Pink was not happy. He felt sick inside, sick and angry, and lay on the bed clutching his stomach and rocking back and forth, moaning. These were the times he wished for a roommate, someone to bore with his self-indulgent mewls or to send scurrying round the corner to the pharmacist for a curative tonic or powder. Pink was in the sodden depths of a catastrophe, and there was no way out. Time and time alone would be his savior, but he understood that his redemption would be slow and fickle, spanning years if not decades. True, he hadn’t been caught with his pants down; no, it was worse than that: he’d been apprehended, the cunning amoral prosecution would allege, “preparing to lower his drawers, his mind’s eye overbrimming with hostile juices in merely the anticipation of committing on the generosity of his new neighbors a profane, destitute act, an act of corruption and cowardice, bankrupt of honor.” Pink sighed and sighed again, then reached for the bottle of Chartreuse and poured a stiff round into the crushed ice of his Tito Fuentes commemorative 7-11 Slurpee Cup. He let the sharp licorice dregs wash over his mouth, over the lips that once dared to dream. O what hath God bought? Pink wondered. Or was it, “What hath God wrought?” His attention deflected from his predicament and to the difference a word — one silly unpredictable guileless stew of letters — can make. He began to doze while saying every word he could remember: “bought wrought caught sot hot trot onslaught snot cot fraught chot (is chot a word?) no but shot is…” and so on and so forth, a merry rhymester, before falling into a formless anxious sleep that gave him neither strength nor solace but a short unloved respite from his arching shame.
Three weeks ago it had been anything but bitter slag. Pink had received a promotion at work; not a titular advance per se, but a steep and unexpected spike in salary, which was even better. And like many of his generation and class the first thing he did when he could afford it was sign on the dotted line, in Pink’s case for a splendid Russian Hill palace of miniature dimensions. It was a modest flat with boundless pretensions. In the foyer faux-marble columns of lax Ionic descent framed plush, whorehouse red carpet. To Pink the floor covering with its barely discernible angels strumming harps and offering melons looked like a monstrous tongue, wet and aggressive, stabbing outwards from the bars of a jail cell. It was vulgar and made him feel even worse.
His one-bedroom flat would be fine for a midget or as a place to count drug money, but for a man of Pink’s stature, 6’1" in the morning before the bastards wheedled him down, it simply wouldn’t do. The kitchenette had a Sub Zero refrigerator that was ridiculously out of proportion in such a minuscule space. The lone countertop was the length of his forearm, beneath which sat a baby oven with Japanese writing on it, which Pink assumed was a brand designed expressly for the cramped quarters of the megalopolis that is Tokyo. He’d heard rumors of Japanese hotels where each visitor was given a cubicle with just enough space to lie down but not stand up in, a horribly modern concept not unlike veal pens, and his kitchen made him think that the fall of civilization was imminent. Pink learned early on to turn slowly while reaching for a packet of cheese flavoring for the macaroni, otherwise he’d slam a hip into the formica. In the bathroom the sink protruded onto the ledge of the tub, below a stained glass window of a whale cavorting with dolphins. Naturally there was a bidet. His bedroom was a large closet, and his living room a 6-by-8-foot self-storage locker in which his 50-inch Sony rear projection television dominated, casting an imposing and dreary shadow.
Pink now blamed his hasty decision on the cut and flair of the realtor’s pantsuit, a dark gray wool crepe undoubtedly assembled by the soft omniscient hands of mountain virgins. The realtor also had a vintage Mercedes. He was smitten, and the bidet was the coup de grace. “Girls love the bidet, let me tell you,” the realtor had said triumphantly, and Pink didn’t know how to disagree. The Russian Hill address provided him a stature he knew he deserved, though when he saw his neighbors and the people on the sidewalks he was horrified: they all looked like him, less intelligent and more apelike of brow, to be sure, but of the same clay and mold. And after two days of living in his habbitrail of an apartment, he became obsessed with its smallness, which he knew reflected poorly on his Pinkness, the largeness with which he wanted to live. To assuage the pain he’d rung up Ascot Chang, the custom tailor in New York, and ordered six shirts in the latest tints and shades. “The colors are more Gucci than Gucci,” the salesman said by way of goodbye. Usually Pink’s shirtings were handsewn by a nasty old bugger on Jermyn Street, London, a residue of his childhood as a victim of the diplomatic corps. But there was a falling out when Pink complained of an assistant’s lingering palms. Now Pink would have none of it, 10% discount on future orders be damned. Besides, George Bush Senior was an Ascot Chang man; and while Pink considered himself an anarchist with expensive tastes, he entertained at least a theoretical respect for the office of the White House.
