The eggs, enveloped by the butter, puckered and screamed out in pain and turned dark brown. I flipped them around a bit with my fork. I put two pieces of that thin German bread into the toaster. I poured a cup of very dark, ink-black coffee. A few minutes before, I hadn't measured out the Cafe Bustelo, just dumped a bunch in. Usually, I do a tablespoon for every cup of water I pour into the coffeemaker, but this particular morning I emptied the can because it was nearly finished and I can't stand scraping metal against metal?in this case, the spoon against the bottom of the can. My nervous system can't tolerate that kind of thing. The problem was it looked like I had poured about eight tablespoons of coffee into the little white pouch and I had only poured in three cups of water. But it seemed like the kind of coffee Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe would drink.
It would have been nice to add a little milk to my starless-night coffee, but I had sniffed the milk in my fridge and it smelled bad. I knew it would be, but I sniffed it anyway. My fridge is more like a mortuary than an icebox for keeping foodstuffs edible. All I have in there is bouillon, capers and an onion, all left by the French girls who used to live in this apartment six months ago; I also have a thickly congealed Paul Newman salad dressing bought in a moment of enthusiasm for do-it-yourselfness, you know?making salads and the such; peanut butter from my son's visit in October; two small containers of plastic applesauce forced on me by my great-aunt in Queens and taken from her meals-on-wheels package; the aforementioned eggs and butter and German bread; a container of expired orange juice (to keep the expired milk company); and a box of Cuban cigars?Cohibas, Castro's brand?that I had my Italian movie-star friend smuggle back from Havana, and which I plan to give to my dad.
So the toast popped. I lay it on a plate. Smeared some butter on those fiber-rich German squares. Then I took the frying pan and tilted it over the toast. The brown, curdled eggs fell onto the toast. I sat down at my wobbly, wooden kitchen table with the paper and my breakfast. I went to work with the knife and fork. This was around 10:30 a.m.
The next 24 hours is a blur of delirium and stomach pain. At first things weren't too bad, though. The caffeine caused mild psychosis and I found myself shouting "Motherfucker" a few times, which is interesting since I'm not much of a curser and find it unattractive when others use vulgarities, but the use of this caffeine-psychosis profanity was brought on, I vaguely recall, by going through my piled-up mail?a pile that has been neglected for two months?and being horrified at finding an invitation to a very nice party that I had missed, as well as several enormous phone and credit card bills, all of which should have been paid weeks ago.
I also recall?though it's dreamlike because of the Cafe Bustelo?glancing at the pages of my new book, which had been sent to me by my British publisher for me to proofread. The Brits had computer-scanned the pages from the American publisher, and the scanning had created all sorts of strange typos. A classic, Joycean turn-of-phrase like "I let a fart leak out" had been turned into "I let a fart lead out." I thought of leaving that typo for a moment, as I sort of liked the idea of a fart leading somewhere, but then I changed my mind, thinking that the meaning of the sentence was too botched. And I realized after finding that typo that I was going to have to do more than just skim the pages. I was going to have work hard and reread the whole damn book, which, by the way, is a narrative based on all the columns and articles I've written for the Press these last three, happy years.
And, just so you know, good and faithful readers, this book will be in stores here in the States sometime in May, at which point my life will be seriously destroyed. It's one thing to write these self-revealing stories for the Press where they're gone in a week and quickly forgotten, but it's another thing to have them put in a book, a book that will be around for a while and can be read by one's relatives. Relatives like one's parents. Or future relatives like women who could be wives, but who will have nothing to do with me as the evidence mounts?three perverted books now?that I am not fit for a good woman to love.
Anyway, the poisonous eggs and coffee had me in bed by 2 p.m. where I more or less stayed for the next 20 hours. The amphetamine-like coffee had overstimulated me and then I crashed; what happened to me was similar to that game at circuses that tests your strength?I was the weight and the coffee was the hammer and I went flying to the top, rang the bell and then came flying down, back to the bottom. So I slept fitfully and with great nausea until about 11 p.m., and then I was up for hours with nauseous insomnia. I hate to vomit and so fought the urge all this time. For a few hours, I tried to read Wodehouse, usually a great pain-reliever, and it helped some, but mostly I lay there tormented, my stomach puckering like the overly fried eggs.
So I was clutching my pillow to my belly around 3 a.m. and felt quite alone in the world. Being by yourself and being ill can make one feel quite morbidly lonely, and so I indulged in Tom Sawyerish reveries of my funeral should this stomach ailment prove fatal. It bothered me, though, that, being Jewish, I'd be buried the next day and the service would have to be quickly put together and that many people wouldn't even know about it and not come, like a poorly attended performance; but I tried not to focus on this drawback of Jewish burial rites, and I selfishly imagined lots of crying and weeping and impassioned, impromptu speeches. It was a way, I guess, for me, lonely and sick in my bed, with my stomach trying to crawl up my throat and abandon ship, to feel loved. Pathetic, I know.
