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Wire Monkey - Thrift Store Guy    
 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

With $37 borrowed from the Cellist and a trip to Macy's bargain basement I got through the first couple of weeks of keypunching with the Girls without anyone realizing that I only had two and a half outfits. I did this with Gertie's collection of big earrings. Everyone would stare at my ears and not notice the pants I had worn three days in a row. I figured in another month or two I would get some more clothes. But then the Cellist called. She wanted her money back.

"I want my goddamn money back."

Obviously selling all her L.L. Bean wool skirts to thrift stores hadn't been as profitable as she had hoped.

There was nothing left to do but re-start my old cleaning jobs again.

The Guilty West Side Family would always leave me a five-dollar tip because they had a country house and I didn't and I was cleaning while they were away suffering through their upward mobility and really it was only because he had given up his art for commerce that he owned all this empty materialism. I would nod seriously at his pain like I gave a shit and wish them a safe trip on the Long Island Expressway. Personally, I liked being alone in their big West Side apartment. At the end with everything gleaming, I got to fix myself a scotch, sit down in the living room facing the Hudson and look out at the sunset. I didn't want to live there. I just wanted to visit. Be some place quiet and not beat-up or raggedy or filled with Academy Award winning cries of ecstasy. Just wanted to sit like I used to as a kid in Macy's furniture department. Step over the rope and sit down in one of those fake living rooms until the sales lady yelled at me and sent me to the Lost and Found.

The second job I picked up again was with the Catholic of the Life of Quiet Desperation. But he let me go after the first weekend saying it was God's will. Nobody at the Cow could figure that one out, not even Andy who was Catholic. Then one night the Catholic of the Life of Quiet Desperation called me and told me the truth. He had lost his clerking position at the Wall Street place he had worked for 32 years and had to take another job for much less money. He didn't have the $25 a month to keep me on. He called to tell me the truth so that in case he died he wouldn't go to hell for lying.

That left the Guilt Free About Everything Upper East Side Couple who hung around while I cleaned which was really weird because their one bedroom apartment wasn't that big and frankly even silent sex noise traveled quite easily through those modern high-rise walls.

But at the end of a month and a half, I had the $37. I met the Cellist on the corner of Second Avenue and 7 th Street . The thrift store near McSorley's had offered to take a look at her knick-knacks. With the $37 I owed her and whatever she got for the ugly Toby Mugs, she had enough for an installment on the back rent. See, the Old Man suddenly stopped paying all the bills and after twenty-eight years the Cellist was suddenly faced with eviction from a home where she had QUOTE cleaned the toilet bowl by hand not with one of those brushes like those other mothers those mothers who sent their kids to camp in the summer just to get rid of them I never did that to you children CLOSE QUOTE.

No, you didn't. You kept us home during lonely, lonely summers while you practiced six hours a day and I wandered around the neighborhood dodging the pedophiles after the city-run day camp let out. I had no one to play with because all the Jewish kids were either at religious summer school or communist camp. And all the Black and Puerto Rican kids at the city-run day camp? Well, the counselors made them play with me during the hours of 10 and 12. But after 12:05 it was a lost cause.

As soon as I was tall enough to carry a baby on my hip I was out of there doing summer jobs as The Au Pair of Fire Island where I could eat as much as I wanted.

I didn't say any of this out loud as I followed the Cellist down 7 th street , listening to her spew about how suddenly having to pay rent after twenty-eight years of smelling the Old Man was just another example of being QUOTE fucked up the ass by his fucking family CLOSE QUOTE.

As usual I kept my head down because I didn't want to have to look at all the people looking at us when the Cellist screamed in public. If she screamed at me to ANSWER HER GODDAMN IT I would do so but in this very quiet, quiet voice like Gregory Peck in that movie thinking that somehow my faint voice would force her to admit defeat and come quietly to justice. The Other Daughter would scream back just as loud thinking that would shut the Cellist up. For the record neither tactic worked. The Cellist would just scream until she was done screaming. Usually two days later or whenever she had to act human, what ever came first.

In this instance it was the acting human that shut her up. She had to sell her stuff to this Thrift Store Guy and if she lost it in front of him he'd kick her out again and refuse to do business until he felt like it.

I hated this guy. He was from Connecticut . He pretended he wasn't. He had this whole bullshit philosophy about how the stolen stuff he bought off the heroin addicts was revolutionary but the stuff the Cellist sold was proof of her role as Capitalist- Oppressor of the Lower East Side. I guess if you own something you bought you were the Nixon administration as opposed to if you owned something you stole you were the Vietcong.

Or maybe he only liked poverty that was unattractive. The Cellist was beautiful. Lean and really tall for a short person because she stood so ramrod straight like the rich people in the New Yorker cartoons. Her hair was like an enraged flood - these waves pouring out of her skull - breathtaking but you knew they'd kill you in a second. And her eyes - both the real one and the glass one - glittered with a green-gray-blue that wasn't hazel but wasn't anything else either. It was the color of pain in a foreign movie.

You could tell this Thrift Store Guy thought he was the James Dean of his comfortable family because he took his trust fund dividends and set himself up in business on a dingy street in the East Village to support heroin addiction through resale.

You could tell this Thrift Store Guy felt he knew the real hard life of cold tough streets because his hand touched the hands who stole from the old couple on 5 th street too poor to move anywhere else or the family on Avenue D that saved up six months for that fucking television set.

You could tell this Thrift Store Guy sneaked home for the holidays, his real home, the one like on TV Christmas Specials where the whole family wore plaid pants and white turtlenecks. And over ham or turkey or whatever those people ate he would get into a fight with his older brother the financier about the Exploitation of the Oppressed and the Hungry and that HIS thrift store was non-profit.

In her chinos and sweater the Cellist looked like a character from the Thrift Store Guy's favorite book he had read during sophomore year in Contemporary American Lit. It was that book that made him chuck Father's offer to work at the firm and instead come to New York .

But he didn't want to see the book come to life. He didn't want to see that character scrounge for food from other people's plates or watch her trade in old knick-knacks from the 1930s for rent money.

He didn't want to put money into the hand of a woman as well educated as he was but desperate and poor and broke like he never would be. The Cellist reminded him like a finger in a socket that all he was was a rich kid pretending to live a life he had only read about in a book.

Which is why he only took the vase Gramma bought at Woolworths and refused to buy the Toby Mugs the Cellist had been given as a wedding present even though they were worth a shit load of money. You see in the middle of the selling negotiations, one of his favorite addicts came in to the store, and the Thrift Store Guy's knowledge of the Toby Mugs' British Isle origins might have made him suspect to one of his sales team and then who knows. Maybe he would get robbed some night.

I didn't say any of this out loud.

Just smiled at him like he was the Power to the People! and watched him count out ten singles to the Cellist who laughed nervously and told him she would be back next week with the paintings.

The Cellist and I stood outside the thrift store, her recounting her money and thinking out loud what else might sell. I could see over her shoulder the Thrift Store Guy glance at us and then make some comment to his Favorite Addict, who looked at us too and then laughed. Staring over her shoulder I watched for the billionenth time since my birth, her shatteredness become a joke for some asshole.

They saw me looking at them. I broke into my usual shit-eating grin of "oh well. What can you do?" At that moment I wish I was Brutus. His knife wasn't as sharp and the wound wasn't as deep.

 

   
         
   
 
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