History Part I
It was the fall of 1997 and I was living alone in a small basement flat in what was then an unfashionable corner of Brooklyn. The building was owned by an older Italian couple who knew my family name from a chain of funeral homes my great aunt and uncle had owned in New York during the Fifties which, seeing as most of the neighborhood had gone Polish in the intervening 40 years, they saw as a good sign and took me in at a modestly reduced rate.
I had recently come out of a bad breakup and, as is so often the case, most of my friends had turned out to be in fact her friends. So solitary my life had become that year that when my doorbell rang early one evening in October, I at first could not quite identify the source or meaning of the sound. After a few minutes of intermittent buzzing, I found my way to the hallway and eventually the door. "Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore. But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door, that I scarce was sure I heard you." Here I opened wide the door.
There a giant black cat in a tall and ridiculous striped hat stood bow legged at my chamber door. "Hurry!", it said. "Hurry! I'm being chased by the police! Let me hide in your house. I believe I had time to drop my jaw and wrinkle my brow before the Cat boxed my ear with one mighty paw, knocking me out of the way. "Louse!", he cried, "shut the door!"
I did so just as red strobing lights came screaming down my street. The Cat, in a queer, ambling gate, strolled down the hall towards my apartment.
"Do you have any Vodka?" he asked, opening my freezer.
"No? You scum! Anchovies? Cream?"
"No," I finally managed to get out, rubbing my red and swollen ear, "no, some bread I think."
The cat gave me a dirty look. I remembered I don't even like cats, I'm allergic to them, they're uppity.
"Hey!", I said "Hey listen, who do you think you are barging in here and going through my icebox? huh? all with that ridiculous hat on."
"Hat?" the cat replied "You don't like my hat? What's wrong with it?"
"Whoever heard of a cat in a hat? Besides, it's rude to leave your hat on in a person's home! Don't you know that?"
"Well, I don't see where you get off talking about rude—inviting company over and not even having any refreshments—that's rude" We glowered at each other.
He took off his hat. "Do you mind if I use your phone?", he asked.
"Is it a local call?"
"Yes." 8 numbers, 11 numbers, 15, 16, 17 numbers later the Cat begins speaking Italian into my phone.
"Hey!", I yelled, "Hey!"
"You like that phrase, I notice," the cat said, hanging up the phone with a flourish.
"Can I use your sandbox?" The Cat stalked into my bathroom sniffing then locked the door.
I sat down on my bed and wrinkled my brow.
My face would maintain this expression for a long time. A short time later the doorbell rang again. "Will you get that?" a muffled voice rang from the bathroom.
"Will you answer the door? I'm expecting some people!"
I got up from my bed and walked to the kitchen. When I opened my apartment door, there standing already in the hallway was a skinny, strangely dressed, smiling man holding a battered library card. "Hello.," he said, smiling in a way that managed to show all of his teeth at once.
"Marcello?" the Cat yelled again from the bathroom. "Marcello? Is that you?"
"Yes, Cat," the Smiling Man called, stepping around me.
"Did you bring the vodka?"
The Smiling Man produced a bottle of red wine and looked at me.
"My name is Jack," he said. "Do you have a bottle opener?"
"Marcello," I said
"Marcello," I said again, putting the accent on the first syllable this time.
"I'm sorry," the Smiling Man said, smiling a little less. "I'm sorry, but I don't speak Italian. Do you have a bottle opener or not?"
"Why did you tell me your name is Jack?"
"Then why did the Cat call you Marcello?"
"Why is there a cat in your bathroom? Stop avoiding the question! Where's the bottle opener?"
"Why would someone walk into my house and lie to me for no reason?"
"You're being paranoid. You don't have a bottle opener, do you?"
The Cat came out of the bathroom, licking one paw.
"This wouldn't have happened if you'd brought vodka like I told you."
When I got back from the store with a bottle opener, my apartment was full of people. My life with The World/Inferno Friendship Society had begun.
God they pissed me off. Pushing through the kitchen, I bumped into at least 30 people I'd never seen before. The Giant Cat was no where to be found, but the Smiling Man was leaning against the wall next to my stereo, speaking to a girl.
"Hey Listen," I said working through the crowd toward him. "Listen—Jack or Marcello—or whoever you are."
"I prefer just to be known as 'That One Special Guy,' actually, but whatever you can remember is cool. Great party, by the way."
"This isn't my party! I don't even know these people!"
"You don't? Well this one is Rio," The Smiling Man gestured toward the woman he was speaking to. "Rio, this is the guy who's party this is."
