Thursday, April 09, 2009

Kitchen Summit, 1979

(excerpted from an ongoing longer work....)
Liam is at it again, and Eric is wondering if it isn’t time to say something. Sitting at the kitchen table, staring into a small mirror propped up against a coffee cup, Liam is removing every whisker on his face, one by one, with a pair of tweezers. A miniature gooseneck lamp provides high intensity illumination. He's going about this daunting project systematically, having mentally divided the total surface area of his face into approximately one inch square sectors, each of which he defoliates completely before going on to the next. Liam has spent most of the last the three days at it, with interruptions only for brief meals, bathroom breaks, televised NBA games, and sleep. He finished the right side of his face last night, and has now started on the left. He shows admirable dexterity, considering the evidence of recent extreme violence to his right hand—scabbed over scrapes and dark bruising of the knuckles—whose origin Eric is curious about.

"Have you thought about electrolysis?" Eric asks. He's picked up the half used loaf of Pepperidge Farm 7-Grain on the table, and started to extract a slice from the wrapper, when he notices he's disturbing a rather large roach that seems to have made itself a home inside. The roach is very agitated about the interruption of its late afternoon siesta, and is squirming uncomfortably in the suddenly tight and unstable space between the plastic and bread. Eric reseals the package, throws it into the microwave, sets the timer for 1 minute, and turns the power on with the setting at "High."

"Yeah," says Liam, "I looked into it, but it's expensive."

"It might be affordable if you had a job," says Eric. The bell goes off on the microwave. He takes the loaf out and tosses it, without further inspection, into the garbage can under the sink. "I'm just trying to be helpful, of course...I mean...the point is that your beard will eventually grow back, right? Not much different from shaving, right?" The line of Liam's gaze doesn't wander a single degree from the mirror in front of him.

"Well, this is better than shaving, because it takes a while for the hair to re-emerge from the follicle." Eric starts to say something like, yeah, but shaving only takes five minutes, and by the time you're completely done with this, it will be just about the time you have to start over, but thinks the better of it. He is actually more interested in an answer to his other question, anyway.

"By the way, Liam, what happened to your hand?"

"I punched a door."

"Not our door...."

"No, the back the building."

"Jesus Christ, Liam, why?"

"I was angry."

"What were you angry about?"

"I don't know." This answer makes a few hairs stand up on the back of Eric's neck. Liam is not a small guy; he's six feet tall, athletic and muscular, ruggedly handsome. He was a running back on his high school football team, but never displayed any violent tendencies off the field. He was gregarious, down-to-earth, and popular. Eric starts wondering if it's time he and his roommate, George, put their foot down and ask Liam to find another place to crash. The thought makes him feel guilty because, although he co-signed the lease on their Jamaica Plain apartment, he hasn't paid his share of the rent in months. His plan of driving a cab for the summer has been a bust, barely providing enough income to cover his meals. On top of that, he was robbed last night, by his last fare before putting up, and lost his entire evening's take. He can still feel the point of the knife on the left side of his throat, still hear the words "It's not worth your life" the thief had spoken plainly, truthfully, into his right ear. The fact is, George is the only one living there with a real job, having just started his first year as an Assistant Professor at Northeastern, and he has been singlehandedly supporting Eric for the most part, along with Liam and their other unemployed houseguest, Sam.

Right on cue, Sam comes in to make his dinner. The kitchen is small, so Eric sits down at the table opposite Liam to get out of his way. Sam is short, slight of build and, Eric notices, beginning to stoop over like an old man; Eric thinks of Franz Kafka, photos of concentration camp survivors. The thought makes him feel even more guilty, because he knows very well that Sam's parents had both been in Auschwitz. Sam boils plain white rice, microwaves some frozen peas, throws them together on a plate without butter, oil, or seasoning. He draws a six ounce glass of lukewarm water and sits down.

"That's a pathetic meal," says Eric.

