First contact – any contact - had never been Larry Tarkesian’s strong suit. He lacked the confidence to spot a woman crack a joke and start a conversation. Something in his manner made them shy away. Once they’d get to know him, he insisted, they’d see what a great guy he was. Sensitive, funny, smart were just a few of the qualities that sprung to mind. “Hello?” a tiny butterfly of a voice fluttered out of the phone into his ear. Fidgeting in semi-darkness in the farthest corner of his room, he bleated a stream of nonsense into the receiver before slamming it into the cradle. Who cared about the caffeine shake in his left leg? So he had a nervous twitch in his right eyelid? Who didn’t live with some nervous tic or another? It wasn’t like he had Tourette’s syndrome.
He hesitated before redialing the number, which had seared itself into his memory like the date and time of his very first lay.
Larry gulped and threw caution to the wind. “Yeah, hello, uh… You don’t know me but —”
“Not interested. Buh-bye.”
The disconnect signal bore into Larry’s ear like an angry hornet. He kicked his cat and trod the well-worn path to the kitchen in the dark. The cork on the fancy Belgian beer almost took out his eye when it popped and he poured a foamy pint by refrigerator light.
One last time, he vowed, and punched the redial button letting the phone ring three, four times. Please pick up.
Oh God, now she’s pissed. “Don’t hang up,” he said. “This is awkward, I know —”
“Who is this? Kenny,” she hollered for assistance deep into her apartment.
“Hang on… You don’t know me but, I’m the guy who was behind you in line in the grocery store the other day.”
“You had asparagus, salmon, rice… I was the guy with the pesto and ravioli—”
“Who the hell is this?”
“We were in line together at the cashiers. You forgot your loyalty card. You gave them your phone number.”
“Kenny, come here quick there’s a pervert on the line.”
Larry jumped out of his seat and paced the room, clutching his hair. “No, no, it’s not like that. I’m not a pervert I swear. Listen. You said hello. We talked. You seemed cool, you—”
“I don’t know who the hell this is, but if you ever phone me again I’m calling the cops… Kenny,” she hollered. “Get over here you lazy piece of—”
Larry hung up and pounded his forehead. Loser. Loser. Loser. He quaffed his abbey ale in a single gulp and went to grab another drink – an old world comfort to accompany an evening of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The queue in front of the Pig Sty stretched beyond the adjacent tattoo and piercing salon, past the anarchist bookstore, to the urine-fresh entry of the new-age trinket shop. Friends gathered in groups of threes and fours reading newspapers, free weeklies, or discussing the hi-tech strollers they’d stuffed their babies into like NASCAR drivers. The line bulged where it wrapped around street kids camped out with their dogs under dirty sleeping bags. Hustlers selling Street Sheets joked like MCs at a charity roast, garnering nervous laughter and handfuls of spare change from tourists.
Customers waited two deep at the counter while table vultures hovered over scrunched up solitary diners who guarded their plates like mess hall convicts. Waitresses advanced with menus tucked into their chests and plates of food held aloft like tattooed statues of liberty. Tables were packed to overflowing with diners feasting on bacon and eggs, coffee, juice, and omelets stuffed with every imaginable combination of onions, mushrooms, three or four varieties of peppers, chorizo, cilantro, avocado, cheddar, feta, jack and mozzarella, bowls of granola topped with bananas, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, apricots, orange and grapefruit, pancakes, waffles, muffins smothered in gravy with crabmeat, ham and little bits of things passed off as sausage, and toast in upright racks with four kinds of jam, marmalade and chutney – and it all came with hash browns. The chatter in the diner was deafening - and brilliant; too noisy and too cool to comprehend. Companions debated which was worse - peanut butter stuck in the jelly jar, or jelly stuck in the peanut butter. “Oh jelly in the peanut butter,” a pasty faced trustifarian bellowed. “It gets all hard and gritty.” A kid with a heartbreaking hairdo of staggering coolness declared, “I’m writing a deconstruction of Kafka’s Metamophosis – from the standpoint of the bug.” “It’s already written from the standpoint of the bug.” Others reminisced about their first piercing or favorite Tenderloin sex shop. Irony contests pitted adjacent tables humming 70s sitcom theme music at one another – much to the chagrin of a man sat conspicuously reading R. Crumb in the corner window nook. Yes, there was stupid conversation everywhere – but purposely so - a cover for the brightest and best minds of their generation to blow-off a bit of steam on their weekends off, and where better to kick back and be clever or ironic, or in Larry Tarkesian’s case – to be miserable, than in Haight Street’s most popular breakfast eatery?
“…and she opened up the Q-Tip container? And, like, the first one she pulled out was used… USED!”
“That’s so disgusting.” Larry dropped his fork and wiped his mouth. His eyes watered as he struggled to swallow. “Can you at least let me finish my hash browns?”
Felicity Starkwell, ever hip in two-tone, cat-eye frames and matching vintage top, set her coffee down and leaned across the table. “What’s your problem Larry?”
