The Asshole

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He was not a very good person. He was, by many accounts, vile, impolite, crude, inappropriate, ignorant, insensitive, and offensive. He was a gifted asshole, a precocious prick, a well-rounded, ahead-of-the-curve, 40-under-40 douchebag- the kind of person whom other people enjoyed coming up with names for. He was a blacklit dickstain, a snarling cockmonster, an ingrown hair that fucked a hangnail and birthed twin abscesses of the mouth.

His name was Bertrand. He lived on the eighth floor of a building uptown whose elevator had been broken for as long as anyone could remember and would likely remain that way, seeing as he was its superintendent — a job he despised. He liked to say that a superintendent was basically a glorified handyman, which was not surprising — in part because it kind of was, and also because he was the kind of reductive, belittling person who liked to say everything was a glorified version of something else.

His refusal on most days to address cracked toilet bowls and clogged sinks and a rat problem that was gradually moving up successive floors must have accounted for great swaths of free time during which he developed the alcohol tolerance of two full people and the weight equivalent of three. Complaints lodged against him were scattered like ash over the ocean — his old man owned the building, after all, and several more like it across the city.  Before the housing market crash he had been quite rich.

On the days he endeavored to go outside, after the thunderous descent of his haunches had shaken the building and scandalized families who mistook his traveling grunts of exertion for an act which he, in his persistent virginity, had never experienced, he would plunge into the subway. None of us knew where he went or what he did, though we resented him all the same.

Most of us had lost our jobs after the big market armageddon. Those of us who were saved the indignity of unemployment checks were dangling by split hairs from temp gigs at gasping companies whose FTE staff had been hacked to hollow bone. The majority of us had degrees from four-year colleges. Greg on the fourth floor was even a philosophy PhD, though few of us sympathized and even fewer agreed to call him “doctor.”

 

He was known to reduce people to their most unpleasant features — there was Janet, the loud walker on the third floor whose footsteps were like a hiccuping earthquake; Helena, the failed actress whose smile was 80 percent gums; Brandy, the pink-haired performance artist who was about to lose the Cold War standoff against her parents and move back into her childhood home in suburban Virginia; and Desmond, the sassy gay accountant who was way too sassy to actually hold a position as tame and boring as that of an accountant.

He was a man of few words and many grunts — he snorted up silver-dollar-sized loogies and hocked them over his piss stream into the urinal. He drank water from plastic gallon jugs of Poland Springs. His fridge was said to contain nothing but an array of squeezable condiments — goopy bottles of ketchup and off-tasting mayo, grainy tubes of dijon mustard whose dispensation bore a disturbing resemblance to the passing of kidney stones.

His body was like a bar of used prison soap melting in the sun, like a muddy, early-spring snowman without the middle thorax. He was a prodigious hoarder of calories who did not need to iron his shirts because the extension of his paunch kept every article creaseless. He put up notices riddled with misplaced apostrophes: “Please do not loiter in the hallway’s past midnight.”

His favorite beer was Miller Lite.

 

The music began suddenly on a morning in August. A pleasant series of major scales and arpeggios repeating faster and faster. Some jazzy improvisations. Single notes held for many minutes at a time.  The new tenant could play.

“Trumpet,” said Marta, who lived on the third floor and had graduated from conservatory. “I can tell that he’s had some formal training. He’s got a great tone.”

Some of us rolled our eyes at her.

Others made friendly visits to the fifth floor to introduce ourselves, bearing individually-wrapped sleeves of hydrox cookies, asking non-invasively into profession, family, job connections, freelance opportunities, and schooling. They reported back to the rest of us.

“Does he go to music school?”

“No.”

“Does he play in an orchestra or a group?”

“No.”

“So he just busks on the subway for money? That’s his whole life?”

“Yeah.”

And we all nodded thoughtfully and smiled at each other — what a wholesome, bohemian thing to do — and when we ran into him we apologized on behalf of the shitty superintendent of the building, who was a real asshole.

We invited him to our vegetarian-friendly dinner parties and offered him hits of our weed and plastic cups sloshing over with red wine. We added him on Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and promised to query our friends about any low-key gigs that might arise. We were surprised and a little bit dismayed to learn that the he’d read nearly every book already discussed in our reading club. We asked him how he’d come up with 12 months of rent upfront and he smiled and shook his head, as if that were enough of an answer.

