Patterson’s Lunch

            Poor kid, the other employees at the messenger service said on the day Patterson disappeared in an alley off Wall Street.  That little guy never got a break in his whole life.  First, he’s born with one leg shorter than the other and has to limp around on a four-inch heel.  Then he gets cheated on his facial features: pretzel ears, a mug that reminds you of fried rice, glasses as thick as a ham steak.  You’d be a loner too if you started life that way.  His father runs off when he’s six months old and his mother’s a drunk.  She leaves him on the doorstep of an orphanage and is gone for good.  Thank god for that social worker who took him to heart.  If it hadn’t been for her, he’d probably be on drugs or something.  But he works hard, gives no lip and sticks to it. 

            Now this.  A pool of blood, a mangled ball cap, a shattered cassette player and a crumpled blue bandanna scattered in an alley that’s oily with grime and smells like sin, the last remains of a cheated life.  And then they drag off his body.  Probably dumped him in the river.  Poor kid.

But had they checked with Patterson about the confusing events of that special morning, he might have told them a different story.  All he knows is that he woke as usual at six a.m. to the driving heavy metal music of an auto alarm in his one room studio apartment.  He heard the familiar clang of delivery trucks hitting the long flat grates a few buildings down and, well, something else.  Whatever it was, he began to feel he might be waking to a slightly altered type of set up than per usual.  The day offered a blinding aura of brightness, uncommon in that neighborhood of dingy, smelly apartments.  Even in spring and summer the block sighed, “dreary,” eyeglasses on or off.  The clanging of the trucks and the shouts and sobs of waking humans in close, too close, diggs with cardboard thin walls now sounded even more bothersome and testy.  Loud, too damn loud.  Clatter on the cobblestones.  Metal clashing against metal.  Perhaps, Patterson feared, another seizure or migraine was making its way through his brain.  Even at that, his heightened sensual expository had an edge to it not heretofore within his experience.  Ka-boom is what it said in the fashion of a thunderclap.  Flash and blinko is what struck at first light.  He thought he could smell the pungency of cordite in the air, not an unwelcome scent in his opinion in a generally stinky neighborhood.  His head felt too large, his skull open to the atmosphere, his brain undressed and naked.

Nonetheless, he had to pay his bills and so proceeded with his standard wakeup routine.  He had his half  bowl of fruit wheels, a glass of cranberry juice for his troubled urinary track and two leftover drumsticks from last night’s deli dinner.  Patterson was very sensible about his health and read the paper every day, health care magazines and self-help books to be certain he was putting the right things into his system.  He liked to say he was the perfect specimen of the human animal.

As usual, he chose to postpone his first cup of coffee until he reached the deli next to the dispatch office.  Why make a pot for one person when all you want is a cup or two and someone already has it made?  Be sensible about it, he told himself.  Cut corners.  Pick up a penny here, a nickel there.  Adds up.

After a shower and shampoo, he stared for a while out the lone window at the dust and papers blowing haphazardly up and down the street.  It was going to be hot again and, with the wind, his face would break out even more.  Gosh, he had to get out of here.  He turned for a second to the stack of brochures he collected every time he made a delivery at a travel agent’s office.  Fares were down and, if he could save a few dollars, maybe he could get away, go for a cruise.  If it weren’t for the weekends, he’d be on the boat by now.   That’s where it all went.  The damn street sales on Broadway.  Imitation Rolex watches.  Ball caps.  He must have one of each.  Sneakers.  Bandannas.  Ghetto blasters.  Tapes for his cassette.  Comic books.  It just had to stop.  His apartment couldn’t hold any more.  But what else could he do?  Even the movies these days cost too Never had been to a Broadway play.  Sure, he had an old television, a black and white hand-me-down, but he couldn’t afford cable, much less one of those VCR’s.  Didn’t drink.  Couldn’t handle the stuff.  Made him crazy.   Just like weed.  Stogies and cigarettes made him throw up.  The knock-out New York girls in their tight jeans and high heels wouldn’t even look at him.   Street sales on the weekends were all he had.  The hubbub of the crowd, the shouts of the vendors, the cacophony of the record stores, the allure of the shirt shops.  Maybe a burger at an outside café in the summertime.  A stroll and a sit on a beach at Bowling Green Park.  A subway ride to look in the windows on Fifth Avenue and walk around Manhattan.  Free outdoor concerts.  Central Park now and then.  At least he could be out and about.  He only stayed at the apartment long enough to sleep, listen to music, close his eyes and daydream about faraway places.  One of those resorts where young single people took off their clothes.  Thinking that, he looked down at his rotten foot and felt a tinge of despair.

