Chapter 2: Flynn’s Olde Boston Eating & Drinking Establishment
Part 8: Brain Food
YOU CAN READ
new in toys, Matthew?” asks Jack.
Matthew wonders why that question must always sound like a joke. He’s sure Jack isn’t trying to be funny, doesn’t mean to seem to be trivializing Matthew’s work. He couldn’t mean to do that. Matthew feels quite certain that Jack has as much respect for Matthew as he has for himself. He recognizes in Matthew someone who has made the same compromises he has, someone who has ideals, or at least had ideals, but who has, partly by decision, partly by accident, partly because of need, stepped to one side of them — hasn’t exactly walked away from them, just stepped to one side of them. For one reason and another, Jack’s making beer commercials. Matthew would never joke about that.
Matthew glances at Effie, and she grins. She expects him to give Jack the same string of gags he gave her. Matthew grins back. He has more up his sleeve than that.
“Well,” he says, “we’re coming out with a line of whore dolls. Hester Hooker and Her Pals.” As soon as he mentions the whore dolls, he realizes that he really is getting drunk. The whore dolls are one of his jokes on himself, part of one of the mental discussions he sometimes has with himself. He has imagined himself being interviewed by a ghostwriter for his as-told-to autobiography, after he has become president of the company. The writer is a young snot who thinks Matthew is an idiot. Gradually Matthew feeds him, deadpan, his line of parody toys, as if they had actually been produced, were part of the history of the company, the secret of Matthew’s success. At first these fake toys are just a little odd, but as Matthew goes on they grow odder and odder, become funnier and funnier, until the kid’s rolling on the floor with laughter. The book they write together is a hilarious parody of corporate life, and it redeems all the years Matthew spent in toys. The writer develops a boundless respect and admiration for Matthew, and they become pals. Everybody needs a pal.
Matthew is amused by this discovery that he’s as drunk as he is. He feels detached from his drunk self, a little superior to him, disapproving but indulgent, as if he were BW watching Matthew and saying to himself, “Oh, what does it matter? He hasn’t gotten good and drunk for ages. Let him go.” It’s true. Matthew hasn’t gotten good and drunk for a long time, not since Liz left. He got drunk that night, but it wasn’t good; it was a sullen, lonely, feeling-sorry-for-himself drunk, and he hated it. Since then he’s been drinking steadily and regularly, too much, he knows, but only in the evening, and never at a rate that gets him out of control. He’s over the line now, though, he can tell, and he’s glad. He feels like having a fling, feels like letting himself go with these old friends, these pals. He knows they’ll take care of him. He takes another sip of his drink to seal the pact with himself. Self, he says to himself, we’re going to get plastered.
“By the way,” he says aloud. “You may be interested in knowing where I got the inspiration for Hester and her pals.”
“We probably are,” says Jack.
“Well,” says Matthew, “I got the inspiration from a trip I made, when I was in high school. To Juarez. Mexico. I was the recipient of a grant. From the— Hmm. The what? Some agency. I forget. Some agency that was supposed to encourage science study among youth after Sputnik. The National Science Foundation, that’s it. So I went to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology for the summer. I was fifteen. I’m not making this up. I was the smartest kid in my high school class.”
At that time, Matthew wanted to be a theoretical physicist, but after a year in college he discovered that, although he probably understood physics better than all but a few thousand human beings, he would never enter the small circle of people who really understood, understood well enough to advance the science. If he kept at it, he might keep chipping away at the flinty bit he didn’t adequately understand, but he didn’t want to be a plodder. There was nothing else he wanted to excel at, and so it no longer mattered what he did. Like a man in a rowboat who meant to row across a bay but finds himself exhausted in the middle, he let himself drift. In time, certain things came floating his way, and, drifting, he bumped into some flotsam now and then, and that was what had passed for progress since the day of his grand disappointment, the day when his real aspirations ended.
“Anyway, one weekend some of us took a trip to Juarez. Specifically, to Irma’s. This whorehouse. We walked in, and there were the whores. Just, bang, there they were. I don’t know what I’d expected, I guess I thought they’d be hidden or something, not just right out there waiting for us. But there they were. The first whores I’d ever seen. Dozens of them. Lined up along one wall, like a row of chorus girls. Or like a bunch of waitresses, for that matter. And what struck me right away was how different they were. How different one was from another. I’d never seen, or never noticed, such diversity in women. The girls I knew were all sort of alike. Or at least they seemed alike. Here was the whole catalog. Short ones, tall ones, big ones, small ones, just like the song. Some were so adult — not old, exactly, but women. Others looked like girls. Most of them were not pretty. They wore too much makeup for my taste, and they were — coarse somehow. Except one. One, I think, was quite pretty. But you know, as soon as I say that, I’m not sure if it’s right. Was the pretty one at Irma’s or was she at a strip joint we went to?”