We told him about Sharon, who lived on the fourth floor and whose January rent was once a day late and how Bertrand, in apparent retaliation, had cut off her heating for a week, during which time she caught a cold, lost her voice, and missed an audition for a role on a sitcom pilot which was later picked up and nominated for an Emmy.

“I knew the casting director, too!” she’d cried into our arms. We all agreed that Bertrand really was an asshole of hemorrhoidal proportions.

We told him how Bertrand never even took out the fucking trash. How the garbage chutes were so hideously backlogged that everyone from the fifth floor down was forced to pack their refuse tighter and tighter into a solid wall of filth, like some kind of reverse-jenga. And how Susan, the comedienne on the second floor, once saw him mix the recycling and trash into the same receptacle.

We warned of his tendency to put glue in our keyholes if we were late for rent, and how he’d once made a leering pass at Samantha from the third floor, and when she rebuffed him, flipped the circuit breaker in her room. We casually alluded to the rumor that he refused to let Asian people move in, and how he’d once been spotted throwing a kitten out of a second floor window.

 

The building itself was a dirty, slummy hovel. Mosaic flowers dotting the floor were worn and chipped, the railings induced splinters and the windows that dotted every other stair landing looked into a perpetually dark alleyway where homeless men would tie up.

Our neighborhood was just the wrong side of authentic. We were flanked by check cashing storefronts whose lines snaked around the edge of the block, liquor stores run by Asians who’d sealed the merchandise behind thick, plasticky panels, dusty bodegas that were not charming, random 3 a.m. detonations that we could only hope were cars backfiring. There was a Crown Fried Chicken down the street whose dark, grainy oil was at least a week old at any given moment.

We felt particular resentment towards our living situation on those nights when we attended parties in high-ceilinged erstwhile warehouses in trendier parts of town, where the brick was added to look exposed and the HVAC snaking across the ceiling was shinier than IKEA displays, where we talked about l’Objet d’Art and snorted occasional lines of coke and grumbled at how — of course — whoever lived here probably had rich lawyer parents.

We announced with no little pride how we’d deleted our dating apps because it was all just too much. We chased cooler versions of ourselves, we bled out our savings, we had a communal stash of condoms, we took digital photos of Polaroids and used them as profile pictures. We were the least materialistic group of people in the world — we valued experience over things. We strove to make good puns on the internet, to straddle the line between relatable and remarkable. We lost hope slowly, in tiny flecks that gradually wore away, until our ambitions wobbled atop rusty trestles.

We leaned left, but not too far. We despised the collective evil of European imperialism, toxic masculinity, unacknowledged white privilege, the 0.1%. We rolled our eyes in the direction of finance or consulting types, but acknowledged that those whom we knew personally seemed like decent enough people.

We protested, mobilized online, called our representatives, donated to charities, angrily failed to understand conservative principles. We gathered ourselves when our parents came to visit. We shrugged off their vaguely horrified looks and insisted that the state of things was perfectly fine, that — no, thank you — we didn’t need any help, that we had no interest in moving back home, that we agreed — yes — the economy would rebound, that we’d start getting more realistic, that we’d consider grad school.

We had panic attacks when we reached the age our parents were when they had us.

 

Most of us had moved to the city because that was what you did in those first early years, living hard and fast, having no-strings sex, edging your credit limits, burning the candle at both ends, accumulating enough experience to tide you over through your dismal, sagging thirties.

We dreamed but dared not hope that we’d get our big breaks early — that we’d make the 30 under 30 lists, that we’d make enough money to never have to ride the fucking subway again, that we’d return triumphantly to our class reunions with awards and achievements.

But Sharon, who’d graduated at the top of her acting class, still couldn’t win any roles past off-off Broadway, and of those, none that didn’t involve partial or full nudity. And Tim, the visual artist from the third floor whose style had once been compared to Basquiat, had so thoroughly burned through his fellowship money that he was reduced to selling caricatures to tourists on Fifth Avenue. Ned, the ambitious and self-proclaimed novelist amongst us, had yet to place his work anywhere outside his college literary magazine.

Shana, who was a dancer, had partnered with a young composer on an experimental project filmed in an abandoned warehouses that married the sounds of the modern metropolis with the jagged, hypnotic movements of its mindless populace. All of us had agreed that the idea was amazing, that nothing like that had ever been done before, and that it had the potential to be deeply impactful in certain artistic circles. The ensuing video had peaked at 1,000 views.

Some of us got jobs as line cooks and busboys and waiters.