Yet Caribbean beaches were his first choice.  Closer than Hawaii and a lot cheaper.  The only beach he ever saw was on a field trip once to the Jersey Shore.  Not so great.  He needed to get out of Manhattan.  He lost himself in the pictures of palm trees, sand, dark young women in bikinis.  He could hear steel drums, reggae and calypso music, turquoise waters edging up in a white froth on the sand.  Kaleidoscopic sunsets.  Barbados, St. Thomas, Sint Maarten, Guadalupe, Martinique, Jamaica, the one in the Carribean and not New York.  He could almost feel the breezes, fresh air.  None of this garbage truck, sewer grate, exhaust pipe, sour city stink.  Later, he could do Europe, Paris, London. see The Beatles, Hard Rock Cafe, Buckingham Palace, Stuttsgart, Rome, the whole smear.  Then on to Bangkok, China, Japan, the Pyramids.  There was a whole wide world out there just waiting for Patterson to show up.  Some day, he sighed.

His one real friend, Marjean from across the hall, worked as a travel agent from her apartment.  She was retired but so well liked, or so she said, that she could get him a flight or a cruise in a fingersnap.  She did once.  To the Bahamas.  He had to cancel.  Had to spend his days off with the flu and hadn’t had another chance since.  He and Marjean did Thanksgiving and Christmas together and dawdled at the Italian feasts.  She kept as much to herself as Patterson did and that was all right by them.   Patterson liked to buy her flowers when they were half off during Happy Hour and Champagne on sale at the market down the street.  He kept his passport up to date just in case Marjean found him a deal.  She hadn’t been too active lately.  Spent most days looking out her window at the building across the street.  Patterson worried about her.  If she didn’t perk up, she’d lose her connections with her former associates.  Then, where would he be?

That morning Patterson cast a look fearfully towards the corner of his apartment he called, “The Dark Side.”  He lowered his telescopically thick lenses to take a peak.  Made him shiver.  Somehow scary, those stacks of ragged-eared magazines he stuck in his delivery pouch while waiting in lobbies and reception areas while the receptionist jabbered on the phone or wrote down messages.  Newspaper clippings.  Politics.  Kept them for what?  Just to stew over?  Wall Street corruption.  Pig nation.  His secret blasphemies.  Traitorous thoughts.  Stay away from the protests, Patterson reminded himself.  The time he got caught up in one — he was patted down right there in the street against a stone wall.  Right in front of everybody.  The cop called him a weirdo and a nut case.  What if he’d been arrested?  What about his job?  The only job he ever had.  Yet, then again, maybe today was different.  He felt angry this morning, self-righteous, daring.  His stacked up collection of political dialogue, rants and rages seemed magnified.  The headlines at the top of the heap stood out in full color.  He thought he could read the small print from where he stood by the small round dining table next to the window.

He shivered.  Creepy.  Stop that right now, he told himself.  Dump the negativity.  That was the motto at the orphanage.  Think positive.  Stand up straight.  Don’t go looking for trouble. Trouble is going to find you anyway.  Don’t tempt it.  He turned away to get himself ready to hit the street.  Hit the street, he sighed, meaning more or less hurry up and get his ass out there or he’d be late.

Before he dressed, Patterson spent a full ten minutes wrapping the heel and ankle of his bad foot with a special gauze, another lousy expense.  It was getting worse, the huge callus that sometimes oozed clear fluid and smelled bad.  He cleaned it every night and every morning as the doctor at the city clinic recommended.  Walking all day and not having the best of orthopedic shoes aggravated it, he figured.

