Volume 5: DISAPPEARANCE

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Andrew H. Banecker, "Capital"

Andrew H. Banecker

Capital

For twelve dollars, you can buy a Cambodian boy for an hour.

He’d learned this a few months ago while watching a Dateline special on sex tourism. Never had it seemed applicable to any facet of his existence until tonight, when Steve Herman watched his date order her third martini. After the second, he’d asked the waitress to bring him the drink menu. Not, as he’d said at the time, so that he could peruse the various offerings unique to the Cracked Mirror—his Coors Light still taking up most of the glass—but so he could view the damage done to his bank account.

For twelve dollars, you can buy a bottle of Australian Chiraz, and still have enough for an impulse buy at the counter.

He’d had his reservations about the place the minute his date brought it up on the phone. “I read about it in The Nashville Scene,” she said. “It looks swanky.”

Furthering his suspicion was its location—in the Hillsboro Village section of town, between $40,000-a-year schools, Belmont and Vanderbilt. He’d pegged Lori—or was it Lauren. Laura?—for the kind of girl you’d have to impress, but that was based solely on her looks. She was impossibly gorgeous, sipping a vodka tonic—bought by a winking kid with a sparse goatee indicative of a fake ID expensive enough to convince the bouncer—through the stirring straw, and wincing at the taste. When she’d pushed the drink away, the kid took offense.

When she pushed the kid away, Steve intervened. That was how he got her number. He’d just come from an unfortunate interview with The Tennessean for a job in the mail room, and was wearing a suit bought from the Men’s Wearhouse that resembled the navy Hugo Boss, striped vertically with a subtle, almost undetectable light blue his father owned. That was how he got her number. Her friends were in the bathroom. That was how he got her number.

For twelve dollars, you can hire a band of migrant workers to till your land until daybreak.

He’d borrowed his father’s car to pick her up. A ’98 Honda Accord, though with the V6 leather package. His father had recently had it waxed, and the interior detailed, so it smelled of artificial new car smell and Armor-All. There was more than enough gas in the tank to get where he needed to go.

For twelve dollars, you can feed a small African village through a Christian charity.

He was wearing the same suit, but with a different tie—a black silk his father was given from a Dali museum in Roma. On the back, stitched into the tag, read, “St. Georges et le Dragon. Image d’une sculpture de Salvador Dali.” An hour before he left, he stood in front of the mirror, reciting that line, careful to remember the proper inflection on each word from the time he’d heard his father say it to an associate. He imagined his date remarking on the intricate stitch work, capturing the featureless saint, on horseback, lance in hand. He imagined her peering closer, seeing the inlaid soft watches and melting clocks hidden between the statues. He would tell her The Persistence of Memory is his favorite painting. She would peer closer.

For twelve dollars, you could buy one eighth of that tie.

She ordered first. A Rose Martini. The very name confused Steve, but he assumed it was named after the owner, or something unique to the bartender—she looked too young to be a Rose, but you never knew. He hardly looked like a Steve. More of a Chris, or Ben. His date began to talk about classes. She went to Belmont for their program in music business. “I’m hoping to get an internship with Sony or BMG this summer,” she said. “But it’s so competitive.”

Steve nodded and smiled. He made a mental picture of the necklace she was wearing—a simple gold chain with a diamond in gold setting, serving as a weighted plum bob splitting the symmetry of her breasts. As she brushed a few strands away from his vision, he made sure to look up into her eyes before enough time had passed to force an accusation of leering. “It’s my grandmother’s engagement ring,” she said. “My mother had it made into a necklace.”

Steve smiled. “It suits you.” Steve immediately regretted his choice of words, but once they were out there, he could do nothing but wait for a response. It suits you? What kind of a thing is that to say to a date? That sounds like something his Uncle Murray would say to him while trying on pants as a child. Something his Great Aunt Rita would tell him if he’d been complaining about a hair cut that was slightly too short for his liking. It suits you? Regardless, it looked as if Lori—Steve was pretty sure that was her name—hadn’t even heard him. Her gaze distracted by the triangular glass being walked to the table—a slightly pink liquid with something floating in it. A single rose, no stem.

