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There was a time, back in the seventies when I was a kid, when people here seemed to share a kind of free-floating hysterical fear of being turned into numbers. Characters spoke of it in sit-coms. People were changing their legal names to digits. Bar codes loomed ominously over the collective American psyche. But numbers tie you to people. I want to know every number about him. I have put his address to heart. Of course his phones too. Three of them. His birthday is July 24th, I won't tell the year. His social security number was harder to memorize.
Rhonda's on a kick again to get the company to sponsor a volleyball team. She standing over me telling me about how fun it'll be. So you got a bunch of the copywriters? I ask. And she says no, mainly they're afraid of ruining their manicures so she was hoping on the art department. She's got her nose against the picture of me and Richard on my board. What funny picture she says. Yeah it's cockeyed, I was holding the camera. No I mean he doesn't look very happy. I'd think you'd hang a better one. He's happy, I say.
Would be commuters are wandering glassy-eyed about the platform searching for elusive moving air. Trains are sluggish from the heat. Me, I'd go cab, but Richard's a subway boy. We're standing—melting-- and when the train finally pulls up there's not a soul in the car stopped directly before us. As the doors open I turn to Richard and say, "There's no AC in there." I hop in, then out and to the next car. Richard's stuck. F-trains don't let you pass car- to-car so I laugh at him through the glass. He pretends not to notice. Pretends he's not hot.
Russian parents of children lost in the airplane collision are front page of the newspaper. What became of Hamlin after all the children followed the pied piper away? I ask Jana--she got the tickets for Shakespeare in the park--but she just says I'm being maudlin. Easy to get tickets on July 4th. After realizing we were both born north, she devised this an appropriately ex-pat holiday alternative, though I stopped being Canadian at 15. In the end, I found a wayward damselfly dive-bombing the audience more engaging than the play. For this I missed watching fireworks with Richard.
Ted Williams dies. Then the Williams sisters are set to face each other at the Wimbledon final. A very Williams sports day. I call Richard to suggest he's missed his calling, but there's no answer at his apartment. I call his lab on the off chance he's there. He can be charmingly workaholic (love that about him), but just get his voicemail. After more fruitless calls I'm desperate just to hear his voice and decide to surprise him in person. I sit in the café across from his apartment and as the sun goes down, his lights don't go on.
Clearly Richard's visiting his mother on the Island for the long weekend. Leaving the city has a definite appeal. But I've never actually met his mother. Well. What am I waiting for? Now this'll be a surprise. I call on the pretense of being interested in buying a dog she breeds. She's very nice and says she doesn't have any puppies but if I wanted to meet the bitch we could get together tomorrow afternoon if I'm in the area. Of course I am. How fortunate she says, as she is the only Dandie Dinmont Terrier breeder within 700 miles.
There were all sorts of pictures of Richard when he was a boy scattered around his mother's house. Although he did come in second after Dandie Dinmont Terrier photos. I had to pretend to be interested in the squat-legged dog instead of the strange colorized black-and-white communion picture of Richard on the piano. Stranger yet that he's Catholic! But Richard in the flesh was nowhere to be seen. So the day's not a total wash I decide to go to the beach. But every place I settle is soon haunted by horseflies heavy as banana-fed whales doddering around my hair.
I have half a mind to just wait to hear from him and see how he can possibly explain where he's been. But that would mean that we were living life on his schedule. So I call his lab, but the woman tells me he's home. I say I called there, but the phone just rings and rings. Oh, she says, you must have the old number. Wow, I say, I've been out of town, can you give me the new one. She goes away for a couple minutes then comes back and says she's not allowed to do that.
His old phone number is still listed in directory assistance. They wonder why everyone hates the phone company. How rage making. I yelled at the twit at directory assistance, then I felt pretty bad because I realize its probably just some young man in India who's putting his very good American accent to work for pennies through the miracle of satellite communication. So I call Con Ed and give the woman Richard's address and ask if they have our current telephone number on file. No hesitation. Click click click, I hear her typing. She comes back with the old number.
The first thing that drew me to Richard was his passion, then his eyes that make the Grand Canyon a boring hole in the ground. I was watching some show on Animal Planet I came to after my channel flipping was stopped by spotting a commercial I animated. There he was. Talking about frozen zoos. He collects and freezes embryos of animal species facing extinction. He also is part of a project to recreate DNA of already extinct species then using a similar species as a host. Very Jurassic Park. I knew right away we were destined to be together.