The nosebleeds were another problem.  Had them as long as he could remember.  Allergies.  One minute everything normal, next minute the strange tingle inside his nostrils and then the massive eruption, the ruination of many shirts.   So, after completing his early morning oblations and pulling down the bill of his “I Love New York” ball cap, slipping on his new imitation gold Rolex, tucking his short sleeved flannel shirt into his fake designer jeans, both purchased at street side, he tied a blue bandanna into a knot and fixed it in front, cowboy style, so he could pull it up quickly over his nose if he had to.  He stuffed a wad of tissues in his left front pocket.  Never knew when they’d come in handy.

But the most critical piece of his work outfit was the portable cassette player.  Without it, hobbling around the fungal cobblestones of the financial district could put a guy on the railing of a bridge.  Patterson lifted up his ball cap, fixed the plugs to his outsized ears, tugged the bill of his ball cap back down and twisted the tarnished knob of the apartment door to enter the hallway.  Fully equipped as he was, a hidden money belt firmly in place, he scuttled and halfway tripped five floors down the stairway to the street resembling one of those species of insects that mutate atop skyscrapers in large cities and are as yet unclassified.

That day Patterson followed his usual morning routine.  A short subway ride.  Up the cement steps and hit the deli.  But again, a premonition.  What was up?  Was that Puerto Rican girl he just passed actually shooting him a shot of leg from the slit of her skirt, casting him a sexy come on or was she just half asleep and daydreaming about someone else?  He shouldn’t get his hopes up but maybe the climate was shifting in his direction. There was no one ahead of or behind him for her to eyeball.  He thought she even might have smiled.

Hazel, the office manager, Old Reliable as she was known, awaited him at the office slumped over her desk behind the pick up counter.  In her seventies or so, she had long ago ceased giving the appearance of woman, man or vegetable.  The brittle salt and pepper whiskers above her lips and across her chin didn’t help.  But Hazel was always friendly and easy enough to get along with.  In fact, all the people at the delivery service were.  His job was one of Patterson’s few blessings.  He had nobody special to thank for it.  He harbored no belief system.  Fate, he supposed.

Hazel liked to say she had worked on Wall Street long enough to have changed the diapers of every CEO that used the messenger service.  It was owned by some old coot in a nursing home she said was given the last rites every evening at about six o’clock.  Her biggest fear was that the man would die and none of his relatives would want to own anything as boring as an old fashioned messenger service.

“Look here, Patterson.  Don’t let all this fancy eee-lectronic back and forth give you the idea that old Hazel’s going obsolete on you.  I have more dirt on these scumbags than the FBI.  They need us, Patterson.  We leave no trail.  If it’s important enough, call Hazel.  That’s the deal.  I can lie to a cop or a detective as well as anybody.  Better, if truth be told.  And believe me, this city is filled with liars.  But we’ve got ’em by the ying yang.  You just go out there and do your thing and let old Hazel take care of the rest.”

He took his first assignment of the morning from Hazel and headed off.  A law firm.  His favorite.  Their offices always seemed cooler than the other offices.  He could hear the airconditioning units chugging away from the street.  He was happy to stand there for a minute or so while the receptionist answered the phone and signed for the package.  He could enjoy inhaling her coiffure, her perfume and flawless skin.  He could pretend for that tiny fraction of time that she was truly interested in him and that her smile when she handed over the receipt meant more than just a courtesy.  Patterson also knew to be strictly businesslike.  Hazel made a point of instructing all her couriers to be as invisible as possible.  He knew his boundaries and left the young ladies without saying more than, “Thank you.”  Learned that at the orphanage.  Don’t mess with the clientele.

At the first telephone booth outside the building he dialed Hazel and got new instructions, a pickup at the NYSE.  That’s how the day would go and, if the route allowed, he’d return to the office, sit a few minutes on the wooden bench and catch part of a soap opera on the office TV before making the next delivery.

