Architecture and Romance #10
BLOWS DESCARTES RIGHT OUT OF THE WATER
Paul McGregor stepped out of the drug store. The front of the drug store. He felt terrific. To have a cigarette. Fu sat. His legs twisted like a pretzel. He sat on the cement leaning against the drug store window reading a book. And looking bliss out. Paul dug into this shirt pocket. The uniform shirt that the drug store gave him to wear. He took out a package of cigarettes. Rothman’s. He wished they were Camels. He liked the name Camels. He lit one. Up. It tasted so good. Before he could put the pack away, Fu asked if he could bum one. Paul nodded. He felt generous. Everything was going his way. It was one of those days. Where you are sure that nothing could go wrong. What could go wrong? Dare anything to go wrong? Paul handed the package to Fu. Fu took out two cigarettes. Stuffed one behind his ear and lit up the other.
“What are you reading?” Paul asked. He felt like taking an interest in others. The feeling of wellness made Paul feel generous. Man was good. Human kind was good.
“Camus,” Fu replied. “The Outsider.”
“Any good?” Paul thought about Singh’s daughter. They had met the day before after work. They messed around. Paul had gotten to first base. And then to second. Home could not be far off. She wanted to see him today.
“It’s so good, I’ve read it twice,” Fu responded.
Paul nodded as if he understood what Fu was talking about. Fu handed the cigarettes back to Paul who stuffed them into his pants. A mistake. They would get bent. The first time he sat down. Paul remembered. And retrieved them. Put them back where he had retrieved them. Originally. He had to stop thinking about Mr. Singh’s daughter. It was making his tight pants. Tighter.
“How would you react if your mother died?” Fu asked.
Paul looked at the homeless fool sitting on the cement. Paul wondered what the hell Fu was getting at. He also remembered what his mother had said about sitting on cement. That you could get pneumonia. Or something worse. Resulting in considerable damage to your abilities to populate. Or copulate. He couldn’t quite remember what his mother had been getting at. But he was grateful that he didn’t have problems in that department.
“She’s already dead,” he said. “I was six years old.”
“How’d you feel?” Fu looked very professional. Or mystic. When he asked this question. Perhaps CEO was just another name for GURU in capitalism.
“I don’t remember. It was a long time ago. My dad remarried. I think of my step mom as my mother.”
Fu nodded. He took a small pad out of his pocket and wrote something down.
“What’s that?” The smoke escaped from Paul’s lungs. Like a stampede. Paul was a writer himself. Had a small pad that he kept notes in. Lately about Mr. Singh’s daughter.
Fu looked up. “Thoughts.”
He handed the book to Paul. Paul looked at the book. Page after page, there were words scribbled. Mostly there was only a handful of words. He read a few pages. They sounded pretty mundane to Paul but he wasn’t into belittling Fu’s efforts. Not today. When the world was so… hopeful.
“Why do you write in such short pieces?”
“You think I should write more. Einstein wrote his theory of the General Law of Relativity on one page.”
Paul thought about that for a moment. The smell of Mr. Singh’s daughter’s perfume. Disrupted his thoughts.
“Still seem short.”
“Not so short,” Fu replied.
“You think that way too?” Paul asked. “Like bursts.”
“I live that way,” Fu answered.
“You mean,” Paul said, “that life is made up of all these small crumbs?”
Fu smiled. “Ya. Small crumbs. The kind you’re fed. At the Master’s table.”
“But that doesn’t answer my initial question,” Paul said, pointing his cigarette at Fu. Like a branding iron. “Why write, think, live in morsels? When you go to the library, the books there are always huge. Like the importance of a book is dependent on its weight. If you want the world to take notice, you’ve got to think. Big. Why write in such small bursts?”
Fu was silent. He needed a moment. To consider Paul’s question. And to suck on his cigarette. He loved that swirl in his chest. That swirl in his brain. Was it thinking or nicotine?
“Because,” he began, “something might happen while I was biting off something bigger.”
“Something interesting?” Paul asked.
“Something dangerous,” Fu replied.
Paul thought about that. For some time. He thought about Mr. Singh. He wondered how he would react if he found out about his daughter. Fooling around with Paul. She had told Paul about her father’s fiery temper.
“Why do you pretend to be something you are not?” Fu asked.
Paul dropped his cigarette on the cement and ground it out.
“What are you talking about, man?”
“Isn’t your name Maynard?”
“Fuck no!” He said too loudly. Then looked around to see if anyone had heard him. They might report him. Mr. Edwards did not approve of profanity.
“I guess I know my own name.” Paul was angry. He didn’t like people putting words in his mouth. Or making him out to be someone he was not. Or screwing up a day that looked so filled with promise.
“Where’d you get a crazy idea like that?”
Fu looked in his book then up at Paul.
“You did. About three weeks ago.”
“I told you I was someone named Maynard G. Krebbs?”
“I never said anything about your last name. Or your middle initial.”
Fu returned to his book. Paul stared down at the young Buddha for a minute.
“How did you know your last name?” Fu said before Paul could speak.
“A guess.” Paul took out another cigarette and lit it up. “I must have heard of it somewhere.”
“Do you know who your parents are?”
“Ya,” Paul sucked on his cigarette. “I guess I know who my parents are. And I guess I know that my mother died in child birth. Giving me life. Died because my fucking head was too big. And the doctor’s couldn’t stop the bleeding. And I guess there are things that happen to you that you never forget. Even if you don’t exactly remember them.”
Paul was silent.
He sucked on his cigarette for some time.
Fu did not look up from his book. Nursing his own cigarette between his fingers as if he were giving birth to smoke.
“Did I really say my name was Maynard?” Paul asked.
Fu looked up.
“I wouldn’t fuck with you, man. And that’s not all.”
Paul slid down the wall and sat beside Fu. Grateful later that he had moved his cigarette back to their home in his shirt pocket.
“You said,” Fu began, “that you didn’t believe that the people you were living with were your parents. You said that you were a fictional character.”
“A fictional character?” Paul’s mouth hung open. That sounds crazy, he was about to say but was interrupted by Fu.
Fu nodded. “You said that you were a character from a comedy series in the 1960s called The Loves of Dobie Gillis. You were a character named Maynard G. Krebbs. He was the only thing that was real to you.”
“Jesus!” Paul sighed. “The only real thing. What does that say about… this?”
Fu shrugged. “This is this.”
The smoke slipped out of Paul’s nose with a puzzled expression on its face.
“Sort of blows Descartes right out of the water, don’t you think?” Fu smiled sheepishly.
“How come I don’t remember any of this?” Paul asked. At the same time he had forgotten all about Mr. Singh’s daughter. And the day. The promise of the day.
“There was something else,” Fu said.
Paul turned to Fu.
“You have a tumor.” Fu said. “In your brain. Between your hemispheres. Like a hot dog. And you don’t remember any of this because you’re in denial. It’s the first stage.”
“No, shit.” Paul spoke like a man in shock. Unable to deal with the quality and quantity of information being fed into his cerebrum. Either hemisphere. Or maybe he was in the second stage.
Fu continued to slowly draw on his cigarette. Paul’s cigarette was stuck between his fingers. Burning down. Smoke going up.
“Am I fucked?” Paul asked.
Fu turned and looked at Paul. “Apparently.”
“Jesus,” Paul said.
“There is one good thing,” Fu said then added without being asked by Paul. “You seemed to have skipped all the intermediate stages and gone right to acceptance.”