“I can’t believe it,” Gooch said, after swinging open the polished door to his hotel room. “Imagine you and me, both right here.”
I hadn’t seen Gooch in a long-assed time. Not since back in the day when we both lived in a group home in California, a foster care facility for criminals and the mentally disturbed. One of those seven-bed snake pits sponsored by the state, supposed to change a city kid’s future by sticking his butt out in the country, like you wouldn’t fuck up no more because you saw some hills and a cow. I was sentenced there from Juvie for petty bullshit. Nothing. Fighting, smoking weed, riding in a car a friend had borrowed. I can’t even remember. And they couldn’t prove shit either. But my Auntie, that ho, was like, “Go ahead, take his ass. He a bad seed like his Daddy.” Always acting like she was my mother cause she had custody of me, but my Moms wasn’t a crackhead bitch.
“I can’t believe we here either,” I said, remembering Gooch got sent to that home because he held some kid’s head under water at a swimming pool and drowned him. More likely a mud puddle. There weren’t no swimming pools in the projects where he came from.
“The Big Apple!” Gooch said, giving me a jive-ass handshake like the goofy white boy he was, not knowing how to put an end to it, sliding his huge hand around mine like some virgin trying to find the wet spot, finally making a fist and knocking my knuckles.
“Damn, Gooch!” I said, shaking my hand as if he had hurt me more than he did. “You sprained my pussy finger.”
“Sorry,” he said, concerned. “You know I didn’t mean it.”
I made a hurt expression and held out my hand for him to examine, limp like a dog paw. When he leaned forward to get a better look, I pimp-slapped him hecka-fast in the forehead. Smack!
“Still falling for the same old shit,” I said. “Big and empty as a parking lot.”
“Same old Freddy,” Gooch said, grinning and rubbing at the red mark above his eyebrows, somehow nostalgic for years of abuse. “You didn’t hurt me though.”
“That’s cause you my brother, Goochie,” I said, wondering what was in them plastic bags hanging on the other hotel room doorknobs. Looked like shoes. Looked like my size. Or gonna be somebody’s size outside on the Astor Place sidewalk, twenty bucks a throw.
“We are family,” Gooch sang, doing a jiggly fatboy dance, and then suddenly scooping me up in a bear hug.
Damn! The Gooch was always doing shit like that and you had to pretend he wasn’t crushing your bones or else you’d lose your edge on him. Counselors at the group home said Gooch was mentally disturbed. He definitely wasn’t no real criminal, maybe shoplifting Twinkies and candies to feed his sweet tooth. But he wasn’t torturing animals or fucking stray dogs like some of them other insane wards of the court. Gooch was just an overgrown retard. I used to protect him some because people would wail on him. Mostly Gooch had to take it, beating after beating, like fists were words and he was happy to be a part of the conversation. But sometimes, unprovoked, he’d wrap you up in a sleeper hold and your life would flash before your eyes. Guys would come out of Gooch’s clutches gasping for air, grabbing at toasters and knives, broom handles and whatever else was handy to try to whop that gorilla down. That’s when Gooch would get scared and tackle their asses. Then they’d be in a new world of pain.
“Why you fagging on me, G?” I said, and he dropped me real quick.
Gooch wasn’t no punk, but you could play him to be worried about it. What those group home guys never figured out was that Gooch thought he was small. If you caught your breath and shrugged like I did after one of his constrictions, Gooch thought you was bigger than him and he stayed calm, and afraid.
“I’m just happy to see you,” Gooch said, giddy as a beer buzz.
I straightened out my shirt, not worrying about the wrinkle Gooch had put in my spine. I wondered if Gooch was gonna get around to asking me in or we was gonna stand out here in the lobby all day
“That’s cool. I’m glad you called me too. It’s been a long time,” I said, slugging him lightly on his massive shoulder. “You sure ain’t shrunk none.”
Gooch seemed proud of this observation, unfurling to full-size. My whiteboy had at least two hundred pounds on me. I could see rolls of stomach fat peeking out beneath his tropical shirt that matched his shorts, making up a suit like them milk crate Puerto Ricans wear. Goocher’s thighs pressed tight to the hem of the fabric above his pale knees, then his flesh got dimpled and hairy, transforming into girder-sized calves built on a shaky foundation of no ankles and unlaced sneakers.