As he rode up and down elevators that morning, observed by others as an odd looking, but not so troublesome character slouched in a back corner, absorbed in low level noise that resonated in cicada chants from his ear phones, Patterson tried to understand the remarkable sensations he was beginning to feel.  His skin felt peeled away, delicate, as pink and tender as the drawings of muscles and tissue in an anatomy textbook.  Sounds sounded too loud, colors shined too bright, the edges of the brown delivery envelopes felt too sharp, the glimmer off tall glass buildings shown flashy and distracting.

At the office again, seated between Shorty and Cosmo on the wooden bench, he couldn’t keep his mind focused on the two starlets on the television screen worming their way into a kiss.  His stomach growled, anticipating lunch.  Lunch was the most exciting part of his day and he spent much of his idle thought considering what he might enjoy masticating during his forty-five minute break.  “Eat With Mindfulness,” read the poster in the gastroenterologist’s office.  Chew slowly and taste each bite.  Swallow with delight.

Let the pleasure of sustenance seep warmly into depths of your stomach.  You will eat less but relish your food all the more.

Somewhere beyond the groans and gurgles of his hunger pains and the television, he heard something else.  Those sounds he heard, what were they?  Voices?  No, he wasn’t hearing voices, just sounds.   Smacking sounds, crunching sounds, slobbering sounds.  Eating sounds.  He was picking up some kind of undercurrent.  The undercurrent of what, he wasn’t sure.  Things as disharmonious as yogurt, garlic and chocolate.  Or put another way, jangling steel drums, tubas and castanets.  But it was there.  It had something to do with food, with eating.  Cold cuts.  Pizza slices.  Fruit cups.  Teeth chopping through crisp lettuce.   Or for example, he said to Pedro, his imaginary companion, it’s like eating raw celery or crunching an ice cube.  You feel it from your teeth to your hair.  Gosh, he had to get a handle on it.  Read somewhere that George Gershwin, the famous composer thought he smelled burnt rubber all the time.  His problem was a brain tumor.  Died young from it.  Patterson sure hoped he was having a brain tumor like George Gershwin.  The doctor at the clinic told him he had great blood pressure.  He was after all a perfect specimen of the human animal.  Gosh, he had to get a handle on it.  He was too young to die of a brain tumor.

Hazel called out his name in her hoarse, loud voice so abruptly he overturned his diet cola, his second of the morning.  It was an urgent request, she shouted, a jewelry store that needed a pouch delivered.  She handed him a wad of left over deli napkins and he bent to mop up the mess.  That situation under control, he checked the address.  No phone number.  He knew the street but hadn’t been there for a while.  Most of the stores and buildings on the block had been closed and marked with “For Lease” signs.

He tried as best as he could on his way to the jewelry store to concentrate on his mission.  What struck him funny as he hobbled along from one heel to the other was that now his ability to see had also been heightened.  He poked his heavy-lensed eyeglasses back up his nose a time or two to test whether his vision was being distorted by heat waves off the pavement, perspiration seeping into his eyes or dust causing his eyes to water and blur.  Instead of simply imagining how people looked without their clothes, he could actually see through their clothes, see them in their nakedness.  He could hear what they were thinking too, couldn’t he?  Wow!  Did you see that little redhead?  What a beaut!  He forced himself to concentrate.  Nice as she was, Hazel tolerated no screw ups.

As he limped along, he had to hum to drown out the competing conversations.  He stared down at the sidewalk to be polite.  If not a brain tumor, maybe he had been infected by an alien.  Or perhaps a hidden power within him had been unleashed.  He was excited but feeling shaky.  After this delivery he probably ought to go see the doc.  These apparitions were highly upsetting.