“Matthew!” says Effie. “What revelations! Whorehouses? Strip joints? I never heard any of this before.”
“I’ve been saving a lot of stuff for my authorized biography. Anyway, I can’t remember just what this cute one looked like very well, which is kind of weird, because I remember other things from that night much better. There was a cop car chasing another car right down the main street, a big old Hudson. And there was a huge crash. I mean, the chase ended in a crash. Right in front of us. And we ate some chicken at a little restaurant, and it was kind of rare. Sort of green in the joints. And we bought western hats, straw. But none of that, none of those memories, comes back to me on its own, you know? It’s always this memory of the lineup of whores that comes back. The availability of all those women still sort of haunts me, as an idea.”
“And did you choose the cute one?” It’s Effie who asks.
Matthew raises an eyebrow, grins his half grin. “I told you, I have to save some things for the authorized biography. But get this. One of the other kids— You won’t believe this. He wired home for money on the spot, from this whorehouse, and spent the next four days there. At Irma’s. I swear to God. The rest of us covered for him, said he was sick, did his homework.” A pause. “So, anyway, Hester Hooker. But that’s not all.” Is there any stopping Matthew now? “We’re coming out with a line of handicapped dolls, because we think that kids will grow up to be more tolerant of deformities if they get used to handling them on a small scale. And a line of warriors who actually bleed, lose limbs, die, decompose.”
“Matthew,” says Richard.
“Ooops. Sorry. But wait, I have one more. A little pet project of mine. And I think it’s going to be a huge hit. A lifelike vinyl penis that little girls can strap on, sort of like a garter belt. It’s hooked to a water tank that fits in the small of the back, so girls can piss like boys.” He looks to Jack and Richard. “You remember those macho pissing contests when you were a kid? Now girls can enter! Not only enter, but win!”
“Pricks for Chicks,” says Belinda spontaneously. Matthew is stunned. She stepped on his punch line. Not that what she said was exactly his punch line. It was better. Belinda laughs at her own joke, and Matthew realizes that she too is drunker than she ordinarily gets.
“Do you realize,” he asks the whole table in a lowered voice, “that we’re all bombed?”
“It’s unavoidable,” says Richard. “They keep you waiting so long.”
“Do you think the waitresses notice?” asks Jack. “Do they wonder why most of the people in here keep bumping into the walls?” He touches Effie’s arm and asks, as if in the voice of one of the waitresses, “Mary, did you ever notice anything about these people who eat here?”
Effie glances around the room and answers as another waitress. “Nope,” she says.
“Well, they’re all drunk, dearie. Schnockered. Plastered. Blotto.”
“Well, yeah, you know, I have noticed that.”
“Why do you suppose that is, darlin’?”
Effie inclines her head and thinks. “It must be that a lot of drunk people come here to eat fish because there’s some myth about fish being good for warding off a hangover.”
“No kidding!” says Jack. “‘Warding off,’ you say! Warding off! Is that it, ‘warding off’? What the fuck would that mean, exactly, honey?’”
“Oh, shut up. Maybe fish is supposed to sober you up. The flaky fish flesh absorbs the alcohol or something like that.”
“‘Flaky fish flesh’?” says Richard.
Jack deals him a stern look, still in character, and says, “Now you keep out of this, Charlene, darlin’. Mary and I are having a serious discussion about the inebriation of our clientele. You just go off in a corner somewhere and practice saying ‘flaky fish flesh,’ okay?”
“Fish is brain food, too, you know,” says Effie.
“So maybe, I’m only saying maybe, these people think that eating fish while they’re drinking will restore the brain cells that the alcohol destroys.”
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Reservations Recommended is published in paperback by Picador,
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Copyright © 1990 by Eric Kraft
Reservations Recommended is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.
Now available in paperback from Picador USA, a division of St. Martin’s Press.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Alec “Nick” Rafter, the author’s earnest agent.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.