The newsstand vendor put down a pack of Luckies and a book of matches.
“THANKS A LOT,” he said, not looking up. He turned to the next customer. The fellow pointed to a magazine.
“WHAT ONE?” said Thanks-a-lot.
“That one,” the man mumbled. Young guy, office worker. Big nose and blackheads. “Lark.”
“OH.” It was a girly mag. The cover had a picture of a woman sitting on an inflatable ball, which apparently meant she was ready for fun. Looked like she was ready to fall off and hit her head, Joe thought.
“THIRTY-FIVE CENTS.” The man paid and stuffed the magazine in his briefcase and walked away feigning nonchalance.
“ANYTHING ELSE?” Thanks-a-lot asked Joe.
“No, sorry. Nothing.” He stepped back from the stand, bumping into a man who gave him a scowl and a humph, the upright-citizen’s version of a dowager’s well I never. It made his head ring again, but if he knew his hangovers this one would stick around until he took a nap. There wasn’t any place to take a nap. His back still hurt from sleeping in the chair the previous night - the floor looked like it was moving too much, and the chair felt like it was sailing. Big difference. He could nap there, maybe, but Clarence’s disapproving look twice in one day would be too much. This was why men joined clubs. Not for the evening conversation around port and cigars, but a place to hide in the middle of the afternoon. Sink down into a big chair, and sleep. Sleep until the servant gently shook you awake at 5 because he knew you took the 5:17 train home. How? Don’t know. They just did.
Or so he imagined. Lucky them. The rest of us, coffee and cigarettes. He went to the coffee shop, sat at the counter, and ordered a cup of coffee and apple pie. Lit a cigarette.
Pure white, eh. Not going for the negro market with this one, are we. Who was pure white, anyway? People were pink. White people, anyway. He looked at his hands - steady now, which was a good sign - and compared them with the newspaper on the counter. Completely different white. Well, he wasn’t a talc man. Never had been, and he wasn’t going to start, even if it was scented for men. Whatever that might mean. Probably would argue with your aftershave or your shampoo or deodorant; everything had its own damn smell. It would be handy if they could invent four or five basic scents, and you could buy the stuff that had your number on it. Your life got you down one day, you could switch; go from a 3 to a 5. Sometimes that’s all you need.
The waitress came over to fill up his cup.
“You got any Bromo?” he asked. She said sure. She came back with a packet of Bromo and a white paper cup of water in a silver holder. He poured in the Bromo - poured out like talc, maybe it was all the same stuff - and he listened to it pop and fizz. He drank it down all at once, grimaced, and put down an extra quarter. He turned around and looked out the window. Traffic was light but the sidewalks were choked. The day before Thanksgiving. No reason to be here, except that Clarence would still be upstairs, working until 6. The man was the anti-Crachet.
He wondered if Mom would remember to cook. Hadn’t wanted to press it. Brought it up last week, and of course she was going to cook, what a silly question. He could bring a friend if he wanted.
He was going alone. It might not be something anyone else would enjoy. So bring Clarence, he thought. Why did he distrust him so much? Because he had eyes in his head and ears on the side, probably. Because he was bloodless and indifferent. But he was one hell of a salesman somehow. The scientific angle. Good with numbers, too. Just couldn’t draw or design, that was the problem. He’d been working on it for months but nothing was any good. He relied on stock art and cheaper materials. The numbers were up. Junior was happy.
The young man who bought the magazine was sitting by the door reading a newspaper. He’d taken off his jacket. Sweat stains had made rings on his shirt. Buying Lark had been a trying experience, apparently. If the guy was a smuthound he was new at it. He took out a pack of cigarettes and tried to light one; his Zippo was dry, wouldn’t catch.
Joe sighed, got up, put another quarter on the counter for the tip, and walked out. He tossed the Mennen matches on the table of the young man as he passed. He looked surprised, and stammered a thanks.
What was the holy trifecta, faith hope and charity? Which was the best? Couldn’t be charity. That was the easy one.