He paused a minute outside the jewelry store to get his head straight.  The store had a narrow front.  Its windows were stacked with tiny boxes of precious stones jammed so closely together they had lost most of their glamour.  He entered the door and nodded to a younger female clerk behind the counter wearing, but not owning, Patterson surmised, one of the store’s diamond brooches.  She didn’t bother to smile.  It was no law firm, that was for sure.  She wasn’t a looker either, he judged, dressed or undressed.  He asked for the gentleman whose name Hazel had given him and stood, as he often did, waiting for a package, uncomfortably, hobbling short leg to long leg, long leg to short leg, followed by a ritualized dance to keep his balance.

He was startled when she actually spoke.  “Mr. Alexis wants to have a word with you,” she said.  “Just go through the curtains,” she pointed, her voice as loud and sharp as a shout through a megaphone.  Brooklyn, he heard Brooklyn in her voice.

Patterson complied and found himself in a short narrow hallway.  Mr. Alexis was not there but Patterson could hear the voices of two men speaking in thick accents.  Despite his newly discovered sensibility, Patterson could only catch a phrase here and there.

“But it’s not normally done….” one of the men began.

“That’s the beauty of it….”

“Don’t you see, it’s all cash….”

“Doesn’t matter.  Cash doesn’t have our names….”

“But if something happens, if it disappears….”

“Trust me on this one.  It’s only a ten minute walk….”

“I don’t know Albert.  So much at stake…”

“They wouldn’t imagine we would be so stupid…”

“Lynch’s Law.”

“Look.  I’ve dealt with this messenger service before.  Many times.  I know them.  I’ve never had a screw up…”

Suddenly two men in their fifties, possibly brothers, poked their heads through a stained beige doorway curtain.  Their heads were pointed like partially plucked artichokes.  They looked Patterson up and down, looked at each other and pulled back into their office.  Buzz.  Buzz.  Buzz.  Pssst.  Pssst.  Pssst.

“I don’t think he heard us.  He has one of those gadgets tucked into his ears….”

“Risky, very risky….”

“Do you want to deliver….?”

“Hell, no.  If they saw me running around the street with that satchel over my shoulder…”

“They don’t even know we’re here.”

“You don’t think we’re being watched.  I know they’re not that stupid.

They trust us, yes, but…”

“You make my point.  Who would suspect….?”

“So much at stake…”

“I’ve taken very good care of Hazel…”

And thou, Patterson?” a voice asked in a whisper.  “Vous?  What about vous?”

Patterson looked over his shoulder but saw no one.

“Okay, okay.  There’s probably no good way.  If they catch him with it, they’ll act like it’s a mugging.  They’ll just shove him down and run off with it.  Just leave our names out of it.  I guess you’ve sold me on it.  Okay then.  Let’s get it over with.  I can’t take this waiting around any more.  I’m done….”

The two men, dressed in clothes Patterson had seen at one time or another hanging from sales racks on the streets of the garment district, came out of the doorway simultaneously to meet him, smiling, jovial, jumping around, so glad to see him.

“Alexis, here,” both of them said in unison.

“So.  You are from the messenger service?” the older one began.  Both of them smiled in an exaggerated way that reminded Patterson of newly carved Jack-O-Lanterns.

“Who does he think you are?  A pick up boy for The Helping Hand?”  the strange voice rang out.

“Umm, yes, Hazel…” Patterson told the two men.

“Ah yes, Hazel.  That is good,” the older one said.  “That is so good you are here.  We like you already.  You look like someone we can trust.”

“The hell he does,” the voice said.  “He just thinks you’re another stupid chump.  A sucker.  All these guys here thinks the other guy’s a sucker.”

“You see we have a most important package and it must be delivered immediately.   You see, it’s for a charity.  You know, people in need.”  The man started to look down at Patterson’s bad shoe but caught himself.  Patterson noticed anyway.

“Hush, hush, you know.  On the QT.  Highly confidential.  You get the picture.  Can we be guaranteed absolute secrecy?  Of course, we’re not doubting your honesty.  Hazel herself said…”

Patterson started to interrupt them by pulling a tattered laminated card out of his back pocket and to read from as Hazel insisted the delivery boys must do if they were ever questioned.  It contained all the rules and procedures of the messenger service.  Basically, it said if a customer had any questions they should call the management, i.e. Hazel.  They waved it away.