We hosted open mic nights in underground, tucked-away theater spaces and silently declared ourselves funnier, more artistic, more authentic, more compelling than the people who performed. We had working screenplays for crazy, stranger-than-fiction, genuinely hilarious one-person shows about our experiences growing up.

The more practical among us wanted jobs as editors at Norton or FSG or valuators at Christie’s or Sotheby’s or musical directors of the Metropolitan Opera. Others wanted to be paid to travel and be creative. All of us wanted to capture things about our lives that others missed, and to get into high profile arguments online.

We downloaded productivity apps and sent blizzards of resumes into the deep freeze tundra of the job market. We enjoyed the sounds of the trumpet player practicing. How the notes that seeped through our single-ply ceilings were buttery and soft, like marbles rolling in paint and streaming across the floor.

We bemoaned how much stuff was being made — all the pre-packaged, microwavable, quick-fix bites of entertainment that satisfied the masses. We hated how many people there were crowding the streets, standing on the left side of the escalator, blocking the intersections without proper right of way, sticking their hairy, sweaty arms into the elevator just as the doors were about to close and then riding it up to the third fucking floor. All those people not paying attention to our work.

It was all we could do, some days, not to take our collective rage out on the singular Bertrand, who was everything bad about people distilled into one horrible person.

Instead we took deep breaths and went to hot yoga. We told ourselves over and over, at least we weren’t Bertrand. At least we weren’t him.

 

Bertrand possessed the kind of learned helplessness that made him averse to exercise because his knees were worn down and incapable of diet because of thyroid issues. He obsessed so persistently over whether or not he had anxiety that he developed actual anxiety, like spinning shit out of thin air, and fairly soon had a bulk stash of Xanax.

He was an arrogant cynic, the kind who thought his pessimism was a sign of superior intelligence. He harbored a distrust for corporations and government.  He possessed the kind of doublethink capacity to despise unfair labor practices but purchase cheap clothing on sale.

He liked to use the word sheeple unironically. His bookshelf was purportedly a sticky window ledge on which a soft, crumpled paperback edition of Walden lay stolen from the library. He had an honest and difficult time understanding why people found Thoreau insufferable. He had a gut feeling that he was destined for something more. And which feeling, growing with his gut, became unwieldy and fairly tragic and extremely hilarious.

He hassled delivery people with imaginary grievances, demanded free food until he was gradually blacklisted from every Chinese, pizza, and jerk chicken place within a half mile of the building. He was spotted tripping a toddler, throwing rocks at a stray dog, and once, making as if to drop a quarter in a street junkie’s cup before taking it back and eating it whole. He once spilled the contents of the building’s septic tank across the front entrance to prevent an HUD rep from entering.

Cyndi, who’d frequently referred to Sharon as a bitch in college but had reincarnated as her friend and roommate, claimed to have found evidence of Bertrand’s online presence on an internet forum, on which he defended the Republican president and called someone a “complete idiot” for supporting Medicare.

The group of us who gathered in their apartment to investigate found no doxxable evidence but nonetheless enjoyed mocking the contributors on the Intelligent Conservative forum, especially the person who was probably Bertrand.

 

***

Tim and Jenna on the third floor were trying to land TV gigs by coming up with unoriginal yet slightly offensive sketch comedy routines. Jenna, for her part, was Hispanic on her mother’s side, so she was safe from problematic issues. Their belief in going viral — in that one hilarious video that would get picked up by the Huffington Post and transmitted through Buzzfeed — was impressively austere and reminded us of the red-haired Buddhist who’d lived on the second floor landing, meditating all day in bare feet, until Bertrand lifted him by his arms and threw him onto the street.

Tim and Jenna were perhaps a couple but probably not, because they didn’t want to be hassled by romance and potential jealousy if their joint thing took off. So they limited sex to those evenings or afternoons when they got too drunk or too high and remained publicly ambiguous in order to drive up potential gossip.

Eventually they moved to pranks. He videotaped himself putting ketchup packets beneath the toilet seat, giggling. She videotaped herself tossing pitchers of ice water into the shower when he was in it, staring into the camera and stifling her laughs as he shrieked. The views poured in a bit more steadily. They upped the intensity. She waited behind a corner for him to walk in before slapping him in the face with a raw salmon fillet. He stole her tampons and replaced the interiors with standard Kleenex.

When they reached 50,000 subscribers, a small talent agency contacted them about possible representation, which they happily accepted, and celebrated with a multi-floor party that was, of course, shut down by a waddling Bertrand at 11 p.m.

