“Lotto is up to 45 fucking million,” said Gerry, looking at a newspaper, standing at the table by the lobby phone. “Nice fucking haul, huh. What would you do if you won the lotto?”
“I don’t play the lotto.”
“But If you did?”
“But I don’t,” I said, sitting on the bench where I removed Ichabod’s leash.
“You’re in a sour mood. For fuck’s sake. What’s your fucking problem, lad?”
I laughed. “I’m fine. I don’t have a problem, I just don’t like the lotto mentality.”
“You know,” I said, “like getting something for nothing.”
“It’s not for nothing. You buy the fucking ticket.”
“I know, but I’d rather do something to earn my wealth rather than win it. I doubt I’d refuse it if I had won something but still, I hate freebies. It makes me uncomfortable.”
“And I respect that. Kind of. But if you had that kind of money what would you do with it?”
“I wouldn’t work here,” I said.
“I would fucking hope you wouldn’t stay on. That would be lunacy.”
“A house would be the first thing on the list. Nothing extravagant. Something old with a lot of character, maybe it needs some tender love and care. It would give me something to work on. Preferably haunted. Then maybe art school or something. I would want to wake up, get in a workout and spend a good portion of the day creating something. Anything at all. A painting. A novel. A fucking birdhouse or a bookshelf. Anything as long as it was productive. Being productive is the most gratifying thing for me. I’d like for the house to be located in the woods. Away from everyone. Nights spent seated on an Adirondack chair in front of a campfire, with a glass of whiskey and a good woman next to me. And I’d like a nice record player. I’d like to replace all the CDs I lost on vinyl. These are meager aspirations. All in all, I’d still rather earn it.”
“That sounds nice, Rainer. You’ll have it. I’ll drink to that.”
“Nothing too crazy. If I even had a lot of money I wouldn’t want anyone to know I had It. my trust issues would be on high alert.”
“The less people that know the better. Overall. Privacy is key. You have to be aware.”
“What about you? What would you do?”
“I’d enjoy myself for as long as I could before I died and went off into the next realm. shots?”
The stairwell door opened up with a bang and Mr. Halmshaw bursted out of nowhere, reciting Shakespeare, in full Elizabethan garb. “We have scorched the snake, not killed it. She’ll close and be herself, whilst our poor malice remains in danger of her former tooth. But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer, ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep in the affliction of these terrible dreams that shake us nightly. Better be with the dead, whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, than on the torture of the mind,” he paused and looked around at the lobby. “Where the fuck is the stage?”
Duncan Halmshaw had unsuccessfully battled cancer for a few years. Withered and weakened but always smiling, showing his sharp yellow teeth. A true renaissance man. An actor. A poet. Philosopher. He talked to me about his vaudeville beginnings and his love of the stage. We discussed books and he always asked why I wasn’t enrolled in college, I wasn’t forthcoming but I told him I was on a break from higher education but that I intended on going back at some point. The truth was I attended Queensborough Community College briefly. I would go and couldn’t bring myself to enter the classrooms. My social anxiety was at its zenith. I felt unprepared, unable. I was having a bit of an episode, much like the one I was in the midst of currently but they differed in mania.
Hester Halmshaw, the love of his life, had gotten sick well after her husband did, and died quickly, all the while Duncan suffered at her bedside. The devastation was obvious and may have done more to him because shortly after dementia began to rear its cruel head. Duncan was lost without Hester. They had a love that inspired me but it was known that true love like theirs was extremely rare in this new age of Caligula. If our bodies were temples we desecrated them most nights in strange, rank mattresses without discretion.
“Duncan, no play tonight buddy,” said Gerry. “Broadway has gone dark.”
“Are you sure?” asked Mr. Halmshaw, perplexed.
“Why don’t you let Rainer, our stagehand, take you back to your dressing room.”
“I got you, Mr. Halmshaw,” I said. “Right this way.”
“I’ve been so absentminded lately. Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife.”
I brought Mr. Halmshaw into the elevator, pressing the nineteenth floor. Bob Ojeda wore the number nineteen for the Mets and in the 1986 season the lefty had a win-loss record of 18-5.
As the elevator approached his floor he said, “Rainer, don’t get bogged down by your thoughts.”
“I’ll try not to let that happen.”
“Good boy. Oh. I almost forgot to pay you. Forgive me.” He reached into his pockets and pulled out a crumpled ball of money, composed of Jacksons, Grants and Franklins. He tried to shove the heap of dead presidents in my hands. “Thank you.”
“No. No. No. Mr. Halmshaw, I’m sorry. I can’t accept this.” I refused to take the money from him, he disappointedly stuffed it back into his pants pocket. A few bills missed its target and landed on the floor which I bent down and scooped them up for him.
“But I owe it to you.”
“For what?” I asked, curious about what he thought I did for him.
“For the pizza. It was delicious.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. This one is on the house.”