My friend Bruce is a famous writer. His name is listed in Wikpedia. Last week I re-wrote a small piece about Palm Beach, in which I take care of a crazy Airedale during off-season. I mentioned Bruce's name in the story and the robust novelist called to invite me to dinner.
Last night Bruce and I met in the East Village. He had died his hair blonde and looked like a healthy Marlon Brando weighing closer to 200 than 300. The staff greeted the legendary writer with smiles. He was the most famous person in the restaurant.
"I come here a lot." His satyric grin revealed a few missing teeth. His exploits on Times Square had taken their toll on his beauty. I no longer recognized the reflection in the mirror.
He ordered a bottle of wine from the Latino waiter and we both choose the fish du jour. After the waiter left the table, Bruce said, "I read that Florida piece."
"It showed the promise of your increasing literary lassitude. Bruce thought that several of my novels should have received better treatment than total rejection.
"Lazy how?" My father had accused on that sin from a very early age.
"Like you were just typing instead of writing." Bruce had churned out three novels in the 90s. The one about a rent boy won a prize in France.
"Truman Capote said the same about Jack Kerouac."
"Even Kerouac spelled better than you and your grammar is atrocious. You're better than that."
"I don't really have the time to be anything other than lazy."
"Don't have time? You're not even working." Bruce was constantly typing out articles for magazines and journals. Words flow from his brain to fingers like tiny diamonds fleeing a broken hourglass.
"The search for money takes up most of my time some days." Raising $700 a week without a job was a week-by-week struggle, but Bruce was right and I said, "I'll go re-edit that story."
"Good, I hate lecturing grown men who should know better."
The young waiter arrived with the wine. Bruce chatted to him about the nearby gay bar. He was certainly Bruce's type. Once the wine passed his muster, Bruce raised his glass.
"Welcome back to New York. How was Thailand?"
I clinked his glass and told him about my two months with Mam and Fenway, the couple of weeks with Angie and her mom, then my ear infection which prevented me from swimming and touring the country. I felt like an old man complaining of my ailments and said, "I think my warranty has run out." "Mine ran out years ago." He laughed with a learned wickedness. Both of us were lucky to be alive.
"You know it's funny about that story, but Fenway's mom read that piece and afterward said that she knows that I love her."
"Why?" Bruce had not met Mam. She had never been to the States.
"Because I wrote that I was faithful to her." I had invited Bruce to Thailand on many occasions.
"You're not faithful." Bruce was judging my present by my past. Most people are trapped by deeds long forgotten by themselves, but not others.
"Twenty years ago you would have been right, but I haven't been with anyone but Mam since 2006. I keep accusing her of slipping a love potion into my beer."
"Love potion?" His voice quivered with possibilities.
"She said that she didn't need a magic potion to make me love her." I showed Bruce her photo.
"She's skinny and beautiful, but not as skinny as Jeffery Kime's old girlfriend Valence. She was the skinniest girl I ever met. A top model with arms as thin as licorice sticks and legs as slender as ivory toothpicks. Tres maigre."
"I don't remember her." I had been good friends with Jeffrey in Paris of the 80s. The ex-actor had a top-floor apartment overlooking the Grand Boulevard. "I crashed with Jeffery after breaking up with my teenage girlfriend. He had plenty of girlfriends, but no Valence."
"She must have been before you knew him. Valence is still my close friend. Then he married the Limey aristocrat."
"She wasn't skinny at all." I had spent time at Jeffery's farmhouse in the Luberon. His wife was lovely. "A nice girl."
"Jeffery thought he was marrying up." His mother had been an army officer. His father was a higher rank. They never married, because his father already had a wife.
"He was." I met his wife's father. He was old landed gentry from Devon.
"I can't believe Jeffery's been dead for over a decade." Bruce finished his wine and poured his glass full. We had lost too many friends over our lifetime.
"Me neither." The last time I had seen him was at Bruce's condo in Miami. He had been very sick. We had gone to see Tom Petty at the Orange Bowl. It had been a good night.
"What happened to his wife?"
"She remarried. My friends say that she is happy." I lifted my glass to Jeffery. He had been a good friend to us both.
When I got home, I thought more about Jeffery and wondered whether I might have met Bruce's friend. I googled Valence, top model, Paris, 80s and found one photo of her naked smoking a cigarette. She was skinny or maigre, but very hairy too. Almost like she was wearing a beard on her groin. I didn't remember her at all.
My Mam is nothing like her. She's phom enough for me. Phom means skinny in Thai. I think Jerry would have liked her. He was a lot like me. I only wish he were here to be more like me than me.