“This party — THIS PARTY IS OVER!” he shouted, framed against the open doorway. We hadn’t even heard him knocking. Jenna drunkenly offered him a drink.

“No, no, guys, come on!” He reminded us giggingly of a student teacher in over his head. “Come on! Is that weed I smell?”

Across the room, someone slid open a window and stooped out.

“Hey! That’s for emergencies only! Get off there! Get back in there!” Bertrand yelled.

Pink-haired Brandy, high as fuck on whatever was in the cloudy pipe being passed around, started wobbling atop the third-floor landing, shouting, “Fuck you! Fuck you!” from the other side of the window.

“There are families in this building, too! There are sleeping children and old people. You NEED TO KEEP IT DOWN!!”

“You’re a fucking asshole. You don’t do anything. You just hang around harassing people and living off whatever the fuck this bullshit building is worth.”

A sharp chill was pouring in the through window. We wondered, shivering, why Brandy had decided to move outside in order to commence her argument. We wondered, too, how she could not be freezing her ass off in the fishnets and leotard. Someone whispered “performance,” and half of us seemed to understand a bit better.

 

Erika from the fourth floor was a multimedia artist who was neck deep in a sex-positive video project where she explored the masculinity of various Asian men firsthand. Most of us found this kind of off-putting, although we preferred her to her roommate, Ava, who had dreams of blogging her travels around the world and in the meantime, openly shoplifted from the Sephora she worked at, spending all her non-working hours testing different kinds of eyeshadow and liquid mascara in front of her computer camera, scraping for YouTube views.

On a cloudy, humid day in April, the two of them adopted a baby schnauzer named Marty from the local animal shelter, much to everyone’s delight. He was energetic and friendly and curious, and most of us could confidently say that his arrival was our most positive life development of the past six months. We definitely preferred him to his human parents.

We loved hearing his little paws scampering up and down the stairs, scratching at various doors until someone opened up and fed him something. We gathered more frequently on the landings between floors, passing Marty between us, smoking furtive joints and joking with each other.

Even the trumpet player ceased practicing in order to join us.

But apparently, having a pet was in direct violation of Rule #3B of the Tenant Agreement that Bertrand had tacked to all our doors and forced us to sign under penalty of no electricity. When that asshole found out about Marty, he called animal control, which arrived in the form of a timid man who gave Erika and Ava the choice of on-the-spot euthanasia for whimpering little Marty or a trip back to the shelter, where he stood at least a chance of being re-adopted.

And as the caged van drove away — as we all stood there sobbing and comforting each other and plotting ways to kill Bertrand without leaving a trace — we heard a little dirge coming from the window of the trumpet player’s room. Taps, played long and slow and solemnly, as they took away our best friend.

 

The trumpet player continued to fascinate us. He was lanky but not underfed. His hair was a perfectly rounded afro. He wore shirts with anime characters and knock-off aviator sunglasses indoors. Gerta, on the fifth floor, claimed to have slept with him and gave him a decent score.

“How’d you find this place?” We asked him.

“Just stumbled on it.”

“How’d you get so good at trumpet?” Marta asked.

“Well I just practiced a lot. Didn’t have much else to do growing up. And then my Pops gave me his old trumpet, and it just felt right.”

“And, uh, what about your pops?” Ned asked, even though some of us nudged him because we found the implications of his question impolite.

“Dead,” the Trumpet Player said.

“We’re so sorry.”

He shrugged. “Didn’t draw up his will properly. When he died the government got everything. I had to hide the trumpet so they didn’t take it. Eventually figured out busking made more than minimum wage, and the subway was at least a roof over my head.”

We gasped. “You lived in the subway?”

The Trumpet Player nodded. “Not as bad as you think. Cardboard becomes soft after a while. No one really bothers you when it’s late.”

We were awash with pity —  the unfathomable, saw-it-on-the news kind that welled up in us when we read about things like mudslides in Sumatra and civil wars in Africa. We were, for a moment, collectively transfixed at how cruel life could be and how unfeeling the world was and how undeserving this poor Trumpet Player was of all the shit he had to deal with.

“But how did you get the money to live here?” Ned asked.

“It’s complicated, but some people helped me out, and I saved up.”

We appreciated his stoicism and his quiet dedication to his art and we wished him the best of luck, thankful that none of us happened to be brass players, too.

 

On the morning the music stopped, Bertrand was showing a room to a potential tenant.