A while ago I joined the same gym as Richard, the one over on Lafayette. It's a chance to spend a little time together. But he's not really social when he's at the gym. First he does free weights. Recently he has been doing that slow lifting thing. Then he uses that pulley contraption and the lower back machine (he needs it with all that hunching over in the lab). Finally he runs for a half hour. Once in a while some chickie in a bra top will give him the eye. And then I have a word with her.
So I got this idea yesterday when Richard and I were at the gym. As I was leaving I noticed Richard's bike was at the end of the rack. I moved my bike next to his, Then I locked my bike back to the rack. But when I did it, I first passed my chain through the big open space in his bike frame. Through the big windows I could make out Richard's back in the herd of runners. His "V' of sweat on his back was the sexiest. I wonder how long he waited before he left the note.
carried an obituary for Winifred Quick Van Tongerloo. First off, that bears repeating, Winifred Quick Van Tongerloo. She was ninety-eight years old. As much as I think her name alone makes her noteworthy, the
requires a little more to merit obit space. The event occurred when she was just Winnie Quick, eight years old. Winnie Quick had been on the Titanic. I read it over and over, repeating her name like a spell. It means something to me although I don't know what. I clipped it and stuck it on my refrigerator next to Richard's note.
I've waited. Waited all day. I went to the farmer's market to buy snapdragons but then saw sunflowers. So I bought both. Richard will love the sunflowers. I had no idea half a dozen sunflowers would be so heavy. All the way home I felt like a parade. Everyone stared at me. I was totally wiped out by the time I got back. I still had some time so I sat down and considered all the food he had ever ordered in restaurants to help me plan the most perfect, special meal for him. I waited until seven, then called.
I called Richard several times last night, but kept getting his answering machine. Finally it dawned on me that he might be there, screening calls so I left a message saying I was tired and going to bed but he could call me at work. All morning I kept hurrying people off the line. The first thing he says is "Did you free my bike?" "I'm so sorry." I said, " I can't believe I did that. And I'm a visual person." Oooh, his laugh. "Please, please let me take you out to lunch to make it up to you."
He said he couldn't make lunch today, that he had an appointment. A meeting. Why would he say such a thing? He never goes to meetings at lunch. I waited by the newsstand outside his building. If he didn't come out, I would have to call. But I could tell he'd be out. I just know him that well. So when he appeared at 12:20, I was ready. I had a metrocard and small bills depending on what transportation he took. But then she appeared. The fake redhead. I followed their matching labcoats to Time Café. Where we're meeting tomorrow.
"You don't blink much do you?" We're in the middle of the room. He got a corner booth with her yesterday. " I have big eyes," I say, blinking casually. "I can't get over how familiar you are," he says. I laugh. I should hope so. I ask about his work. His eyes foxtrot when he talks about reconstituting lost species. I ask about the people he works with. He mentions a couple men. "No women? You think women get enough procreation in their daily lives?" He laughs, "That's what Natalie says. She's the only woman in the lab." Natalie.
Richard wasn't able to tell me when we can have lunch again. He said he'd see me around the gym, but I needed to know when we could have lunch again. He's crazy busy right now he says. He might be able to call me in a couple weeks. Or I can call him I say. That bitch Natalie thinks she can get between our love, just because they work together. I called the lab and asked for her and they gave me her last name. Better to leave her a message at home so she doesn't run to Richard.
Rhonda's giving me a postmortem of the taping sessions. I'm trying to act interested so that she'll run out of steam and leave. I can care less which copy they choose, I'll animate what they give me. Right now I'm making a mini-animation for Richard's birthday. It's him playing with a Tasmanian tiger. Tasmanian tigers aren't really tigers but dog-like carnivorous marsupials with stripes. And they're extinct. Australian scientists like Richard are trying to bring them back. Won't he be surprised to see himself playing Frisbee with one. I'm so proud I show Rhonda. What an ugly dog she says.
The hallway was dimly lit by emergency lights. I braved the nine flights down but information was scarce, a transformer fire. I was in and out all day, embracing the challenge. As the day wore on the emergencys dimmed to nothing. The last time back in I felt my way up the steps, to my door and through my keys in profound darkness. I got my flashlight and camera and decided to back out just after eight o'clock to take pictures of the darkened windows at dusk. Following my flashlight down the stairs the lights suddenly came up, freezing me.
By the time the electricity came back on yesterday everything in the refrigerator was warm and everything in the freezer was soft, despite keeping them closed during the outage. I'm not sure what to do with the thawed meat so I decide to cook it all to be safe. I flip though channels while it cooks. Golf. Richard plays golf but he'd never watch it.
A Streetcar Named Desire.
Ooh! We saw that on our first date in Bryant Park. All through the movie I wanted him to touch me, moving my hand closer to him. But he was shy.
