's been some major damage to the building, but you should be safe where you are. Do you have any injuries?” I thought about telling him that I'd been poked in the ass by a staple but figured that humor wasn't really a wise option now. “No.” “Well, um, if you're not injured, Sir, I hate to say this but you aren't the first priority right this minute. They'll be getting to you soon. Hold tight.” Why was this guy telling me to hold tight? I was pretty definitely not going anywhere.
So it was an earthquake. I could hear sirens, quite a lot of them, muffled by the walls around the elevator. As if I didn't have enough on my mind, I started worrying about what was going on outside. What did the guy mean by “major damage?” I wondered if there were a lot of people hurt. If my apartment house was even still standing. If my dog was allright. Hell, this was Rusty's fault anyway. Dude, don't blame the dog! I told myself. It's not like he told her to pull this stunt.

The only reason I'd been in the damned building in the first place was to give Carolyn my key to our apartment. Her apartment. Since she'd made me move out a week ago, her apartment. She'd given me an ultimatum the Friday before: move out or I'll throw your stuff on the street. I spent a couple of nights with a buddy. It didn't take long to find a new place. While she was at work I went back over to the old apartment, got my clothes and some books and Rusty, and left. I wanted to trash some of her stuff, but that time at least, good sense won out. Carolyn was a lawyer. A fairly powerful lawyer. And a vindictive person. It wouldn't take more than one broken lamp for her to file suit. I don't know squat about law, but I knew Carolyn well enough to know that if I so much as left the toilet unflushed, she'd come after me.
I met Carolyn about two years earlier. We had mutual friends who'd just gotten engaged—I was one of his friends, she was supposed to be one of her bridesmaids, and they were having an engagement party. As it turned out, she wasn't one of the bridesmaids because she had some kind of fight with the bride-to-be a week before the wedding, and refused to participate in it. Which made things plenty awkward when the wedding rolled around, and I had to go because I was one of his friends, especially because Carolyn tried to talk me out of going. I pointed out that I couldn't very well not go, and she said that I owed it to her, since they had been rude to her. I mentioned that he hadn't been rude, and that it wasn't really his problem, only her friend's problem (“Former friend,” she said). That got me two days of silent treatment.
Anyway, we dated for a few months and then moved in together. Other than the spat over the wedding that she wasn't in, things went pretty well. She didn't really like my friends that much, because she hated the bar we all hung out in--”it's just like a cave in there. A dirty cave.” – but that wasn't a deal-breaker. She was fine with letting me go hang out there without her, and that gave her time to hang out with her friends. We spent most nights at home anyway. No complaints about sex; everything was fine there.
After we'd lived together about a year, she started pressuring me to get a new job. She'd drop some not-very-subtle hints about some of her friends' jobs, that they had openings. “Entry level, of course, but it's a good start.” Then, she started on me about my degree. How it was going to waste, and surely I wanted to do something besides work in a bar. I reminded her that I was working on my writing, and so my degree wasn't going to waste, but I needed to work in a bar to pay the bills. “That's just it,” she said, “that's the only way you're paying bills. When was the last time you had anything published? Oh, that's right—never.” I couldn't really argue with her, because it was true. Still, it stung. I wanted to write. I held out hope that maybe, just maybe, I'd get something published and I wouldn't have to work in a bar forever. But Carolyn kept pushing.
It turned out, after a month or so of this, that a couple of her clients who had met me at one of the firm's parties saw me at work. And that's what set her off. It's true that the bar where I work isn't one of the most stylish places in town. Well, to be honest, it's a dirty old place just off Broad that caters to ancient war vets and tired salesmen and broke grad students, but I don't think that was the problem. The problem was that it “got back to her” that they'd seen me at work and recognized me as her boyfriend. And it Didn't Look Good for someone in Her Position to have a boyfriend who worked as a bartender and sometime-bouncer.
She kept on needling me throughout the rest of that spring and summer until finally, in August, she showed up at the bar right before my shift ended. She was still wearing her gray flannel suit and black pumps from the office. Some of my regulars had dubbed her “Miss Corporate Look 2011.” I came down to the end of the bar, where she sat looking like she didn't want to touch anything. I was about to mix her usual when she gave me the infamous line, “We have to talk.”
I pretty much knew what was coming, so I told the other bartender I was going to clock out a couple of minutes early, and sat down with her. I'd always wondered what she must be like in a courtroom, and now I knew. She didn't give me a chance to say much of anything. It didn't sound like a rehearsed speech, but she made all of her points quickly and nastily. For a year now, she said, she'd been trying to get me to realize my potential. And I'd done nothing. It was bad enough that I'd given up on myself, she said, but she could see that I also didn't care enough about her to change. She had a career to think about. If she wanted to get anywhere, it just wasn't going to work out to be hitched up with a bar bouncer. She couldn't exactly show up at meet-and-greets with some dolt who may or may not have a black eye from a bar fight. And, people in her firm thought she was just using me for my dick. She realized now, she said, that she pretty much had been doing just that, but that if she were going to buy a piece of dick, she needed somebody who wouldn't be an embarrassment. And that since I wasn't going to make any changes, she was. I'd better be out of the apartment tomorrow.
After that little deposition, I had no interest in changing her mind, or in ever seeing her again. Afterwards I guess I could have told her that she didn't need to treat me like a rentboy, that my education was just as good as hers, that creativity is just as good as power-brokering, but I'd gone from complacency to not giving a shit in about three minutes, so I told her I'd stay elsewhere that night and get my stuff while she was at work on Monday. I did. Luckily one of my buds knew someone who had just moved to Roanoke and needed someone to sublet his place. It's not a great apartment, but it's reasonably clean and things can suck worse than living on Sheppard street.
Friday night, the phone rang at the bar. I had the bad luck to answer it. It was Carolyn, who, without bothering to say “hello,” told me that I still had the key to the apartment, and to bring it to the office the next day. I told her I could bring it by that night, but she said that she didn't want me at the apartment, that she'd be in the office tomorrow.

I'd never been in her office. There hadn't ever been any need for me to go there; even when things were going well with us, I knew that she was too busy to have visitors at work. I knew that it was on the 18th floor of the Jefferson Building, but that was about it. When I got there, the firm's suite seemed empty. I called out for her. “Back here.”
The office was not big, but it did have a window looking over 10th street, and you could see the river. It dawned on me that she really must have been moving up in the firm, while she was giving me hell about my non-career. It was furnished in a style that matched the Corporate Look clothes she wore for work—gray upholstery, gray carpeting, a big mahogany desk, chrome lamps. All very sleek, and all of the inviting nature of a hornet's nest. She stood looking out of the window. “You can leave the key on the desk. And I'll be over later this afternoon to get Rusty.”
My jaw may have actually dropped. “Get Rusty? He's my dog!”

“And I paid for his adoption fees and his shots. Because you couldn't afford it. He's mine and I want him back.”  

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