"I told you."
"Oh yes," the woman interrupted, "it is a great party really, but do you have any other wine? This bottle really isn't very good."
"She's right," the Smiling Man agreed, emptying his glass, "and your CDs . . . really. What? Do you review records for a living or something? Terrible. I wonder if Lucky has his walkman."
"But hey! Listen, " I began.
The girl Rio put a hand on my shoulder.
"Is there," she said, "anymore wine or not?"
"No! I didn't even buy that! He'd . . ."
That one special guy said, "oh man, oh man! This won't do. We'll have to get some more."
He shook his head as if he had been deeply hurt. The girl Rio wandered through the thickening crowd.
"So," the Smiling Man said, "you got any money?"
I should have left them in my apartment and moved back to New Jersey.
The Smiling Man very reasonably convinced me to give him ten dollars which he then gave to another man to whom he introduced me as Peter Lorre, which is not my name.
"Lorre here," he said to the new comer. "Would like you to make sure that this money gets spent on wine. I know I can trust you on this, Ben."
Then the Smiling Man, still smiling, gave me a very hostile and suspicious look.
"Don't try anything funny, Lorre," he said, (Lori is not my name.) "Ben doesn't fuck around." And he shooed us out the door.
Ben was a tall and swarthy man in a tattered tailored suit. He asked me how I knew Favorite and when I said I didn't know anyone named Favorite he snorted.
"You, though" I said as we walked to the Liquor store, "you look very familiar."
"I have a twin," he said shortly.
"Twin. I have an identical twin brother. Maybe you know him—he's on TV sometimes."
"I don't know why you people think it's so funny to lies all the time, after taking over peopleís modest apartments."
"I'm not lying and I've never been in your apartment in my life!", Ben yelled back.
"Yes you were! That's my apartment we just came from."
"You're the jerk who threw a party without any alcohol? What's wrong with you? I hope my brother doesn't know you."
Arriving at the liquor store, I thought it prudent to wait outside. Ben stomped in, muttering about Germans (I'm not German). After a few minutes, Ben stuck his head out the door.
"You got any more money?"
"Why?", I responded.
"Need more money for the wine."
"You have a credit card?"
"Why would I give you my credit card? I don't even want a party at my house! I don't even know you, or if I do you won't admit it. I don't want all those people at my house!"
"My name's not Lori!"
"Listen! I'm not fucking around! Who's side are you on exactly? Huh, Peter?
"He had me there. I wasn't on anybody's side. I gave him my credit card.
"My name's not Peter."
When we got back to my building music was coming from both the second and third story apartments, people I'd diligently never spoken to were hanging out the windows and lounging on the stoop. My landlady walked up to me as Ben fought his way down the hallway with his burden of bottles.
"Your friend the Cat is quite a charmer," she said. "Did you know he spoke Italian? He lived in Naples after the war!"
"No Jeanetta," I replied in high-school Italian, "I didn't. Where is the Cat now?"
"He's upstairs talking to John!", my landlady yelled (she always yelled).
"Where'd that boy go with the wine?"
I pointed Jeanetta towards Ben and climbed the stair to look for that damn mischievous Cat. I found him in my landlady's apartment, but not with John. The Cat was sitting on the couch whispering into the ear of a young girl who looked to be intently listening to his every word, though that might have just been the way she looked. I coughed. The cat and girl jumped.
"You!", The Cat yelled. "Semra and I were just talking about law school. You didn't see anything. What do you want?"
"I," I said, "suspect you are a bloodless ghoul come here to haunt and terrorize me. If this is true, I must ask you to leave my home forever and take away this mess you've brought with you."
"Why I never, the Cat said, rising and putting on its tall hat. "You little shit! Why I oughta . . ."
It is at this point I experienced my first instance of what I believe is called 'missing time.'
Regaining consciousness was like slowly digging up through thick wet sand, but unpleasant. I opened up my eyes to what appeared to be my apartment, but something was terribly awry. First off, there was a cat on my chest -- a regular-sized one, which was at least a bit of a relief. And second, someone had redecorated the room entirely in gold lame. I pushed the cat off me and sat up to an angry voice.
"Hey!", it said, "easy with Lucky!"
I looked around. Sitting on a kitchen chair was a tall, lanky man with a crazy explosion of Buckwheatesque hair playing an unplugged electric guitar. My head hurt.
"Easy with Lucky, I said."