“Yeah,” Goran Evenlietchavitz said, while buttering a second helping of toast. “What’s the deal? Another nightmare date from hell?”
Mojee, Felicity’s friend from LA, pushed her potatoes onto a saucer and proceeded to braid her sable hair into small knots. In her sleeveless black top and jeans she looked like the Beatnik muse of Gregory Corso. “Yeah Larry, how is your love life these days?” She traded a knowing glance with Felicity. This’ll be good.
“Yeah, who is she? Who are you obsessed with now?” Felicity bounced in her chair.
Larry sipped his coffee. “Well, nobody. Nobody interesting really.”
“Yeah, come on Larry.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s nobody special, just—”
“Well there’s this girl who lives in the neighborhood…”
“Oh, cut to the chase and tell us about her boyfriend.”
“Mojee,” Felicity said. “That’s mean.”
Goran rubbed his fingers across three generations of hippie table carvings, waiting for the malediction to pour out of Larry like scalding hot coffee.
“OK, I’ll tell you about her boyfriend. She’s living with a complete slob, a middle aged rockabilly thug.”
“Ha.” Mojee laughed and clapped her hands. “I love the way you totally stereotype people. I wonder what he says about us?”
“Well,” Larry continued. “If you live in The Haight long enough you become an expert at classifying sub-species of morons.”
“OK now for the girl Larry,” Felicity said. “Where did you meet her? Have you spoken with her?”
“Yeah, we talked,” he said and hailed a passing waitress for a top-up. “I talked to her at Food Cow.”
Mojee tossed a packet of organic fair trade brown sugar into the air and scoffed. “Wow, macaroni and cheese? I like that too. Wanna go to a movie?”
“I talked to her in line, and called her on the phone.”
Before the So-Cal chanteuse could humiliate him further, Felicity hi-fived the reluctant Casanova. “Bravo Larry,” she said. “You got her number in line at the store?”
“Yeah, sort of.”
“Hang on. You sort-of got her number?” Mojee said with a teaspoon of skepticism.
“Well I memorized it when she told it to the cashier.” He watched his friends look aghast. “When… she… forgot… her —”
“No, Larry —”
“Aw, that’s sick —”
Goran shook his head and laughed. The din of Sunday breakfast couldn’t conceal the awfulness of Larry’s confession – three concircular rings of adjacent tables were appalled.
“That’s so weird —”
“That’s stalker, sex-fiend weird,” Mojee said. “You’re even more disturbed than I thought.”
Larry’s ill-conceived, clumsily executed pick-up dominated the discussion. He tried to change subjects: the smell of heroin tourists, the most amazing drag queens, movies they’d seen, bands they’d heard, scheduled blackouts on the city’s phantom energy grid, paid a visit to Dominic and Eva, who were seated at the counter, all to no avail – nothing could trump his sleazy solicitation. Berated and scolded, he suffered the derision of clever Mojee, and his pal Felicity’s scalding laughter. Goran looked askance while woofing down a plate of (vegan) biscuits and gravy. When a group of cute guys walked past, prompting Felicity to orchestrate a scene by spilling a glass of water, the conversation turned silly again. They gabbed and drank coffee until not even they knew what they were talking about. But steady as a tugboat at sea, Larry guided the topic into familiar waters.
“I need to ask you all a favor,” he said. “You know my storage locker, in Alameda?” Mute stares and long sips of coffee rejoined his query. “Of course you do. Well, I missed my rent last month. Strike three. I haven’t heard for sure yet, but I think the pricks are going to confiscate it.”
“That’s a shame Larry,” Mojee said as she winked at Felicity. “Did you mention the storage locker to your girlfriend?” Big laughs erupted all around.
“Yeah Larry, girls go for a man with a big storage locker.”
“Funny. Listen, if it does go to auction, I can count on you guys to pitch in with me and get it back, right?”
“Here we go again,” Goran said motioning for the check.
Mojee returned to braiding her hair, “Don’t look at me. I live in LA.”
“Go ask Dominic and Eva, I’m sure they’d be willing to help,” Felicity said.
Larry leaned forward. “Listen, it’ll be like any auction: we’ll just all pitch in together and make sure we get the highest bid.”
Felicity was appalled. “Bid for your stuff at auction? Your ratty couch? Your prog rock records? I don’t think so.”
“That’s my apartment. This is different.”
“Yeah, but if what’s in your apartment is the good stuff, how pathetic must your stowaway be?”
“You’re not buying it you’re helping me keep it from being sold to some junk dealer. I’ll pay you back.”
“Sorry, not this month Larry, that Airstream I rented for Burning Man about broke me… Not to mention the wigs and the costume.”
“Costume? By mid-afternoon of day one you were topless with that poet, remember?”
Felicity cringed. “Well, never mind. The answer is still no.”
The foursome stood to leave as Goran paid the bill, leaving Larry with the tip. “It’s the least you can do.”
Under the baleful watch of the waitress, Larry scattered three bills on the table top and trailed his friends out the door as a dense fog blanketed Haight Street.