"I eat what I can digest," says Sam. "I eat what doesn't make me sick."

"Sorry. Sorry, Sam."

"Where's the bread?" Sam asks.

"It's under the sink."

"Why would it be...never mind, don't bother!" He whispers an Orthodox b'rucha, a brief Hebrew grace, over his meal.

"Is that kosher?" Liam asks. "The green and white mixed on the same plate...?"

"Here's a kosher answer for you, Liam," says Sam, holding up his middle finger. "Fuck you!" He opens up the employment section of the Globe, takes his fork in hand, and starts to eat. Eric wants to ask for the newspaper after Sam is done, to look at the Help Wanted ads himself, but he's distracted by hunger. He goes to the refrigerator to see what's left. The refrigerator that comes with the apartment is old, the kind with a knuckle closure and a freezer that's just a small metal box suspended inside the main compartment, with its own little plastic door on a spring, and a tray underneath to keep water from dripping on the food below when it's defrosted. Which it hasn't been for quite some time. There is so much ice accumulated that there's room enough only for two of George's frozen pot pies and the remainder of Sam's peas. Weeks ago the plastic door broke off its hinges because the ice prevented it from closing properly. It's now just propped up on the front edge of the drip tray. As soon as Eric opens the refrigerator, the freezer door drops off its perch; Eric catches it and puts it back.

"Isn't it time to defrost?" he asks. "This glacier has been here since the Little Ice Age."

"That would put it around 1850 or so," says Liam. Well, he's crazy, Eric thinks, but he knows a hawk from a handsaw, doesn't he? The freezer door falls into his hands again, and he tries to put it back, but it won't stay in position, it keeps falling off, falling off. Goddamn thing! He grabs it and swings it down on the top edge of the open refrigerator door.

"Fuck!" he shouts, "Fuck! Fuck!" He hammers down the plastic door in time to his expletives. On the third curse it breaks in half; the half not in his hand flies through the air, executes a perfect somersault, and lands squarely in Sam's dinner. The glass of water is shattered, the shards forming a triple medley with his rice and peas. Sam sits there for a moment, fork suspended halfway to his open mouth. His gaze moves up slowly to include Eric.

"Sorry, Sam."

"You crazy fuck!" Eric notices a trace of blood on Sam's right cheek, where a minute fragment of glass must have grazed him.

"Sorry, sorry! I'll clean it up...."

Sam leaves the kitchen without another word. Liam looks up at Eric, grinning, his eyes bright and mad.

"Go-rilla dunk!" he exclaims.

"What?" says Eric. He stands there with half the freezer door still in his hand.

"You saw it last night, didn't you? Against Kansas City? Go-rilla dunk! Chocolate Thunder, backboard-shattering, in-your-face throwdown!" Eric realizes that Liam's talking about Darryl Dawkins, the Sixers' drafted-right-out-of-high-school Center who calls himself Chocolate Thunder, claims to be from the planet Lovetron, and gives his dunks colorful names. Last night, against the Kings, Dawkins dunked so hard he brought the backboard down, shattering the glass. The game was delayed for hours while they cleaned up the court, found and installed another backboard. "You did him a favor," Liam says. "That really was a pathetic dinner."

Eric hears a key rattling in the front door of the apartment.

"Poppa's home!" says Liam, eyes now bright and cheerful. The door opens and closes, and then George is standing in the entrance to the kitchen, tie loosened, briefcase in hand.

"What the fuck!" he says. "What the fuck just happened in here?"
—Steven Levery


Anonymous Mr. Curly Toze said...

Maybe Denmark is the right place for Liam.. lets hope he isn't visited by any ghosts. Out of curiosity, I wonder if this Liam fellow still knows George, Sam, and Eric?
And, I'd certainly enjoy reading more about these fellows.

April 10, 2009 at 11:01 AM  
Blogger Steven Levery said...

These are good questions...which must remain unanswered. BTW do I know you?

April 21, 2009 at 6:11 AM  

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