"Who are you and what are you doing in my apartment?" "I'm Lucky and this isn't your apartment anymore."
"Do you always refer to yourself in the third person?"
"Why did you say 'easy with Lucky' before?"
"The cat, you pushed my cat."
"The cat's name is Lucky?"
"And your name is Lucky?"
We looked at each other. My head was killing me as I glanced around. None of my stuff was here though it was clearly my apartment, I also seemed to be dressed in a suit.
"What do you mean I don't live here anymore?, I asked.
"You don't," Lucky the person replied, standing up. He was wearing only a bunch of tattoos and boxer shorts festooned with smiley faces. "You moved in with The Cat about 2 weeks ago and I took over the lease. I'm Italian, so your landlady liked me. She's nice."
"I moved in with the cat?"
"So I live here?"
" No, with the cat"
"So where does Lucky the cat live?"
"Lucky? Oh he lives here with me."
"So we all live here together, you, me, and Lucky the cat?"
"Nooo, I live alone, you live with that giant cat. What's wrong with you?"
"I live with The Giant Cat?"
"Why am I here?"
Lucky the person walked back into the bedroom.
"I don't know why, but would you mind leaving? I don't like company. I'll see you tonight."
"What? Tonight? Where do I live? Where's the giant cat?"
"I don't know. Don't tell anyone, but I don't like that cat—its too bitchy. He's a friend of Pete's."
"You know, Pete, skinny guy, smiles all the time."
"I thought that was your name."
"Oh. Would you mind leaving now?"
"Listen! I want to know where my things are! I want to know where I live!"
At this point, Lucky (the person) grabbed me by the arm and threw me out of my apartment. Before he did, he stuffed a telephone number in my hand. "Call Pete," he said, and slammed the door.
It was late morning on my old street, chilly. I noticed the leaves were starting to change colors. I was wearing some shiny gun metal suit which was too tight in the seat. In my breast pocket I found a few bucks, so I went over to a greasy spoon and had some eggs. Why did that kid and his cat have the same name? Why did I just get kicked out of my apartment? Where are all my things? I tried the phone number Lucky the person had given, but it was some museum so I hung up. I must admit I was at the end of my rope. I didn't know what the hell had happened to my life; I was walking around in a confused daze. Finally, I just sat down on the curb, put my head in my hands, and cried.
And the rain hammered down. I got up off the curb and kicked a cat. I began to consider a plan to eliminate all cats from the city. Cats, I decided, were responsible for my present predicament. Cats and bloodless ghouls. As I was thinking this, an anemic teen-aged boy in a Misfits T-shirt was crossing the street. I chased him, yelling for a block or two, then stood panting when he hopped on a bus—damn ghouls. Using our public transportation. Just then a yellow cab pulled up and a small blonde girl climbed out, carrying an awkwardly-shaped suitcase.
"OK, Grosse Katze!", she said, waving into the cab. "Bis heute Abend!"
Just before she slammed the door, I saw that, still in the cab, sat The Giant Cat.
"Giant Cat!", I yelled. "Giant Cat! Give me back my life! I'll find you cat! I'll call the police, you awful fascist crap cat! I'll get you!"
I banged on the window of the cab as it pulled away, but the cat just smiled when it looked at me and either made an obscene gesture or had an itch, it was hard to say. I cursed. The blond girl from the cab walked up to me, pointing.
"You know," she said sharply, "I think it's really fucked up that you hate the Cat just 'cause he's German."
"That Cat," I said, "beat me up and got me kicked out of my apartment! That Cat is a menace.
"Oh, that was weeks ago!", the girl said. "Didn't he take you in after that? It's not his fault that he's German; he wasn't even alive during the war!" The girl stomped one of her feet.
"Look you," I said, "I don't care if he's German or not—he's a giant cat! He's a Giant cat and I suspect he's aligned with bloodless ghouls!"
"Oh," the girl said, bobbing her head, "oh, I see. First it's Germans, then it's bloodless ghouls! Where does it stop Lorre? Where does it stop!"
"My name's not Lori!"
"Just forget it," she said, turning away. "Just forget it! Maybe I'll see you tonight and maybe I won't!"
A bunch of ghouls had gotten off a bus to leer at me. I scowled at them. "What's tonight?", I yelled after her. "What are you talking about?"
She was already turning the corner. "It's Halloween!", she called over her shoulder. "It's Halloween!"
The rain redoubled its efforts, obscuring the blonde girl and enveloping the ghouls. "Halloween? But that's weeks away."