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A man made up as he went along.

Take this man who has the manners of a waiter in a good restaurant, a savage jaw and perplexed eyes. Set him down where? In a ridiculously small apartment in one of the many wrong parts of town. He takes his coffee black, that much is sure. He smells the odor rising from the white cup and blesses it like a priest. But he is not a priest, no, no, no. He believes in something quite different. But what is it? Let that restlessness consume his body.

"I don't smoke," he told himself, "but I used to smoke Pall Malls. I drink carefully because I want to be able to drink from now till the day I die, and not of drink. Ho, ho, ho," he said. "I don't want to die of drink. But maybe tonight."

Tonight was a long way off. How long remained to be seen.

The thing about a city is to get into the rhythm of it, let it take you along. Somewhere there is a dance instructor snapping his fingers. We're all in this together and you only need to apologize if you step on somebody's toes. They will do the same for you - maybe.

Eros arises in the subway. A woman with a lot of curly, straw colored hair and he are gripping the same maypole. "Will I be arrested," he thought, "if I plant my mouth on your mouth?"

He asked his fellow passengers: "Have we all been invited to this party? There won't be enough lifeboats."

"Out." They left the tunnel in a body and up the stairs to the morning light. Here again he was almost a priest. His benediction began: "O wan daylight, my princess."

"Slip into something a little more comfortable," he told the city. "I like slovenly women."

Grey Rock was waiting. He Pressed his number - one of the many he knew. There was no Muzak, no sprightly dirge.

He marched through the sea of desks to his and bent to his task, a seated field hand. When the load lightened about 10:30 he went to the coffee cart. The vendor had been uprooted from an ancient village and still didn't know what hit him.

When he got back to his desk, he thought: "My name is Jason - already that makes me a rogue. I may or may not be married. I do this for a living."

Ho, ho, ho, he thought, I may or may not be married. What would she think of that?

On the way to the Greek coffee shop he grabbed the Daily News, his cloak of concealment. Long Island had provided a murder and Staten Island a rape. He got mustard on a little item about a seeing-eye dog with rabies. The blind master died in agony and his dog had been put down. No, no, no, he was only kidding. There wasn't such a story. There was a mustard stain all right, but it covered an article on auto dealerships.

Auto dealerships were another way to go, another way, as the existentialists used to say, of being in the world.

There were no ads for death.

Next desk said - speaking low so the supervisor wouldn't notice - "Did you hear about Fred? Those schmucks ..."

But the supervisor looked their way.

The men who beg on the subways weren't working the cars because it was the homeward rush hour and they wouldn't be able to squeeze through the passengers with their outstretched paper cups.

The beggars are frauds who live in Scarsdale. They know how to say: "I don't mug; I don't rob ..."

They go home at night to loving wives and a fine dinner. "How did you do today?" they will be asked.

"All right - but no cigar."

He turned on the news and lay on the bed with a beer in his hand. "I am Jason Stumbleforth," he thought, "although that is not my name. Jason is a rogue and Stumbleforth is what I do."

It was still the part of the news where they visit old people wearing paper party hats. Yes, yes, talk babytalk to that shaky old man.

Then they got down to business with Tom Brokaw. How many ties does he own?

Suddenly, an Epiphany. Young, highbreasted women were drinking Coca-Cola.

Rain tomorrow. He was ready for it. They couldn't get him down.

He read the soup labels and chose split pea. He looked in the refrigerator but there was nothing that went with the split pea soup. Well, he would make do with toast. He was a sensible man, born to compromise. In that case, his name was more like Harold.

The thought wearied him.

It was Friday night. The bar was crowded. He would have to stand until a stool was free.

"I'm in a hover pattern," he told the young woman from Australia. She turned away to talk to the woman on her right. Had she heard something in his voice? Did she want a shove?

He must attach himself to something, like sealife on a rock.

The piano began, pronouncing forgiveness. "Oh," said the piano, "the world is born at this minute. There is nothing wrong. Follow me."

"The only place I would follow you, you wouldn't want to go," he said.

Finally a stool was free and he eased himself up on it. What were the prospects for talk? On the left was a jolly fat man, terminally depressed but dancing through tulips. The woman on his right he knew enough to avoid.

He paid up and left. Had he forgotten his umbrella? But the rain was tomorrow.

He got home and opened the door and was taking a pee when he heard a key in the lock.

"You've come home," he said.


"Well ..."
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Author:Tyler, Ralph
Publication:Chicago Review
Date:Jun 22, 1991
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