HELPING

 

 

        I had been out of work for a few months.  I was staying with my father and we had a nice rhythm at his place; there was an end room for me with clean peach walls, a nightstand and reading light and a spattering of paperbacks (crime thrillers mostly).  The mattress was taken from one of my cousins.  This night it was eight o’clock or thereabouts, so he wasn’t home yet from the factory, and I decided to walk to Paco’s Bar, a few blocks up along Central by the old paper factory.

        A lot of the regulars were there, bearded men with flannel and the women who waited tables at the purple place across the street.  Two guys entered and ordered beers at the bar.  They sat a few stools down from me.  They talked loudly about some sports team.  I was sitting in a spot I tended to like, at the right end of the bar and by the wall.  One of the guys leaned over and said, Hey buddy, or maybe even Hey Guy or Bud, and asked me what I ordered.  I told him and he nodded then, after a second, asked me if I knew anyone who could take care of them.

       “I’m not following,” I said.

       “Like, get us in.”

       “You looking for a club you’re in the wrong place.”

       “You don’t think I see that,” he said.  He turned to his friend, gave him a what-the-fuck gesture.  He had a light mustache, a gray polo shirt.  His friend was in a big sweater and had long black hair like some kind of Apache nurtured on the planes.  I had understood his implication, however, and though my initial reaction was to say no, I thought about it a bit longer.  I lifted my beer and sucked down the last of it, slurped the foam.  The music was The Doors, maybe, or something like that, or it felt like The Doors in a way that could be confusing, and a few women in a booth were now looking at us.  I watched them, thinking about an answer.

       “Sure,” I said.  “I know a guy.”

       “You have a car?” the friend asked.

       “Not really.”

       “How we going to find this guy?”

       “I don’t need a car for that.  I mean, I could get one.  But not now.”
           
       “Oye, I’m not following,” the friend said.

       “He doesn’t live far anyway.”

       “You think we can hoof it?”

       “Sure,” I said.

       “Let us finish these beers,” the guy with the mustache said.  I asked him if, maybe, they could order a third, as I was finished with mine.  They each moved one stool closer.  The bartender on duty, I was sort of familiar with.  I nodded to him and he said,
“Hey,” and I told him I could use another draft.

       “Drink it up,” the friend said, “enjoy that.”

       I finished and we went outside.  The night was glossy with the sulphor parking lot lights, that snowy haze they cast.  A car pulling out caught us in his beams.  There was a whisper of moon, though you almost didn’t notice it because of the lights.

       “I know that guy in the car,” Marcos said—he’d told me by then his name.  His friend with the hair was Luis Ray, an expansive kind of name.

       “Ok,” I said.

       “He went to my high school.”

       “So we gonna see about this guy?” I said, because I was getting anxious now.  When we’d get there, I thought, I could go in myself and use my connection; he was a friend of my sister, although I didn’t know him well, but maybe I could get a twenty sack for discount and pocket the rest.

       Marcos was still staring at the man in the car.  “Yeah, let’s go.”

 

We walked a few blocks and they told me they were students at the city college.  I told them I’d gone there too, because I had.  They were a few years younger than me.  They asked what kind of stuff and I told them the best was my writing class but that I also somehow didn’t mind the macroeconomics class I’d had, though it was rightly considered boring by most, dreadful even.

       They said then that they knew some girls, that maybe we could call them up once I’d helped them out and I thought that sounded like a fantastic idea.  My ex- was somewhere in Utah, trying her hand on a dairy farm, with some hippies that had a thing going.  There was a brief moment where I’d considered going with her, even though we were technically split at that time.

       Anyway, we walked a few more blocks to where I thought the guy lived, but I couldn’t spot the house.  Maybe the problem was that I’d only ever been there during the day, going to pick up my sister.  Maybe it was the pseudo-suburban rowing of houses, like this neighborhood wanted to be a gated community or on the outskirts or something, like it wasn’t reconciled to the kind of thing it was.  They were talking still about these girls of theirs and I was glad for it; it gave me a minute to think.  I took them down another street, and soon it was pretty clear that I didn’t know where it was.  Marcos said then, “So you trying to confuse us?”

       “No,” I said.  I was going to think of a lie, but I didn’t really have anything good.  “I think I need to go to my house and get his number.”

       Luis Ray laughed.  “I told you he was drunk.”

       “Look, we have to hurry a bit,” Marcos said.  He rubbed his hands together, though it wasn’t chilly.

       “I like you, carnal,” Luis Ray said.

       “Thanks,” I said.

       “Make the call,” Marcos said.

       We walked back toward the bar and to my house.  The streets were shaded in all the hanging tree-foliage as it was spring.  The leaves blocked the streetlights in places and in other places opened with a rustled breeze to let some of the light through and onto the pavement.  I thought again about those lights in the bar parking lot and that feeling of mist or glaring into a sky with falling snow.  Or like a dream with steady trickled lines of snow.  My father’s brown Impala was in the drive so I told them to wait outside.  I suppose I would have told them that anyway.  Once inside, I sat down on the couch and Pops was drinking a beer and watching Animal Planet in his easy chair (the Lazy-boy he called it, though it wasn’t a Lazy-boy).

       “Hey,” he said.

       “How was work?”
           
        He shrugged.  His eyes were squinted, he said, “there’s tuna salad in the fridge.  Get you some of it and make a sandwich.”

       “Sure, Pops.”

       He turned back to the TV.

       I said, “I need to get a phone number.”

       He put his beer on the coffee table.  “Ok.”

       I didn’t move, and then he said, “you have some friends outside?”

       “Yeah.”

       He rubbed the bridge of his nose.  He had freckles there, like I did.  His hands were big and dyed red from the chemicals he worked with.  The pads of his fingers were especially colored.

       “I heard them pacing on the porch,” he said.

       “Yeah, I can hear it too.”

       I stood and walked down the hall and to my room and looked around for the number.  I remembered something I wanted to talk to my father about.  I closed the blinds to my room, which I must have opened in the morning, though I didn’t recall having done that.  Also, the bed wasn’t made and I was annoyed, as I had decided I should be getting that kind of habit.

       He was sipping his beer again.  I asked Pops if maybe there had been some mail.  Sometimes he put it in his room when he got it in the mornings, after he’d read what belonged to him with his coffee and before heading out, or left it inside the wrapped newspaper and waiting for later.

       He nodded no, put down his beer.  “I’m sure there’ll be something in the morning,” he said.