So what's the moral of the above tale? Actually, I see two morals emerging: (1) I shouldn't cook for myself; and (2) I seem to want to be loved. Now there's a perfect solution to both these issues: go to restaurants. It may seem obvious why this solves number one, but it also solves number two, and that's because restaurants are staffed by waitresses. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I have a great love for waitresses. No waitress has actually ever loved me back, but I get so caught up in loving them and hoping that they might love me back, that it's almost like being loved. That's why I tip well. Thinking this might send affection my way.
There are a couple of reasons why I love waitresses. First of all they are often beautiful and men love beauty and are drawn to beauty. It can't be helped. Secondly, waitresses mimic the behavior of my mother?they bring dishes of nourishment to me. My mother was very much a 1950s mother and she served the family all our meals for years, thus creating this early association with love and the placing of a dish of food in front of me. (My mother also cooked the food, but I don't seem to love cooks; perhaps because I never see them.) And thirdly, I love waitresses because of the angle at which I observe them?I stare right into their asses and vulvas, two of my favorite spots, and when they bend over sweetly to warm my coffee, I catch glimpses of breasts, another all-time favorite spot. For example, my favorite breakfast waitress in Brooklyn says to me all the time, "Do you want a warmer in your coffee, honey?" And she smiles at me when she says this; it's so lovely; and I say yes, and she bends over and I sneak a peek at her kind chest. I only see shadows, but it's enough.
So my breakfast waitress is magnificent, but there is another who is even more so. This other waitress, by whom I can be served both lunch and dinner, is the most beautiful waitress in all the five boroughs of New York City. She's right here in my Brooklyn neighborhood, and she's legendary with the men in this part of town. The restaurant is always packed and I observe my fellow males as they sit there glassy-eyed and in awe; one hardly tastes one's food in her presence.
Recently, I brought my boxing opponent David Leslie to the restaurant for dinner so that he could witness her. As we walked to the restaurant, I said, "She's Jamaican, and I was told by a woman friend of mine, who's currently living in Jamaica and studying Jamaican art for her PhD, that the asses of the women in Jamaica are considered to be a national treasure and that a woman's ass has great erotic importance, which I am in complete agreement with and I'm glad that there is a whole culture and country that support my worldview. She also told me something a bit strange. In much the same way that Chinese women used to bind their feet to make them small, Jamaican women do things to build up their rear ends. She told me that she knows Jamaican women who eat chicken feed to build up their butts? Oh, what a crazy world we live in. Poor women, because of males like us, they transform their bodies. Feet in China, breasts in the United States, asses in Jamaica. But I guess some males get penis augmentation or rods inserted, though that doesn't quite balance out the ledger for going to great lengths to please the opposite sex."
"Chicken feed!" exclaimed Leslie, not listening to my final brilliant remarks.
"That's what my friend wrote in an e-mail," I said. "Anyway, I don't think this waitress eats chicken feed, but she has the most amazing rear end I've ever seen. It should be a Brooklyn landmark, up there with the Brooklyn Bridge and Grand Army Plaza."
We were lucky to get a table and Leslie was mesmerized by the waitress. He then began to urge me to ask her out. "When we're done eating, ask her to meet you for a drink when she gets off," he said.
The fellow was delusional and was hoping to live through me vicariously. "I can't just ask her out!" I said. "You can't just go up to a beautiful waitress and propose a date. You might as well just say, 'I know nothing about you but I'd like to fornicate with you.' That's insulting. Only a devastatingly handsome man, and there aren't many of those, or a famous man or a very rich man can pull off asking a waitress out. A quasi-average male like myself has to wear a waitress down. So what I'd have to do is come here for months...well, actually, years. It would be like an arranged marriage; she'd get so used to me that maybe she'd fall in love with me. Or come to hate me. But that's not bad odds. Fifty-fifty."
"It's only love or hate?" asked Leslie.
"Love or hate," I said. But then I thought about it some more. "Well, there's also dislike and bored by and mildly indifferent to and tolerated. I think I'll aim for tolerated. That's achievable. In the meantime, it's awfully nice just to look and dream and to have her give me food. To me, that feels very loving."
Leslie, I don't think, quite realized the depth of my sentiment, my attachment to waitresses, but he shook his head in mild confirmation and then stared at the waitress-in-question with that glassy-eyed look I had seen so often before.