Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The Negotiator: The orange digits on the cell-phone scurried past three in the morning sometime during the last glass of whiskey. The bar is nearly empty, and smells of a rainy night in New York City. There haven’t been many drinkers in here tonight, and there are only a handful left now. There’s the Australian couple—he’s wearing an ugly baseball hat to cover an extreme form of male pattern hair loss and she’s too pretty for him by half. There’s Andy, who like cartoons, especially Cowboy Bebop and the Big O, a cartoon that takes place in a New York City where everybody lost their memories forty years ago. It always ends in a giant robot fight. A tall girl, a bit awkward in a short skirt and heels leans against juke box. There’s the bartender, who is telling racist jokes but intentionally confusing which race of people is the butt of the joke. This makes the jokes not funny at all. There’s the bouncer, who is asleep on a stool against the back wall. Two lonely drinkers nurse their Rheingolds at the far end of the bar.

Andy hasn’t had a television since he moved to New York a year ago. He doesn’t mind except for the Comedy Channel and the Cartoon Network.

“The mythology of the Big O, that’s what’s so impressive. It’s a city, this city, where everyone lost their memory forty years ago in some unknown cataclysm. The main character, called Roger the Negotiator lives in an abandonned bank. Nothing exists outside the city, supposedly. It’s the last outpost of civilization, but somehow foreigners keep showing up,” he says.

The rain has mostly stopped but the streets still shine, like sweat on a post-coital belly or tears fallen on a bare shoulder. Rainwater gathered in puddles makes little black patches reflecting the starless night.

“Keep an eye on my drink,” I say to Andy. I don’t really need another cigarette but something about this time of night makes it seem like a good idea. There’s no wind, and no one on the street. Two blocks down I can see a group of small, dark men gathered in the light of a bodega window, drinking beer and laughing.

“Hey. Got a light?” The girl in the short skirt has stepped outside just behind me. I hold out the purple Bic and toss the flint with my thumb. “A gentleman should look a lady in the eye when he lights her cigarette,” she says.

Her eyes are brown and flecked with gold. The whites cracked with red. She’d be pretty enough if she wasn’t tired. Or hungry. Or fiending for something stronger than a Marlboro Red.

“Can I ask you a question?” she says.

“You can ask.”

“I’m pretty hot, right? How much would you pay to sleep with me?”

“It depends.”

“On what?”

“Would I be drunk?”

“I don’t think so. You seem fine.”

“No, I mean would I be drunk?”

“Uhm, no?”

“Why not? Why wouldn’t I be drunk? Would there be something wrong with me?”


“Would I be on medication that doesn’t mix well with booze? Because you know, usually even when they say you shouldn’t drink--especially when they say that--it usually means that you're going to get amazingly high. So why wouldn’t I be drunk? What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing. I don’t get it. Nothing’s wrong with you.”

“Well, if nothing's wrong with me then I’m not paying to sleep with you. Thanks anyway.”

“I think maybe you are drunk.”

She’s right. I am. I walk off in the direction of the bodega. It’s time to get some sleep. I wonder how long Andy will stand vigil over the last bits of ice and whiskey in my glass.