For twelve dollars, you can see a five-year-old eat an equal number of worms at recess.

“Isn’t this just to die for?” she said. She took a small sip, draining nearly a third of the glass. She winced slightly at the taste, and coughed after she’d swallowed, just as she’d done with the vodka tonic on the night they met. This time she didn’t push the drink away.

Steve glanced around the periphery of his table, and suddenly felt underdressed. Sure, his suit resembled his father’s Hugo Boss, but it was picked off a clearance rack and tailored by a man who probably felt his obvious comb-over made him look ten years younger. The only thing he had that came close to Italian craftsmanship was purchased at a museum gift shop by his Great Aunt Rita while she was with her church group on a day tour of Rome. And he’d had to borrow it from his father. He had no business being in a martini bar like this. Or any martini bar, for that matter. He was Steve Herman, son of a Murfreesboro accountant. His degree came from Middle Tennessee State University.

For twelve dollars, you can buy a degree from Middle Tennessee State University.

He began to sweat. Not the attractive musk a man gets from chopping wood. No, it was the nervous type, the type that bleeds through clothes. The type that forms on his nose and forces him into the unenviable quagmire of letting it fall off the tip, or wiping it with the sleeve of his jacket. Steve excused himself to the restroom.

“What are you doing here?” he whispered to his reflection, softly enough so the bathroom attendant wouldn’t be alerted. He took a breath to gather himself in, but in an instant was flush with questions. Why did you think you could handle this night? This girl? You’ve been out of school for six months, and you can’t even get mail room work? What kind of drink has a rose floating in it? What kind of bar has a bathroom attendant? Why did you think you could impress her with a gift shop tie and clearance rack suit bought from a man who squinted like he was suffering from a slowly detaching retina?

The bathroom attendant asked him if he needed a towel, or some cologne. He called Steve, “Sir.” Realizing he’d have to tip the man if he accepted, Steve mumbled something incoherent, and rushed out of the bathroom.

For twelve dollars, you can use the bathroom six times and not feel bad about how much you tip.

Looking at the drink menu, Steve had to refrain himself from letting loose a stream of obscenities that would make a longshoreman blush. His vocal chords obeyed. His eyes, however, were stuck on the price list, unable to move from the number directly to the right of the words: Rose Martini.

For twelve dollars, Your Highness can buy two ounces of pink grapefruit juice, one ounce of vodka, and a mother fucking rose floating on the whole damned thing.

“Steve?” his date said, momentarily wrenching his eyes from the page. “Do you want one?”

Steve’s eyes were drawn to something else. A fluorescent blue drink with a green glow stick for a stirrer. That bitch. In the bathroom not two minutes, and Little Miss Princess over there’s ordering another God-damned drink!

“You’ve got to try this,” she said, raising her glass toward the waitress and motioning for two.

For twelve dollars, you can buy a Cambodian boy for an hour.

For twelve more, you can hunt him for sport.

As he drove his date back to her apartment in silence, Steve had to use all the resolve he had not to steer his car into every tree they passed. Who is she to order four martinis and not even think about reaching for the check? Little Miss Wonderful is going into the music business. Well la tee da. Look at her, looking out the window and smiling like an idiot. Thinks she’s better than everyone because she goes to martini bars, wears heirlooms turned into necklaces, and pushes away perfectly good guys who offer to buy her a drink just because it makes her gag? Well, what makes her so special? Who is she that she can turn guys upside down and shake out their wallets over frou frou drinks with God-damned roses in them. What the hell has she got that’s so—

“Would you like to come in?” she said.

“Sure.”

For fifty-seven dollars and seventy-seven cents—plus tip—you can buy a Rose Martini, three Electric Blue Lemonade Martinis, and one Coors Light.
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