(Art by spoon+fork.)
We had to use the bathroom in the lobby of the Seahorse Hotel because the burger shack didn’t have one. In exchange for such a privilege, we had to pick up trash in the hotel parking lot, most of which was from our customers.
The hotel was run by the hindu couple, Mr. and Mrs. Angrywall. I thought it was a weird name, but I asked Mrs. Angrywall and that’s what it sounded like. She looked like she was my age, but she spent the whole day slumped like a grandmother behind the counter dressed in her colored togas. Mr. Angrywall was usually prowling the rooms on the top floor of the hotel. The ceilings on the top floor had caved in a few winters ago, before they bought it, and he was fixing the rooms himself.
“The dots are taking over, man,” Howard told me. “Have you been to our old elementary school and high school lately? They have totally infiltrated.”
“Why the hell are you going to our old schools for? Are you trying to abduct little boys?”
“No, I’m not a pedophile. I’m just saying, you’ve got little curries running all over the place. Our grandkids are going to have to wear turbans.”
“When are you going to have grandkids?” I asked him.
“When I give up on being a free man and decide to settle down.”
I had to walk by Mrs. Angrywall to get to the bathroom, and the silence was unbearable, even though it was just a few seconds. I tried to eat my meals at the hamburger stand while drinking as little as possible. That’s how bad I didn’t want to go. But my coffee tolerance was going up and I had to drink more and more to fight headaches and drowsiness from the daily weed.
That meant multiple trips to the urinal. I was really freaked out by the third eye Mrs. Angrywall had painted on her forehead. Was she psychic? Could she see me smoking pot?
Around the counter the hallway ended with a unisex bathroom on one side and the hotel stairwell on the other. Mrs. Angrywall was in a perfect spot to stop extra people from sneaking up into the rooms. But the real problem was renting out rooms in the first place. Business seemed terrible. The California kids rented entire houses for the summer and they could squeeze a lot of extra friends and strangers in without some hindu stopping them.
Mr. Angrywall was tall and thin, or maybe he only looked thin because his skin was so dark. He was closer to black than O’Keefe was and his black hair and eyebrows were somehow even darker than his skin.
The first time I saw him up close was when I was on my way out of the office lobby, trying to slip by as fast as I could from the gaze of Mrs. Angrywall. In my anxiety to get out, I nearly walked into him.
Suddenly I was looking into a photo-negative of my face. He was wearing thick paint-splattered jeans and a Van Halen t-shirt. Mr. Angrywall’s hair was pulled back by the elastic strap to the plastic goggles pushed to the top of his head. There was sawdust on his shoulders. His soft white eyes seemed to smile.
“Hey, what are you up to, buddy?” he said.
“You’re the new guy working with Howard?”
I was holding the door open for Mr. Angrywall, but it didn’t look like he was coming in anytime soon. I let it go and it slowly slid closed behind me, making a high-pitched scraping sound.
“You’re from this town, right?” he asked.
He gave a small laugh.
“You can call me ‘Sam,’” he said. “You got a name?”
“Sean,” I said, and offered a hand.
“So nice to meet you,” he said. His hand was powerful for its size. He must’ve owned a large section of the playground.
“Where are you from?” I asked him.
“That’s kind of a trick question. I was born in India, but I came over to the States pretty young. My dad got a job teaching science at Rutgers and then sent for my mom and me. You know, the funny thing is my parents have both gone back to India. I like it here, though. When people ask where I’m from, I can say, ‘Newark’ or ‘New Delhi.’ They’re both true.”
“But you’re really from India.”
He got a funny look in his eyes and smiled a little more.
“I was born there but I wasn’t really conscious yet. I was two when I left. My mind didn’t really develop until I was planted in the fertile soil of the New Jersey educational system. My body’s from India, but my head’s from Jersey.”
“That sounds like a horror movie.”
“It is, buddy, it is,” he said, looking over my shoulder at Mrs. Angrywall in the office. “Say, buddy, I won’t hold you up any longer. Let’s talk again!” Mr. Angrywall patted my shoulder like the principal used to after he had a restrained yelling session at me.