“No.  No.  That won’t be necessary.  We’ve done business with your firm before.  Hazel is well known to us.  And we think you are most honest in your appearance.  But let us stress a few points.  The pouch must be delivered with the seal unbroken.  Of course, I suppose you know that already.  It must be delivered by 1:30 p.m. but no sooner, no later.  Is this possible?”

Patterson looked at his imitation gold Rolex watch.   It was not yet quite 12:15 p.m.

“Should I come back later?  It’s only about ten minutes from here.”

“No.  No. Take it now, please.  We’ll be leaving soon ourselves.  It will be best if you hold on to it until then.  Just keep it on your shoulder.  Just act normal.  It will be fine.”

“No problem,” Patterson said.  “I’ll take good care of it.”

“Good.  Good.  Of course you will,” they kept saying as they followed Patterson out of the store like hunting dogs rubbing their hands together in unison as they did.  “Good.  Good.  Of course you will.  Good.  Good.  We know you will.”

The older man slipped him a twenty.  Once he might have thought a twenty was a lot of bread.  These days it was peanuts, especially based on their big build up.

After Patterson left them, he allowed himself a minor grin.  He was certain they must be brothers.  The same baldness pattern, the same hooked noses, gnarly teeth that needed cleaning.  The older man on the left was wearing a skimpy red brief shaped like a jockstrap.  The man on the right was going to die soon.  His breath foretold it.

Outside in the street the heat and humidity felt suffocating.  The noise of the traffic, horn honking, breaks screeching, people shouting at one another, was even louder and more distracting than ever.  The buildings resembled towers of tofu in its many forms.  The air was filled with a rumpus of digestive sounds.  A virtual picnic of gustative and gastronomic retorts.  Belches and farting sounds.  Gurgling and slurping. Across the square, a woman dressed somberly like a nun, although she was not a nun, opened a package of potato chips with the sound of an avalanche.  When she crunched into a chip, thunder rippled over the cobblestones.  Next to her on the steps of the same building, a mustachioed man, her companion Patterson assumed, finely tailored and bow tied, created a cataclysm with his veggie sandwich.  The heat of the day, the stench of lower Manhattan, the inescapable sound of jagged teeth gnawed at the corners of the filthy towers, grating against Patterson’s ears.  His ever-rustling music could not disguise it.  In fact, the sound of the man up the street peeling the wrapper off his chocolate bar and gnashing into its chopped peanuts was only amplified by the truck that roared around the corner almost running Patterson down.  The sound waves of the horn so started him that he nearly tripped over his own suddenly unsynchronized feet.

The ruminations of consumption rattled through the rows of skyscrapers and old stone buildings.  Patterson could hear sounds as remote as that of roaches, both human and insect, chewing on leftovers, nibbling on crumbs.

Pouch over his shoulder, he had the volume on his cassette player rolled to its widest arc.  The Rolling Stones were more than preempted by the para-metropolitan sounds of the downtown munchers, jabbering ferociously as they gobbled their sandwiches, shoving against each other in the lines at the food carts.

He headed in the direction of his destination clomping at a less than frantic pace.  All this chewing and slurping and gulping stirred his own need for nourishment.  It was well past his lunchtime.  He knew the address.  He had made deliveries in the same vicinity many times.  Maybe he should stop to grab a bite.  That would put some time between him and his delivery.  The pouch was not light.  It pulled him to one side, his short side.  He balanced it with his own small backpack.

As he passed a certain deli, made memorable to him by its pea soup, he heard a voice call out to him.

“Hey youse.  Hey youse over dare.  Youse hungry yet?”

“Sure,” he answered the voice, he was hungry.  Wasn’t sure what he wanted yet.