“I’m not sure we have availability yet, but maybe you’d like to take a look?” Ned heard him saying in between wheezes up the stairs.

“And then he asked her on a date!”

We were shocked into giggles.

“She was completely out of his league.”

“Any woman would be out of his league.”

And for days we made jokes about how absurd it was that Bertrand would ever harbor the idea of attracting a woman, not to mention this woman, whom most of us hadn’t seen, but whom Ned described as 30 at most, a wavy-haired brunette who wore Keds with a sundress and carried one of those New Yorker tote bags you got with a year’s subscription.

“And get this,” Ned said. “He asked her to grab coffee and she said she didn’t know when she was free but she gave him her number!”

“Damn, you can’t say he doesn’t have guts,” Marta said.

“Is it really him having guts? Or is he just completely fucking insane?”

We snickered at his attempts to clean himself up. How cinching his pants at the waist seemed to cut off blood flow to both hemispheres of his body. How his sweat-stained wife beater was clearly visible beneath an overstretched button-up. We noticed him walking down the subway stairs again and wondered how this might be connected to all the recent developments.

And then, on a hot afternoon, Bertrand asked us for advice.

“I’m not too — too great with this kind of thing,” he said to a group of us hanging out in the lobby.

“Not too good at what?” Marta asked innocently.

“I know you all know. This lady. I’m not good at this stuff.”

There was a tremendously awkward pause.

“Well,” Ned began. “Well, women like it if you show interest but not too much, you know? Hook ‘em in and then just back off. I personally like to compare them to famous women in literature, you know, Helen of Troy or Dante’s Beatrice or, you know, if she’s really up on her knowledge, Petrarch’s Laura.”

We rolled our eyes at this, because Ned was a borderline sexist and self-averred snob and none of us had ever seen a woman entering or leaving his room who was not his mother.

“But don’t play games. No one wants a person who’s just playing games,” Marta said.

“But don’t be too forward, either. It’s creepy.”

At this, most of us burst out laughing, even as Bertrand sat emotionlessly, taking however many mental notes would fit in his Post-it-sized brain.

“Compliment her eyes.” “Keep things casual.” “Read women authors.” “Don’t tell immature jokes.” “But still be funny.” “Never let yourself do all the talking.” “That’s right, ask questions.” “But you still have to be interesting.” “But don’t try so hard.” “And don’t come off as too eager.” “Yeah, wait a day to call back.” “A day? Fuck that. Wait a week.” “I waited a week once and he took it for lack of interest and moved on to another girl.” “It was a ‘he’?” “Sweetie, I hate to tell you this…”

“Definitely go for coffee first,” Marta said. “Coffee is just informal enough for there to be no pressure, but still possibly a thing.”

We admitted to ourselves that he was beginning to look at least semi-human. There was a lightness to his wrinkles, a softness of his skin once the gritty layer of stubble was scrubbed off.

He was humble and pathetic in the way that adoration could make you.

Then in private, we approached Tim and Jenna, who had reached 78,000 subscribers and were in talks to star in a web-series and were getting pretty fucking smug about it, and asked for prank advice.

“Put peanut butter in his shampoo container,” Tim said.

But none of us had access to his room.

“Change the shortcuts on his phone so that when he types certain words they turn into swears or something,” Jenna suggested.

None of us had access to his phone.

“Jenna, don’t you work at a coffee shop?” Brandy asked.

Jenna stiffened. “I used to. This new deal is gonna bring in enough money that I don’t need to work there anymore.”

“But you still know people who work there, right?”

She nodded.

The plan emerged smoothly after that. Bertrand would take the young woman to the coffeeshop where Jenna worked but was about to quit from. Behind the counter, we’d spike his drink and film the conversation and its aftermath, which Tim and Jenna would post on their YouTube channel.

 

Their date fell on a Saturday in July. We’d done our best to make Bertrand look acceptable. Ned lent him a razor attachment that left a fashionable amount of stubble. Dmitri lent him a skinny tie from J. Crew. Ava gave him quick haircut and applied some sort of a gel that she’d stolen from Urban Outfitters.

“Make sure to eat a big breakfast beforehand,” Ned told him. “Otherwise the caffeine will overwhelm your system and you won’t be able to stop shaking.”

We waited about three minutes after he left before passing quickly down an adjacent street, passing through an alley and reaching the back entrance of the shop, where Jenna let us through.

