elevator was broken. Gene had to climb the
stairs to the third floor and then walk back down. When he got back to the front desk, he opened
the key box, threw a set of keys in and then plunked into the chair behind the
desk. His chest and gut were
heaving. He shoved his hand into the
pocket of his jeans, pulled out his albuterol inhaler and sucked on it once,
twice, a third time. Then he leaned
back. After he caught his breath, he ran
his fingers through his hair and sighed.
Ray came in the
front door of the hotel and stomped the snow off his boots. He was breathing hard too, but he wasn’t fat
like Gene. He was skinny and hunched and
wiry hair stuck out from under his stocking cap. The thick lenses of his glasses were
fogged. He was smoking a cigarette and
the smoke made a pale wreath around his head.
Albie and I were on the
balcony. We were watching the Polish
people below us dance, some to polkas with lots of concertina and clapping but
most to American songs about ass. We
kept dropping our clear plastic cheese plates over the railing and onto the
guests below because we were shitfaced.
Albie had questions. They all pertained to Mieczyslaw, the father
of the bride. What his deal was. Heard he
bootlegged Nikes back in Gdansk, got
roughed up by some dock goons and that’s how he lost it. Heard he wouldn’t trade a Gypsy his touch
lamp for a dance so she smashed it, cut his face real good with the shards and
some got in his eye socket. That sort of thing.
He wanted an explanation I
didn’t have, an answer I’d never
have, on account of my not giving a fuck.
I loved Mitch, as he preferred to be called. I came of age in his rumpus room, celebrated
several Firsts there during junior high and high school (First French, First
Old Style Consumed, First Under-the-Bra Breast Stroke, etc.). I’d eat paczki in
the linoleum kitchen with him while I waited for his daughter Elka to finish
applying concealer upstairs, would listen to him exhaust the then-current list
of NBA Euros, always culminating in Toni Kukoc, the bests of the lots. What
he did in the Old Country to make ends meet and, possibly, sustain an
irreparable eye injury in the process was of no import to me as a resident of
I’d had enough of his CSI: Miami routine, so I grabbed Albie
by the lapels of his cheap-ass sport coat, pulled him an inch from my
face. I could smell the Skittles on his
breath, cover-up for all the Absolut.