Something meaty.  Not a soup day.  More like a hot dog or sub.  He shoved the

door of the deli open with a shoulder and stood at the end of the line directly in front of the window of the deli case.  At his reply the entire contents of the deli case began conversing in tongues among themselves, hobnobbing like old war buddies at a reunion.  A lover of hero sandwiches, Patterson could not ignore the beauty of the buns and rolls, the color of the ripe tomatoes, the crispiness of a sliced dill pickle, the haphazard dribble of mustard and mayonnaise.  He stood staring at the possibilities.  Yum, yum, he thought.

It was the salami and provolone on a round whole wheat bun who spoke to him first.

Hey, bud.  Must be hot out there.  Pretty damn hot out there, huh?

“Yeah.  Windy and dusty too,” Patterson said out loud.  At his words, a perky MBA in a pin- striped suit turned his head towards Patterson with a frown.  Patterson ignored him.

Have a seat and cool off a little.

“Can’t stay long.  Have a delivery.  Gotta be there by 1:30.”

Ha!  Ha!  One thirty, down and dirty.  I get it.  Sure you do.  But look.  Think about this now.  You carryin’ a bomb in that bag? Ha!  Ha!  Ha!

“I may look dumb but I ain’t that dumb.  I heard what they said.  ‘Cash;

it’s cash.’  None of my business.  I just pick up and deliver.  No questions asked.”

Hey, let’s think about this.  Might be your one chance.

“One chance for what?  Jail time.  No thanks.”

No jail time.  Just the opposite.  To break free, stupid.  Beat the system.

Bump the hog.

“Hey, don’t call me stupid,” Patterson blurted out to override The Stones.

“What?” the MBA in line behind him asked.

Patterson looked back at him with his double windshield vision, said nothing and the MBA looked away.

“Okay, just don’t make fun of me.  I get enough of that shit.”

 Look, you ain’t really stupid, just sorta stupid.  Not really stupid.  Just a little slow sometimes.  Those people at the orphanage really did a job on youse.  Made youse think you had to be grateful all the time.  Grateful for what?

“Do you need something?” the MBA asked politely.

Patterson nodded no.  The MBA shrugged, made a slight face.

You’re too sensitive, bud, the salami counseled exhaling garlic into the air.  What you need is a fresh start.  Look at us.  Made to order.  All new ingredients.  Natural too.  Just step inside.  Join us.  You’ll see what I mean.

Patterson looked down at the salami and thought he looked like he knew how to slice it.  He felt a high comfort level.  Delis had always felt welcoming to him, the soups, stews and chowders, bagels and buns, mayos, pestos and salad dressings, a bowl of chili on cold windy Wall Street days, stools by the window looking out at the noon timers out for a stroll.  That’s what the magazines said was important in interpersonal relationships.  Comfort levels.  After all, a salami was a salami but a lawyer could be a thief, a drug addict or a PTA president. A pretty girl with an M.A. could be a know-it-all social worker at a state agency or an orphanage.  Salamis were pretty much alike, give or take a spice or two.

Patterson felt himself dissolving, descending.

As the MBA ordered a grilled pastrami on rye with fries, a bottled water and a chocolate chip cookie, the rest of the sandwiches greeted Patterson in unison.

Hiya, kid! Welcome to the club!  Ha! Ha!  Get it?  Club.

Even the chef salad shuffled its lettuce and rolled its cherry tomatoes.

Ya see, kid, the salami jabbered on, it’s all relative.  Ya just gotta make a decision.  Once and for all.  Does youse wanna be ham and cheese?  Does youse wanna add lettuce, pickle, and tomato?  Does youse want a little Dijon?  The choices is endless.  Once ya slap down the first slice, you’re in bidness.

The salami belched up more garlic and moved the gherkin that hung from his crusts form one side to the other.

Yeah, do sumpin.   Don’t just sit around on youse buns waiting for the sausage man to come back for ya’s and toss ya’s into the dumpster,” the hot dog threw in, laughing mustard and moist crumbs all over the glass.  Keep messin’ around and you’ll end up being just another turkey with mayo.

Ehhh, cool it ya’s hot dog, the salami sneered.  Whatta chumpThat guy’s got sausage for brains.  Ignore the bastard, kid.  But take it from me, you’re gonna get gobbled up anyway.  Ya might as well get swallowed in style.  Come on, give youseselfs a break.