“Wow, she really is pretty,” Brandy said, as we hid behind the shop’s counter, gathering at Jenna’s knees.

“Is he there already?”

“This might be the most he’s ever walked in his life. His ankles might give out.”

“Shut up, he’s coming up, he’s coming up.”

He ordered a plain black coffee, she a cappuccino. Jenna smiled and said she’d bring the drinks over to their table. The small vial that Ned tipped into Bertrand’s cup  before Jenna handed it back, read ”‘ipecac.”

Those of us below the counter listened closely. Jenna’s camera was zoomed in and focused on the two of them at a table at the far end of the room, next to a wide window that faced the street. The front door had an old hinge that gave a distinct squeak every time it was opened, followed by the metallic jingle of a strip of bells. The hot fizz of the espresso machine punctuated a low murmur of conversation.

“What are they talking about?”

“I can’t hear shit.”

“This is the bougie-est coffeehouse playlist I’ve ever fucking heard.”

“Wait. wait- “

“Oh SHIT!”

A sick, splattering sound. We stood up. Bertrand was still vomiting. It had splashed over the table — a chunky, sour smelling mess — and landed on her blouse and dripped into her New Yorker bag.

“Jesus! What’s wrong with you?” she shouted.

It spilled across the floor and nipped at the shoes of disgusted fellow customers.

“Ugh! Ugh!” she wretched. “This is! — You’re! — Get away! Get away!”

“I don’t know what’s — going –” a final grapeshot of puke hit her face before she stood up and tore out the door, leaving a friendly tinkling in her wake.

A beat of silence. Then Bertrand stood up and stared at us, behind the counter. Pure, putrid terror on his face. Jenna’s phone was still recording.

“I’ll, I’ll pay for all this,” he mumbled. “I’m sorry.”

He drew a hairy arm across his mouth (we’d told him to roll up his sleeves; women loved forearms) and pushed out his chair and stepped out. The familiar creak, then jingle of the door.

Jenna pressed the stop button. The murmur in the shop began again, but reconstituted. It became pointed and angry. They were all shuffling out the door. A manager came out from the back, looking horrified.

“Guys, that was awesome. This is gonna go viral,” Jenna said.

“This, that, wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be,” Ned said.

“I mean, he deserved it, right?” Marta asked.

“He was an asshole, and he’s made our lives hell for the past few years. Of course he deserved it,” Brandy said.

“Who’s cleaning this up? Who did this?” The manager was a slim, middle-aged man. “Jenna, why were you recording? Who are these people?” as he gestured to us.

She shrugged.

“Well you have to clean this up! Whatever happened, you need to clean it up now!”

“Well, actually — actually this is perfect.”

Jenna handed her phone to Ned. “Can you record this, please? Pan over the room before you get to me.”

Ned did as he was told. Jenna saw him out of the corner of her eye, noting his sweep, seeing him land on her before shouting,

“I quit! Suck it! You can clean this all up yourself, ASSHOLE!”

She skipped out, careful to avoid the vomit puddles. The rest of us followed, a little meekly.

 

The awkwardness subsided after a few blocks, as we approached the apartment building.

“I wish the trumpet kid were there. He would’ve appreciated that,” Ned said, buoyantly.

“Bertrand probably kicked him out though — probably thought he was too noisy or wasn’t paying enough in rent,” said Dmitri.

“He looked so young. He probably didn’t even threaten to sue.”

“Oh, did you guys not know?” Jenna said suddenly. We shook our heads.

“Bertrand was letting him stay a few months for free.”

“What? Why?”

She shrugged. “Ugh, it feels so good to be free! I fucking hated that job.”

“To be honest, I don’t really feel like going home yet,” Brandy said. Some of us agreed. There was cheap a bar nearby, someone said, two or three stops on the G line. A smaller group of us descended and took the train in silence.

When we reached our stop, as we battled the inconsiderate assholes trying to stream their way in when some of us were still trying to get out, we heard something familiar. The same, marbling tone. The same ribbony jazz.

It was our Trumpet Player, standing in the middle of the platform, his cheeks blown out like a squirrel’s, his eyes closed and his whole body slowly gyrating. A black case sat open by his feet, in which sat a handful of crumpled dollar bills and glinting coins.

And sitting right across from him was Bertrand. The collar of his shirt was completely soaked through. Small islands of puke stains dotted his body. He was sitting back with his legs out and listening.

 

 

Image: “Angry Finn” by Carl Nenzén Lovén, licensed under CC 2.0

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