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Posted on 2003-09-09 00:30:25 by Denver

They barely made the bus departure at Forsythe Street that morning.

They crossed the Delaware bridge in the sleeping hull of a Chinatown bus. A flickering kung fu film overhead. Sleep overtook them from the night before.

In philly they took tourist maps and notes from strangers.

He took a commuter train out to the suburb called Bala Cynwyd. There was a Philadelphia paper on the seat. The sports columnist wrote "saying tonight's game against the world champions is just another game is like saying a philly cheese steak is just a sandwich." His interview was at 2pm and he had an hour to kill and find the building. Giant office parks loomed in the distance. He stepped into a dive bar on the endlessly industrial City Avenue. The Bala Inn. Dark and smoky. He ordered lunch from the window in the back with the neon "eats" sign. A big lumbering black man, the cook, was chopping an onion and talking to a woman. He ordered a three dollar steak sandwich medium rare. The cook asked him if he knew what kind of sandwich he was ordering. 'Just cook it however you do it' he told the man, slightly embarrassed to be from out of town. No ketchup? No cheese?
"I'm on a diet," he lied.

"You're bothering me while I'm trying to watch my favorite show." The bartender said to an older black man. She poured the guy a small shot of Bacardi. Two old white guys sat at the other end of the rectangular bar and smoked and asked her to turn up the Chicago song on the jukebox. She flipped the channel from all my children to an English home improvement program.
He had an appointment at one of the office plazas in a half hour and no idea where it was. He ordered a bud and asked her for directions. The bartender told him she just got off a bus to come here to work and didn't know the area at all. She invited him to karaoke that night. A flab of stomach hanging out of her tight jeans. She asked the old white guys at the end of the bar. It's across the street, they said. He knew it wasn't across the street. He'd just been across the street.

Later, after his job interview, at the Independence Hall Tour in downtown Philadelphia, an interracial couple in jeans and Midwestern Mall sweaters spoke softy to each other as they walked in front of him. He had a middle aged handsome roofer's mustache with Lee jeans. They walked hand in hand from Old City Hall to the Independence Hall Building behind the gaggle of tourists and the tour guide. He imagined the roofer sticking his hands down his wife's JCPenny jeans and rubbing her dark brown, middle aged ass.
A balding park ranger in his fifties with a slight beer gut gave a straight monologue to the tour group about the history of the building and the documents produced inside. Standing in front of a painting of the Continental Congress he pointed out the famous characters depicted: Washington, Guvener Stevens, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison.

"Alexander Hamilton was a genius. On that everybody agreed. He could stand and make a speech for six hours and everyone would listen. They didn't agree with what he said but they all agreed he said it well."

The bartender at the City Tavern had mullato skin and dreads and long white socks pulled up to his knees and his colonial era knickers. He made shrub drinks with sweetened vinegar and captain morgans rum. His name was Jahid.
"You heard of Victor Wooten?" he asked and they hadn't. "Plays with bela fleck and the flecktones. The greatest bassist I've ever heard.. Except maybe jaco pastorius."

A Bach harpsichord fluttered in the distance. Alice flipped through the pages of the city tavern cookbook. Fruit flies buzzed around their drinks making him wonder if it was the city or the tavern or the room. They sat on wooden benches at a wooden table with gas light fixtures in an overpriced colonial era restaurant.
"George Washington had to make this brew to cheer up his troops." Said a man to his crew of golf shirt clad men grinning and drinking Thomas Jefferson porter around a wooden table in the booth behind them.

The young woman behind the counter had black wirey eyebrows and platinum hair. Her legs were crossed but you could see the tan hairless thighs.
They were having trouble selecting a play see that evening.
"I don't really want to see a film," he said.
"I don't want to see dance," Alice said.
He wanted her name. He wanted her to recommend a show. But it was too big of a festival and it wasn't a great selection that night.
She was pretty young, probably just out of college.
He wanted to ask her what she was doing selling tickets to the Fringe Festival, was she an artist herself? Was it a great theater community in this city? Was somebody already making her think about stage managing their next opus? He really needed a stage manager. He wanted to stand there for the next three hours and ask her about every fringe show she's seen, in Philadelphia, in her whole life. Until she asked him back to her apartment or to the fringe bar. Or she asked him to become a fringe volunteer. Or they were in each other's fringe.

They went to the Five Spot, walked upstairs into a low ceilinged lounge with red velvet and a wide cabaret stage. Sat at a cocktail table and ordered coronas and settled in for 90 minutes of theater about moliere. What followed: lots of Moliere-speak. At one point an actor said "You marry the future. You marry the possibilities." He got stuck on that line and floated off into marriages with Luise, with Lacy, with the woman at the fringe festival ticket booth. Alice scratched a note on the program lying on the table "Boo!".

Three young women sat on the curb smoking in long sleeve light blue shirts and khakis. Like a Gap ad. He crossed the street and asked them where they might find a convenience store.