The news was delivered company-wide in an email from Human Resources. ‘The future of Evergreen Solutions will be announced at a press conference with Wall Street at 9:00 AM sharp.’ Jonathan Hightower, the young CEO would provide evidence of a solid business plan so the market could decide whether to de-list them or let them dangle by their penny stock thread for another quarter. The news caught all but the smarmiest insiders off-guard. Larry and his colleagues gathered around a workstation where an audio stream had been set up to broadcast the call. Tense chatter filled the office, a converted garment warehouse whose former tenants were sent packing during the rent hikes of the dot-com boom. “No matter,” a remaining worker told Larry and some friends when Evergreen staff was invited to check out the space before the big move. “They were planning to outsource our jobs to China anyway.”
“Well that’s good,” Larry’s boss, Pippa Fethaboah said, much to everyone’s chagrin. “So we don’t have to feel guilty is all I mean.”
Now, six months since the renovation, and a mere three weeks after the Hermann Miller chairs arrived, the company was being gathered to hear Jonathan’s plans for steering out of the mess he’d gotten them into. Contractors hurried to dark corners to call their placement agencies. The lead software architect texted his wife before slamming his phone to the ground. An intern who’d humiliated Larry at the company picnic cried at her desk, filling him with a perverse euphoria until a guy in facilities – FACILITIES! – put an arm around her shoulder for comfort.
The buzz in the room died as they all inched closer to the speaker cabinets.
“Come on Jonathan,” a jock in finance yelled.
“Yeah, come on JB,” the director of technology piped in.
“Jo-na-than... Jo-na-than... Jo-na-than,” Fethaboah cheered. Stunned and depressed Larry clapped along like a spurned suitor at his ex-fiancé’s wedding.
“SHHH…” The insane desktop support technician quieted the crowd. “They’re starting.” A voice crackled over the high-speed network – a centerpiece of the vast infrastructure enhancements the company had invested in.
“Evergreen Solutions has experienced a period of remarkable capital growth that has us poised to be one of the leaders in the business services sector in the 21st century…”
“Yeah, go on Jay-Bee.”
“Unfortunately as the economy has softened our clients’ markets, we’ve taken a hit on the bottom line. But we’ve got a great team in place to help us turn it around.”
“Woohoo... That’s us, people... Tell it like it is Jonathan.”
“We’ve hired Knuckles Brothers Business Transformation Consultants to work with us on how to better monetize our potential and flatten the service level provided to our clients to strengthen our market differentiators.”
“Knuckles Brothers? Oi!”
“In a forthcoming press release we’ll be announcing aggressive HR strategies to help us streamline our services.”
Fethaboah leapt into the air, “BE... AGGRESSIVE... BE... BE... AGGRESSIVE —”
“Aggressive is bad you moron,” the help-desk guy hissed. “That means lay-offs.”
By the time the Wall Street response had begun, everyone had separated into cliques to deconstruct the bad news. Minutes later Belinda Butkiss the Director of Human Resources goose-stepped into the room in high heels and a tight fitting gray skirt. Her hair was Aryan blonde and her lips drenched a deep blood red. Three Knuckles Brothers heavies in dark suits lined up behind her as she delivered the verdict on their future. The employees were separated into three groups: one for managers, one for employees who had opted out of the company’s health insurance and 401K plans, and one for everyone else. Larry fell into line with “everyone else.”
“God they really know how to make you feel like an individual, don’t they?” his pal, a quality assurance engineer said as they filed into a windowless holding pen. After a short wait, one of Herr Butkiss’ pretty fräuleins handed Larry and his colleagues their severance packages. Just like the day he was hired, she greeted Larry with a fresh, sunny smile that showed not a hint of remorse. “Despite what they tell you,” his buddy added. “They actually do enjoy this part of their job.”
“Screw it,” Larry said. “I could use the vacation.”
“Yeah, but have you seen the NASDAQ lately? Good luck finding a job.”
When they were excused they returned to their desks where they found empty cardboard boxes to load their personal belongings, and Knuckles IT goons reformatting their hard drives. Larry didn’t have any plants or toys or portraits of his sweetheart to pack so without further adieu he was escorted to the door.
Foregoing a companywide post-mortem beer blast at a local bar, he bought a six-pack and returned to his apartment, where the final insult of the day lay in wait. Amidst a pile of junk mail, Larry found an envelope from Lockyer-Own Self Storage addressed to Tennant B-120.
Dear Mr. Tarkesian,
Due to the foreclosure on your tenancy of unit B-120, Lockyer-Own Self Storage will be holding a public auction of its contents – the proceeds of which, we are pleased to announce, will benefit in part the Alameda SPCA. The proceedings will commence with a brief, pre-view of the unit at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, September 1, 2004. On this day you will be permitted to bid along with the public for the contents of the unit, which is now officially Lockyer property. We wish you all the best in retrieving your property during the auction, the rules of which are described herein…
About the story
'.....' is an excerpt from novel Lockyer Self Storage, 2011, Ninth & Broad Press for sale on Lulu. Thanks for reading.