To These Guys

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Finally the retroactive check arrived at the local Social Security office. Although it was against the rules, a clerk I knew allowed me to sign Ray’s name and take the envelope. I wanted to deliver it myself.

I knocked on their door. Once, twice. Shit. Not home. And then Monica’s peculiarly thin and penetrating voice from behind the door: “Who’s there?”

“It’s Mike. I’ve got the check.”

She opened the door, waving me inside: “Hurry! Hurry!”

Monica was stark naked. She shaded her eyes with a hand again the bare ceiling light bulb. I didn’t know where I should pretend to be looking, so I pushed the envelope into her hands. Her body looked very smooth, very white and very weak.

“Gmonica ... ” Ray groaned from the bed, “cn lettimin.” He sat up, the sheet falling to his waist. “You don’t have any clothes on.”

“C’mon Ray, this is special!” Monica pulled on a long white cotton blouse. She slit the envelope with a nail file and gave it to him.

Ray held the check in both hands, as if reading an imperial proclamation: “Pay to the Order of Raymond J. Rodriguez One Thousand Four Hundred and Twenty- Three Dollars and Forty-Two Fucking Cents.”

“Ooh, say that again,” Monica told him.

It was summer. I’d quit Legal Aid for a short-term job as a paralegal in an immense corporate law firm; I was leaving for New York and Columbia Law School in September and needed moving money. I had graduated from Berkeley to an apartment in San Francisco with my college friend Bob. I already had a subscription to the Village Voice, and a New York subway map tacked up on my wall.

“C’mon Mike!” said Ray. “Wanna see a lot of money?”

At a place called CCC CHECKS CASHED Ray peeled off two bills and tucked them with quick pickpocket hands into my shirt pocket.

Two hundred? Jesus!” I held out the money, but Ray danced away, raising his hands.

Monica stepped in and snatched the bills. “We’ll take you out for dinner.”

At Molinari’s Delicatessen they bought prosciutto, marinated artichokes, and mascarpone cheese layered with basil and gorgonzola. We went to St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral and lit a candle for Ray’s father, then ate our provisions in Washington Park. Full of the pleasant, oily food, watching the Chinese kids play Frisbee in the early twilight and smoking one slightly bitter English Oval after another, we felt fabulously rich, so rich we had nothing to do for the rest of our lives, like we had hit a lottery.

I was going to need a haven that summer. I spent my days rushing late to work, shuttling between the corporate firms in the Transamerica pyramid, Embarcadero Center, the BankAmerica Building, trundling through fabric-upholstered corridors to meet a succession of thin-lipped quiet-voiced white men, my colleagues-to-be, across cups of pre-sharpened pencils and tasteless coffee at glossy conference tables, yawning over cartons of photo-reduced spread sheets, Forms 706, 10-K, 1045, S-18, returning to my own fabric-upholstered brass-door-knobbed office to dictate onto mini-cassettes a series of memoranda addressed to “File” which my superiors never read, tucking in my shirt, tightening my tie, suffering an endless paranoia that my fly was open, hustling and jostling through the crowded lunch-hour streets of the financial district to sit in a patch of sun with my tuna sandwiches and the pigeons. The modern apartment Bob and I shared on Nob Hill, with its featureless roll of white wall into beige ceiling, its glass expanse of picture frame and picture window, was too like an office, and Bob himself had begun to seem too buttoned-down and upstanding, too much like the people of my days to provide much relief in the nights.

Ray and Monica had moved into the Hotel Winton, on a motley block of O’Farrell Street with a Chinese grocery store, the expensive restaurant L’Orangerie, an Oriental Massage parlor, a rare record store, and two dildo-and-inflatable-doll shops. Underneath arched gold lettering in the Winton’s picture window, old men peered without interest at passersby, exchanging a remark every ten minutes. The lobby, with its sturdy furniture and its still figures of men, always smelled faintly of old books and alcohol, but no one ever seemed to read or drink.



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