They stood on Eight Street staring through the window at the School of Fine Art. The figure of a bulging nude woman standing and grasping the carcasses of dead cows in each hand. Like a Lucian Freud painting. Like a still life of a fat naked hunter with her game.
"Ugh" Alice said. "I don't like that painting."
He thought of the voluptuous nude portrait of Fred Feldhaus's mom painted by Fred's dad and very prominently placed over the Feldhaus dinner table.

They entered a nudie video store that sold beverages and magazines. The Eagles Game was on a television set somewhere. I waited at the counter until a grizzled old man with cigarette stained face emerged.
"You got any beer?"
"No. You can't get alcohol in a package store. Not in this state." He said.
"You can't?"
"Only place you get beer is a bar." And he looked away.
"How's the game?" I asked.
"It's scoreless. First quarter"
"They might take 'em huh?"
"Nah they ain't gonna take 'em." He snarled "The pigs."
He walked back down the counter behind the Nudie partition.

They walked up the stairs to Liquid Charm. Techno music thumped through the room - Long and littered with black leather couches and bar stools and old television sets. A black and white checkered floor clashed with purple neon light and mirrors and old refrigeration units and a circle of nerds playing a counter top video card game.
It was like a nerdy college kid's fantasy dorm room.
A kid in a blue knit cap with great flow rapped freestyle over the drum and bass-

Listen to my beat when I touch your world
Listen to my beat when I.giiiiirlll
Listen to my beat when I.Unfuuuurlll
He had good flow and I wanted him up in the mix. On a stage.

The Eagles-Bucs game played in the background. He leaned over to the bartender.
"How the eagles doin?" he asked.
"I dunno," he said, "I don't follow it. I'm from Boston anyway. Don't say it too loud cause some of these guys don't know."
The bartender wore a belt of used machine gun bullets, tattoos covered his forearms. Donvan McNabb got sacked for a twenty yard loss by a ferocious, swarming Tampa Bay lineman. The Eagles were losing. He tried to explain the game of football to Alice. She asked if he loved the sport and he lied and said no. Somebody walked in with piercings up and down their chin, lips and nose. It was hard to tell if it was a man or a woman.

The sign on the toilet of the Chinatown bus read

Very Important!
This restroom is.
Only to bused for "#1",
(urinating only)

Please!! Please!!

If you need to make
"number two",
the driver will gladly be of
service, and stop ASAP at
the closest restroom
On behalf of your fellow
Passengers, "Thank you!!!"

The woman in the short black hair had been one of the last to enter the bus, with a guy wearing a floppy green army hat. She had the wrong ticket and had to buy another one from the bus driver but smiled and said she could reuse the other one soon, probably on a weekly commute between philly and nyc. He tried to imagine her occupation. She sat across the aisle from her companion and they kept up a conversation for the entire drive back to Manhattan. She smiling and speaking in a low tone. Her back against the window. He leaning over into the aisle from his seat. It was easy to see who was chasing who. Dark curving eyebrows. He stared through the gaps in the seats and she never once turned back to look. He drank his yuenglings and made phone calls to Eppie, to Lacy, to Haley, to Christina, to his mother. He invited Lacy back to Chico for a wedding he was attending next month. Where will I stay? She asked. Good question. Not a problem, he told her. Then he called his mom to ask her if she could stay at the house, but really he wanted to know if he should have invited her back. was she going to cling to him at the myriad of social gatherings in Chico? He really wanted to spend time with his mother and his grandparents before they slipped into the old people home. On the other hand, they were fascinated with Lacy, his grandfather had even asked if he had slept with her the last time they had spoken. It would make them very happy to see them together, probably as close as they would ever come to meeting his wife and his brood of their grandkids.
Lacy's life in El Paso was as mundane as ever. Or at least her description. Ordering supplies for the CEO's impending arrival from San Francisco. Falling asleep with her new dog in front of the television. Making sure the landscapers were doing a good job on her recently purchased rental property.
"She can stay on the trundle bed." his mother said, with little enthusiasm. Like he had won a concession. It just reminded him that he was poor and couldn't afford a hotel room. Tried to imagine the wedding weekend. Dancing at night with his siblings at their friends until 4 in the morning. Making and eating dinner with his family. Visiting with his grandparents. Duffys happy hour. A business meeting with Motta and Dylan to go over the website. Lunch with McGinnis. Maybe visit with Colleen at her store. Walk in the park with Mom. Swimming at Bear Hole with Lacy. Try to see the new play at the Blue Room. And Gina's wedding. The reception. Almost like you had to schedule every hour of the 50 waking hours you had there.

He sipped his beer and peered at the black haired woman who reminded him of the photo of Cat Power over his bed. He wanted to blow softly across the bus on her face. Alice's head kept sliding off the seat in front of him and jerking back in troubled half sleep. It was after midnight. They were almost back in Manhattan.

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