“I had gastroplasty,” he said.
“What?” I said. “That a new video game?”
I peeked inside his room to see if he had a play station hooked up. What I saw was all futuristic in a way that would never be no real future. Shiny surfaces with lots of glass and chrome. Shit that would scuff and break if you used it. Everything at angles. Expensive, but emphasizing parts that were slightly off, as if someone had made everything by hand and their signature was that they made lots of mistakes, like a graffiti artist who misspelled his tag on purpose.
“Naw,” he said. “It’s a surgery that makes your stomach smaller.”
“Sounds like something a rich white bitch would do?” I said. “Like the ones I seen downstairs in the lobby.”
The hotel lobby had been filled with no-assed women with huge tits in skimpy black dresses. The men were tan and wore suits with no ties. When I came in a beautiful Asian girl thought I was a musician and wanted me to check in at the front desk, another hefty dude with a security head-set tried to show me to the servant’s elevator. I had to give them Gooch’s real name, Clarence Goochetti, which I almost didn’t remember.
“It didn’t work for me,” Gooch said. “The staples popped out because I ate too much.”
“That why you here? Surgery?” I said, bending down to pick up a newspaper at my feet that I could barely see because the hallway was so dimly lit, though it was nine o’clock in the morning. “I thought you said you gonna be on TV.”
“I am. A talk show to tell about my procedure,” Gooch said. “I’m gonna be a celebrity.”
I extended the newspaper to Gooch, a Wall Street Journal. He shook his head and said there weren’t any comics or a sports page in that one.
“But your face gonna be on the front page tomorrow,” I said, tucking the paper under my arm thinking I could get a quarter for it in the subway if Gooch wasn’t gonna use it. “You prepared for the cameras?”
“They just want me to be myself.” Gooch said, and I thought ten million people gonna be laughing at that.
“I’ll tell you what I do want though,” he said, popping his head out of the room and looking down the hallway in both directions.
Gooch squeezed his heavyweight body past me, tip-toeing several rooms away. He paused in front of a door, but didn’t knock. There was a tray on the floor, no newspaper. Gooch looked back at me and winked. He scooped up some items from a basket beneath a napkin, then darted back, hands full.
“Come on in,” he told me, as if he just pulled off the crime of the century. “Check this shit out.”
Finally, I followed Gooch into his room. It was real bright inside, especially compared to the hallway or the gray view of Manhattan I could see through the oval window, concrete high-rises and dirty streets filled with traffic. Gooch’s room was decorated in cool colors with a pink spider web painted on the ceiling and across the high walls that I hadn’t noticed from the hallway. For some reason just standing in that room made you happy, gave you that feeling you get right before a comedian tells a good joke or when you were gonna blow out some birthday candles and make a wish.
Gooch dropped his stolen booty, a bunch of bread rolls and little jars of jelly, onto a metallic table that had a vase of flowers on it, the remnants of a fruit basket, a jumbo bag of potato chips, and a two-liter bottle of Coke.
“Ain’t they got a mini-bar?” I said, indicating the soda.
“Yeah, but you wouldn’t believe how much everything costs,” Gooch explained, smearing jelly on the rolls, wiping out the sticky remnants of a bottle with a pudgy finger, then sucking. “The TV people gave me credit towards meals here, but a hamburger is twenty-four dollars.”
“Bullshit,” I said, checking out the fireplace and wondering where the TV was and if they had free cable and movies.
“See for yourself,” Gooch said, pausing from his snack to show me the room service menu that was bound like a book.
There was all kinds of crazy prices, steak: $47, spaghetti: $28, onion soup: $16. Damn yellow onion and water in a cast iron pot, cost about eight cents to make. Poor people food. Sixteen dollars was robbery. And the menu had an “all day” page where a BLT cost $22. For that much, you could wake my ass up any time of the night too and I’d fry up some bacon on toast for some sheik with the munchies. Wash it down with a twelve-dollar glass of milk. Take all his fool oil money.