The cause of Pink’s funk was this. Last week he was at his usual station in the petit confort chair his aunt had given him for graduation. He watched cable cars climb to the stars and looked down at the bus stop below, fabricating elaborate fantasies of luring a savage beauty with large hands to a tete-a-tete with champagne and a waterlogged copy of Keats out on dreary Ocean Beach. His reveries were interrupted when an 18-wheel moving truck pulled up to the curb. A black Volkswagen sedan also doubleparked in front at the same time. Two girls of affable beauty hopped out of the car to meet the two men in crewcuts stepping down from the truck. There was a quick confabulation, then the moving commenced, doors slid open, a nightstand strapped to a dolly rolled out into the San Francisco day.
To Pink the girls were manna from heaven: a sandy-haired USC-coed type with lithe tanned calves, and an intellectual Jewess-seeming friend in a fisherman’s sweater. To Pink’s jaundiced eye they seemed excited but not happy, as if forced to move from their beach house to this foggy hill by NATO decree. Already in Pink’s consciousness sprouted the thought that he could unlock their bourgeois chains, rescue them from the ennui of family holidays and ski resort timeshares. It was a sordid cliché, thought Pink as he watched the girls wrestle with a ficus tree, but it was a ficus tree, and that’s a cliché too. Pink knew that he was the typical parcel of unimaginative and rote ambitions; a menage a trois with nubile, vaguely threatening lesbians was par for this mediocre course. Besides, the thoughts that gave him greatest joy were clichés: winning the lottery, playing shortstop for the New York Yankees, driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible Porsche with a cashmere sweater tied in a debonair knot around his neck.
Pink watched them move in to the flat across the hall, which was theoretically a two-bedroom just as his was allegedly a one-bedroom. His spirits were buoyed by the idea of feminine wiles so close, just a three-alarm fire or earthquake from falling for his charms. Pink went for a brisk jog to the Marina Green. Coming back he stopped on Polk Street at the video store. He felt like a mindless celebration, and chose John Woo’s classic Hong Kong shoot’em up, “A Better Tomorrow” as well as “American Beauty,” the only Oscar-winner for Best Picture he’d never seen. The kid behind the counter was obviously lobotomized or on drugs, managing only a swinish grunt when Pink asked for the movies. Pink paid his money and was given the two tapes. Happy to return to his apartment which his new building mates had made suddenly more tenable, if not downright chic, Pink sprinted the four blocks home, carrying the videos like twin batons, one in each hand.
The gated door was wide open and the moving truck outside as Pink bounded into the grotesque hall and up the stairwell. He was almost skipping and certainly trilling when BLAM! he ran straight into his new raven-haired neighbor. The tapes went sprawling. “My dearest apologies,” said Pink, genuinely mortified.
“It’s okay,” the girl said, rubbing her shoulder, “I was looking down.”
“As was I,” said Pink, trying not to beam. The girl picked a movie that had been flung from its case and handed it over, a little embarrassed. Pink accepted it and looked down. He felt his life flash before his eyes: “A Wetter Tomorrow: Six Hours of Labia Lick Fest.”
“It’s supposed to be ‘A Better Tomorrow,’ you know, by the guy who did that movie with Mira Sorvino and John Travolta.”
She shrugged. “Whatever you say.” Pink realized that she now considered him a liar as well as a pervert.
“Look, this is ‘American Beauty.’” Pink opened up the second case. The label read: “American Booty. Why Washington Really Crossed the Delaware.”
The girl pushed past him and down the stairs. Pink felt betrayed, cut down at the knees by a strung-out teenager, no doubt an axe murderer in the making. Pink slunk back to his apartment, grabbed the Chartreuse and plotted his next move.