Without knowing why, Patterson liked the salami.  He had a certain flair about him.  Reminded him of pepperoni pizza for some reason.  Heck, if he could be a sandwich, he’d go as a hero deluxe, Patterson thought.  That’s it.  That’s what he’d order.  The works.  Sliced black olives.  Hot mustard and mayo.  Four kinds of meat.  Pickles, onions, lettuce.  Two cheeses.  Oil and vinegar.

As the burly man in the white apron leaned over to ask what he’d have for lunch, the other sandwiches in the deli case, the shrimp po’boy, the BBQ beef, the ham sand, the liverwurst, the veggie blue and, yes, even the turkey on whole wheat, the poor dried up old fellah, chimed in.

Hop aboard, kid,” they chanted.  Join the pahty.  Else they’ll chop you up and

call you Pate’.

The moment Patterson began imagining all the goodies he’d have slapped on his whole wheat buns, he felt himself descending even further, as if from a high place.  He passed easily through the glass, landed softly and was immediately turned to one side.

It’s to show all the meats ya’s gots, the salami explained.  Put ya’s best slice fawward.  Hey, really glad youse decided to put up the mustard, kid.  Before ya’s know, somebody will come along and find youse to be very so bon appetit.

It wasn’t ten minutes before the salami was gone.  He stubbed out his gherkin and waved goodbye to Patterson with a leaf of romaine.  Several ham and Swiss on rye sitting neat and trim next to Patterson were pulled up and out and the remaining sandwiches quickly rearranged.  The hot dog went next, guffawing mustard, relish and shredded cheese as it was stuffed with onion and relish, heated in the microwave and wrapped in foil.

As he watched the hot dog being dropped into a sack with a bag of chips, a cookie and some napkins, Patterson felt the sensation of rising rapidly upward, rolling in wax coated paper and tumbling down into a brown bag, head over the four-inch heel of his bad foot.  He felt calm as he descended, calm as he was lifted out of the bag and unwrapped.  Everything was quiet now.  The noise was gone, stopped in midair with a click.  He remained calm as he stared ahead into the wide chasm that opened red and black and orange in turns like a ferocious sunset, calm as he began to slide down the smooth passage, calm as he heard the echo, the slurps and gurgles, the clatter and crunch! crunch! crunch! of rows and rows of advancing teeth….

 

*                      *                      *

 

Bare breasted female tourists and middle aged men with swollen bellies and undersized Speedos glanced sideways in their somnolence as the ocean spewed up an unshapely, boyish looking man in a purplish striped swimsuit and tumbled him in a ball onto the Caribbean beach.  He sat stupefied, rubbing the salt from his eyes, and then mushed his way toward his towel, spreading it out meticulously before he sat down.  He reached into a worn leather pouch, pulled out his thick eyeglasses, cleaned them on the edge of the towel and put them on.  He looked backward at the tall luxury hotel where he may have spent the night and then to the ocean which transfixed him.  He didn’t know what he would do the rest of the day or even tomorrow.  He didn’t know much of anything.  Only that the sun and the breeze felt good on his tender, slightly burned skin.  He turned his twisted calloused foot in the warm sand, covered it with a mound and enjoyed the healing powers of its heated grains.  He eyed the lithe young women barefooting through the sand in twos and threes with their colorful drinks and eyed with envy the every present equally young men adorned with muscle, tan and knowing smirks.  He didn’t know how he was going to do it or how long it was going to take him but he felt confident that one day he would be like one of them, that his foot would be fine, that his ears would be of normal size and that his skin would be as pure and smooth and sun blessed as the skin they wore, that he would lay beside a yawning, stretching, smiling, adoring horny woman who would laugh at everything he said.  The waiters on the beach would bring them cold beers and grilled Reuben’s for lunch and they would nap afterwards in the sweet air to the sounds of the ocean rolling in, rolling out.

It was going to be a fine amnesia.