“What the fuck’s in a twenty-four dollar hamburger?” I had to ask, seeing there was a separate menu book for wine, costing a whole paycheck for a bottle. It must have been a scam worked on foreigners who didn’t know how much a dollar be worth, like a cabbie charging some immigrant a c-note to take them around the block.
“Just hamburger, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle on the side,” Gooch said. “You had to put it together yourself.”
“Twenty-four dollars,” I said, shaking my head. “Instead of fries, you get a blow job with that?”
“Not even fries,” Gooch said. “Cheese was extra too.”
“Damn,” I said, setting down the menus, wondering if I could convince Gooch to order me up one of them twenty-three dollar shrimp cocktails. “Was it good?”
“Yeah. But real different than a McDonald’s,” Gooch answered. “And I was still hungry after.”
No surprise there.
Gooch stuffed a jellied roll into his mouth. I handed him back the menus, then made a move to park myself on the bed.
“I wouldn’t sit there,” Gooch said, and I stopped with my narrow ass hanging above the rumpled sheets and fluffy pillows. Maybe they charged extra for every booty touched the bed.
“Anthony was playing with himself last night,” Gooch explained.
Anthony was Gooch’s full on retarded half-brother. He was as thin as Gooch was fat, and annoying as Gooch was good-natured. Anthony was always side-busting into conversations, picking at his zits and eating boogers, scratching at his itchy ass. But mostly he was dumb. He once paid some guys $149 of his SSI check to go to the moon. Instead of the shuttle launch he was expecting, Anthony got took to a dumpster in an ally and showed some different kind of stars.
“What’s Anthony doing out here whacking off in your bed?” I said, throwing a grimace at Gooch and then at the bed and some stains that no longer looked like potato chip grease.
“You know Anthony. He found a porno on the TV with two women kissing on each other. I told him to quit, but he said he couldn’t stop,” Gooch said, chewing. “They gave me accommodations to bring a guest. Anthony was the one who got your cell phone number.”
Anthony must have run into some of my West Coast crew and glommed my digits. They would have done it for me as a favor. Anthony’s stupid face begged for abuse. There was money to be made. He might as well of had a sign around his neck that said, “Take all my shit.”
“So where’s Anthony now?” I asked, sitting in a chair at a little wooden desk that had some envelopes and stationery on it. I wondered who Gooch and his brother were supposed to write? Santa Claus?
“I don’t know. He went looking for an ATM a while ago,” Gooch said, finishing the last of his stolen rolls. “He told me he met some woman on the street and was going to buy something off her.”
“Herpes or the Brooklyn Bridge?” I said, wondering how the two of them ever made it through the airport and out to New York, even though airplane trips were getting more common than bus rides.
“He doesn’t have that much money,” Gooch said. “He’s supposed to come back with a bucket of chicken for me.”
I set down my newspaper. Underneath the stationery, I found postcards of the hotel. It was a good picture of the building that was like nothing I ain't never seen, even in New York that had all kinds of weird shit. It wasn’t a rectangle like other buildings. Instead, it curved up from both sides like a block of Swiss cheese that had been cut funky with odd different-sized Swiss cheese holes for windows. And it looked rusty, like you’d need a tetanus shot if you looked at it too long. Completely opposite from the interior that made you want to run your hand across everything, if it wasn’t so damn clean.
When I was at the front desk getting Gooch’s room number, I heard two people talking. It might have been about the art on the walls, framed splashes of paint my little niece could have done, but I think they were discussing the building. One of the cats had a goatee, the skeptical one didn’t:
“I don’t like it. What’s it mean?”
“Why does it have to mean anything? It’s sublime. Isn’t the fact that it makes you feel enough?”
“No. Because it makes me feel angry.”
“Because I don’t understand it.”
“Why do you have to understand it? Do you understand a sunset?”
“Yep. Fluorocarbons and light.”
“Well, what does a sunset mean?”
“It means the day’s over.”
“Maybe that’s what this means. The day of easy formulated answers is over.”
I flipped the postcard. The other side had the address and a bunch of foreign names that made sense because no Americans would be making a skyscraper this wild. One person’s name was Koolhaas. That’s a badass handle. Sounded like a menthol cigarette. If they had them, that be my brand. I’d be smoking Koolhaas.
