“Look, I know it’s short notice, but I had to get away from the west coast. I was losing it so I threw my stuff into the van I bought and high-tailed it here.”
“It’s not short notice, moron, it’s no notice at all. We aren’t even friends. Gloria’s my friend and according to her, you’re just an acquaintance. So go park yourself in a lot at the airport. Find your own place tomorrow, or just put your stuff in storage. Now it’s late and I need my sleep.”
Jennifer helped me haul the last of my boxes to the basement storage area she shared with the other tenants of the old house. She even threw a pillow and blanket on the saggy sofa and said “a week at most and you are out of here, no excuses, no bullshit, and no but Gloria said. She already thinks I’m insane for letting you past the front door. The blue towel is mine and keep your hands off my shampoo and conditioner. You buy your own food and if you borrow anything you write it on the list by the phone. We’ll settle up later. And don’t even think of running off. My brother’s a cop in Cleveland and between us we will hunt you down.”
I cooked her dinner the next night using nothing from her refrigerator. Bought a decent bottle of a cru bourgeois from St. Estephe and couple of cheap wine glasses from Goodwill. She said “thank you, this was something I didn’t expect.” She put a sheet on the sofa and a better pillow. I traded the van for an old Chevy Vega even up. It had a good engine but needed some bodywork.
“This is a safe neighborhood, but with a car that looks like that, with an AM radio only, you can pretty much guarantee it won’t get stolen or broken in.”
“That was my bet as well. Figured I’d be safer this way.”
“No, you really didn’t. It was all you could get for that piece of crap van before it’s engine fell out, so you cut and ran. But it’s a decent story so go with it. Most people will probably buy it. Next time, though, not lime green. You can see that thing a block away. So park it down the block, at least until the neighbors there complain.”
Her lease was up two months later, but I had gotten work waiting tables at Chu’s Peking Heaven and between us we could afford a two-bedroom walk-up in a neighborhood no worse than the original. She still made me park the Vega a block away. Small enough price to pay. We fell into a comfortable lifestyle. We both loved movies. She accepted me as a poet much as I did she as an artist. We decorated with her paintings. She would paint borders around my poems, find old frames and mats and label each a minor masterpiece. Her friends knew her better than to argue the point, so I adopted them immediately. Most said they liked me, the really honest ones said they could tolerate me, but that was a step up from the usual specimens in her collection. In a dream one night I imagined myself a bug, pinned to a board, stored in a drawer in the musty basement storeroom of a museum. I told her the dream assuming she would apologize for her friends, or say it wasn’t so at all. Instead she began calling me Kafka. I could live with that, I thought, and vowed to read some Kafka. I will honor that vow one of these days, I just don’t know when. Probably right after I fully comprehend just what is what in Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. At least she promised to stop calling me Franzie in public.
That, of course lasted all of two weeks, or maybe it was two days. It wasn’t like time in a nine-to-five world mattered all that much. Einstein said something like time was relative. When you’re twenty-three it is simply relatively unimportant because as far as you can imagine, it is in endless supply. Now I know better, though it still isn’t relative, but its speed is inversely proportional to its supply. I guess I always knew that. The return trip is always faster, even though the speed and distance are the same. The sameness is in the outer, exposed mind, but the trip is measured by the inner, or emotional mind and the two need not, and rarely do, agree. Anyway, all too soon I was Franzie again until it came to me and I bought her the old copy of Tolkien. Inside of a week I was Frodo and if she got pissed at me, the landlord, her Datsun, it didn’t much matter what, I was Baggins. That was a change, but change was rare for us. And we liked it like that, or that’s what we told ourselves, and a lie from your own mouth was a certain kind of truth particularly when shared with someone who is as prone to lying as you are. And every day the Vega was right where I left it though it had acquired a blue paisley racing stripe out of contact paper. Stuff has amazing glue so rather than rip the already questionable paint job I learned to like the racing stripe.