I nodded and walked to the burger stand. I heard the office door scrape shut.
One day I had a bad burger and I had to use the stall in the hotel badly. Problem was, the toilet decided to stop flushing. I took off the tank cover, but I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t just leave the bathroom like that. I had to ask Mrs. Angrywall for a plunger.
“Mrs. Angrywall, do you have a plunger I could borrow? You know what that is, right?” I made a motion with both hands that a hamster could understand.
“I know what a plunger is,” snapped Mrs. Angrywall. Her English accent made her words feel even meaner, sounding like a pissed-off Mary Poppins. “Just go, I’ll take care of it.”
“No, please. I have to clean up my own mess.”
“This is my hotel. It’s my job.”
“But it’s so disgusting, Mrs. Angrywall. . .”
We looked at each other and laughed. It was the first time I had seen her even smile and it was the first time I really laughed since I got out of jail.
“Fine, fine,” she said, “you clean it up.” She got up and bent down under the counter and rooted around. After a minute she gave me the plunger and I was about to leave.
“Hey, Sean, take this plastic bag,” she said. “For the wet end when you carry it around. When you’re done, can you put it on the roof to dry out?”
“Okay,” I said.
I had a harder time than I had expected and worked up a sweat in that hot, small and smelly bathroom. I finally got the whole mess to gurgle down. I left the bathroom and pushed open the stairwell door. It had rained the night before and the steps smelled like hastily poured concrete, which described most of the newer buildings in Shore Points.
When gambling became legal in Atlantic City, the tourism industry jumped all over the Jersey Shore in the late 1970s. Hotels and resort areas sprung up all over. Even in the crabgrass-and-sand neighborhoods of Shore Points. It was a major part of my family’s story. My father was part of an all-Irish construction crew and my mother was the part-Irish American secretary for the company.
I got past the third floor and unhooked the bar on the door to the roof. It looked like a big gravel patio. There was nothing up there except a little table with a retractable umbrella in the center. There were two dirty plastic chairs that went with the table. I took the plunger out of the bag, dropped it by the door and went over to the umbrella.
The crank was a little tough, but I got the umbrella to open up. There were a few holes, but nothing major. I sat down in the shade and drummed my fingers on the table. I could see the beach, the ocean and people wriggling through their daily lives. This, I thought, would be a great place to smoke pot.
It would be a lot safer than smoking at home. O’Keefe could just kick the door in, fists ready to fly, like a Blaxploitation movie poster come to life. He’d never find me on the roof.
I tried it the next day. I could feel the warmth and the coolness of the breeze. I saw light and darkness glitter over the water. I felt relaxed and yet focused. I looked at the black, smoky crust on the joint I was holding and thought, This is who I am.
When the buzz had worn off, I put my feet up on the table, feeling completely satisfied.
Then my cell phone rang.
“Sean, I happened to be in the area, so I dropped by the Contis’ hamburger stand but the guy told me you were on a break.” O’Keefe’s voice was pleasantly menacing, like the bill collectors who used to call for my father.
“I’m up on the boardwalk, I’m in a bathroom on the pier. A bad hamburger caught up to me,” I said.
“Are you high?” he asked.
“What’s the speed of light?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ha! See, if you tried to come up with something, I’d know you were high. Anyway, stay straight. You never know when I’m going to swing by.”
“Sure. Be glad to see you,” I said, ending the call. Then, feeling a little irritated at myself and O’Keefe, I decided to save his number to the phone’s directory. It might be funny to call his cell once in a while.
I crossed my arms and looked out at the ocean. Streaks of white clouds stretched out with the ocean and met at the thick dark line of the horizon.
I wondered what I’d be doing in the off-season. The Contis couldn’t keep the hamburger stand open through the cold months and I needed money to buy winter clothes and a coat. I looked down at my pointy bare ankles in basketball shoes. I needed socks, too.
But there were more important things to worry about now, like staying one step ahead of O’Keefe while smoking enough pot to make working with Howard tolerable so I could finish this fucking probation.
(We’re about a quarter of the way through. Part 6 next week.)