For a really good, really special surprise, you have to figure out who to trust and how to get them to help you. I explain to Manny, the building's maintenance guy, that Richard's birthday is Wednesday. I want to throw him a surprise party, so I need to get into his apartment while he's at work to set it up. I commend Manny for being concerned about Richard's safety, but do I really look like a threat? I'm not that woman he works with, I confide. I pull out my address book, "I have Richard's private telephone number. Do you?"
Rossman's really on me because I'm taking tomorrow off. That's what I get for not just calling in sick. I promise to make up the time on the weekend, as if they know exactly how long a job is going to take me to within a day. More importantly, I got Richard's present done. At lunch I ducked out to an internet café and sent some emails to that Natalie. People like her, they can never take a subtle hint. They need everything spelled out. I don't mention Richard's name – so maybe it'll save all the relationships she's currently wrecking.
I made homemade pasta at home, but I prepared the stewed rabbit Bolognese in Richard's kitchen. I told Manny we'd try to save him some to thank him, but I couldn't promise because if all went well, we should be working up appetites tonight. While I finished the passionfruit mousse-filled birthday cake I thought how odd a giant squid washed up in Tasmania of all places right now. Rhonda had said something about it being a teenager or adolescent. "Not a girl, not yet a woman," I said and christened the giant squid "Britney Spears". Richard will think that's funny.
The candles burned down to nothing. The mousse filling went flat and saturated the cake. If it hadn't been his birthday I'd have eaten without him to fix his inconsiderate self but good. But I reminded myself he didn't know, it was a surprise. Finally I fell asleep in the big leather chair in the corner with his photo album of his trip through some rain forest in my lap. When I finally woke, Richard is standing over me flanked by two police officers. And all I'm wearing is my new lavender negligee. "Happy Birthday," I say, "Where were you?"
It took hours.
"It's Thursday, if we book you, you won't be arraigned until Monday," they threatened. Every so often someone new would come in and ask me to tell the story over again.
"I was cooking my boyfriend a birthday dinner."
"He says he doesn't know you."
"That's not a very good joke."
"He says that someone has been harassing him for months with calls and mail."
"We just had lunch together at Time Café last week, go ask. We're in love."
Finally convinced, I went home with important knowledge. Natalie will stop at nothing to split us up.
Natalie is clearly not very bright. Nothing draws people together like a common enemy. After the whole police station debacle it is glaringly apparent that Richard and I will only love each other more and hate her exponentially. Because of her I have to spend all weekend at work catching up, instead of with Richard. Before I went home I stopped at an internet café. I have a pretty good idea what Natalie needs and what Natalie wants. I trolled until I found just the right websites. It hadn't been at all hard to get her address and phone number.
I was talking to Richard about the miners being rescued alive. I had been following the story on CNN when I was at his apartment. Well I was leaving the message on his new phone because he wasn't there-- no doubt he also had work to catch up after spending Thursday at the police station – when my doorbell rang and my heart skipped. Was Richard surprising me? "You are served," the man handed me a paper. Actually he slapped my shoulder with it then dropped it. A restraining order. So weak. Anyone with eyes could see Richard's signature was forged.
Poor Richard. Natalie thoroughly ruined his birthday for us. I didn't even get to watch the present I made with him. If he ever got to see it. I didn't know that Natalie didn't make sure one of her police friends didn't lift it from Richard's apartment that night. She must have. I go to Balducci's and get the most beautiful gourmet basket I can find and tuck a second copy of the special animation I made for him between the crackers and the chocolates. On the card I suggest a couple creative ways we could consume the basket's contents.
Out of the blue I got a call from Richard's mother, "Was I still interested in a Dandie Dinmont?"
"Hey," I say, " I know your son."
"Oh how do you know Richard?"
"Through somebody in his lab."
"What a nice girl. I guess you know they leave tomorrow for the Galapagos."
"The Galapagos? Islands?"
Laughter. "Of course. Do you have a gender preference?"
"For the puppy, male or female."
"Oh, female I guess. With legs as short as that it would depress me to see a little guy dragging his penis on the ground."
It's a good thing I've been saving up my vacation time. First I fly into Quito where I connect to a flight to Balto airport in the Galapagos Islands. Even pristine natural habitats are easily reachable by airplane. Can anybody doubt how important Richard's work really is? But then it's Natalie's work that's more important to me right now. Of course I trust Richard's devotion completely, but Natalie is devious. Once there I'm sure I can ask around until I find their expedition. Natalie needs convincing, but her never leaving the islands would really be the best thing for everyone.
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