“You should see the bathroom,” Gooch said, noticing my interest in the postcard that I pocketed.
He led me to a room as big as my apartment, and I had two roommates, one with a girlfriend that practically lived in our crib too. Gooch touched a button and the lights came on all slow and dramatic like now you gonna see some real shit. Some sublime.
Sure enough, the first thing that lit up was a marble floor like from a church or in a bank. A huge mirror hung on the far wall above a porcelain sink making the room look twice as large, as if it wasn’t humongous already. But it was good because it was the sauce to look at yourself in a place this beautiful. I wished I had a camera.
The sink was set in a flower-pattern counter made out of a thick plastic that lit up from underneath and glowed a golden glow. It shone onto a bathtub made out of glass tiles as pretty as the beads on a necklace, mammoth enough for Gooch to soak in without slopping out water. But it wouldn’t have mattered, because there was more stacks of white towels in that bathroom than in a department store. There was also a shower that Gooch said could be filled with steam, and a stainless steel toilet shaped like an upside down funnel. Gooch and Anthony probably didn’t know where to pee.
“I could live in here,” I said, checking out the telephone hanging on the wall near the toilet. The only thing I could see that was missing was something to wash yourself with. “They too stingy to give you a bar of soap?”
“No,” Gooch replied. “They had shampoos and mouthwash and lotions and soaps that smelled like perfume still in their plastic wrap. Shower caps. Little kits of needles and thread. I put them in a bag to take home as presents.”
“How come you didn’t go out with Anthony?” I asked, thinking if Gooch left me in his room alone for a few minutes I could at least grab me one of those robes hanging off the bathroom door. Snag me a towel and a washcloth too.
“I wanted to see you, Freddy. And the TV woman is supposed to come by at noon to pick me up,” Gooch said. “Plus I don’t really want to go outside. I heard they got real niggers out here.”
I let that comment slide because I knew Gooch didn’t mean it in no derogatory way towards me. He meant the black people he’d seen on the news or on cop shows.
“I think I saw a real Jew when I was coming into the hotel,” he said.
“They got all kinds of peoples in this city,” I said, stepping out of the bathroom in awe of the whole damn place. “It’s a tossed salad. Anything’s possible. Look at this place.”
“I can’t believe you and I are here,” Gooch said, happily.
I was more surprised that a building like this existed. Once you built something, you couldn’t keep the people out. Even guys like Gooch.
“And Anthony’s somewheres,” he added.
I shook my head. I didn’t want to see Anthony or guess what he was doing out in the street, although I could go for some chicken. I was getting hungry. Even one of them rolls with jam sounded good. If Gooch wouldn’t order me some room service, maybe he’d go grab me something off a tray in the hall.
“Who would have thought?” Gooch continued. “If you would have said we’d all be in New York together, and that I was going to be on TV, people would say you were lying. That we couldn’t do it.”
“That’s the way things get done,” I told him. “Someone says you can’t do it. They throw down a challenge. That’s part of the reason I moved out here. I was sick of nay saying motherfuckers.”
Right then the telephone rang.
As Gooch moved to answer it, I heard loud footsteps running down the hall.
Oh shit, I thought, I should have knowed better. It had to be hotel security or the police. Anything was possible, but Gooch and Anthony still didn’t belong in this hotel, about as much as this hotel didn’t belong in the world. And now we were all gonna be thrown out and arrested for something worse than stealing table scraps.
But then from the noisy banging and rattling on the hotel room door, I knew it weren’t the Five-O or any hotel people. I turned towards Gooch who was talking on the phone, looking like how he used to when guys at the group home beat on him.
Then his brother Anthony came bursting into the room, slamming the door behind him. He was sweating and his eyes were wild. His hair was a tangle and there was blood on his face and mashed potatoes smeared on his sweatshirt. In his hands he held a torn piece of red and white cardboard and a couple pieces of dirty chicken.
I heard Gooch hang up the telephone. The air conditioner clicked on. I felt for the postcard of the hotel in my pocket. For some reason, I crumpled it in my hand.
Then both brothers started yelling at once.
“They cancelled the show,” Gooch said, tears in his eyes.
And all I could make out of what Anthony was screaming was, “Al Qaeda took my chicken!”