I had no idea my meeting Ann Nowak would happen so soon. I could imagine a hypothetical situation where we connected but the move from wishful thinking to real planning was a happy surprise.
I had watched the interview last night, up until the part when she said she was looking for a partner. I was tired and wanted to save the rest of the show for when I was fully awake the next day. I remember thinking that my turning it off right then was also an aesthetic choice. She talked about about being picky and not wanting to connect with people who were incompatible. If I watched further, she might have described a person like me. As long as I did not have evidence to the contrary, I could not assume so.
My rest was relaxing and peaceful. I did not suffer from the effects of a sour aching stomach which usually plagued me every day at home. I was used to it and drank Vodka in the afternoon, listening to music while my cousin watched movies on television. If I had not drank alcohol, my stomach would probably have ached less but I needed an outlet for escape. Janet was a nice person but her interests were centered on a specific movie actor, of whom she watched at least three or four of his films every day. When she was not watching a movie, she was listening to top forty hits that made me cringe. For a person like me whose tastes in music were classical like Dmitri Shostakovich or jazzy like Anthony Braxton, teenyboppers with single letters like T or numbers like 2 as first or last names did not appeal to me. As much as she would have liked to shed her Goldman image, she was a part of a clan that wallowed in artificial things. My way of distancing myself from it was by drinking Vodka.
Janet was not a fan of the type of food I ate. Fish and chips were my favorite, with vinegar as a dipping sauce. She did not like vinegar. She did not like mustard on her hot dogs or onions in salad or cayenne pepper on fried chicken, all things I loved. She could handle sweet honey barbecue sauce on ribs and mayonnaise was fine on tuna salad so we had a meeting of the minds with those foods. She did not know how to cook. She could put sliced pieces of ham and cheese between two pieces of bread and serve it as long as everything was in front of her with no wrapping needed to be opened. I made the meals. I did my best with the bland itinerary. That could have also caused my sour stomach because there was not enough of the type of ingredients that made for healthy intestinal flora. One could assume that a mild meal was a healthy meal but, taken to the Goldman family extreme, it caused illness and obesity.
I felt like I was the one guest at a party who was served the second-rate leftovers while everyone else had the top-notch fare. Before I took my friend’s advice and reunited with the Goldmans, the women who flirted with me were an assorted lot, some good looking and others not as much; but after I met up with family, the majority of women who flirted with me were not my type.
When I found out that William arranged for me to meet with Ann, I could not help but feel gratitude for his picking me up from my muck and putting me where a lot of lucky people go.
I had woke up around nine o’clock in the morning. When I went in the dining room, Georgette smiled and said, “Hello, sleepyhead. Breakfast is ready if you’d like some.”
We had scrambled eggs and cheese, two slices of ham each, pieces of cut-up banana and a glass of orange juice. The view from the window was nice, reminding me of life in Marin County when I was a kid. What if I could go back to that type of experience and consider the last fifteen years as a side trip that I barely remembered?
As I ate the last of my breakfast, William said, “I talked to someone this morning.”
I nodded. “Anyone I know?”
“Ann Nowak. I told her you were reading Energy Mirrors and, before I could lay it on thick and make you out to be this dazzling celebrity, she asked if she could meet you. Here’s her number. She’d like you to call her as soon as possible.” He handed me a piece of paper.
“Should I call her?”
“Well, I think you should call her first and then, if that doesn’t go as planned, I think you should call her.”
“What should I say?”
I was nervous. That was a natural reflex whenever I was about to be involved in situations I liked. A bad situation seemed more like business as usual but a happy situation was less familiar and I was less prepared to handle it. “What I mean is, how do I introduce myself? Will she know it’s me?”
“She said she is eagerly awaiting your call and she hopes you call soon because she’s waiting right now by the phone.”
I nodded and went to the phone. I dialed the number. After the first ring, she said, “Hello. I hope this is Phillip.”
“Yes, it is. You’re Ann Nowak, right?”
“I am. Would you want to take a walk with me this morning? I’d really like to connect.”
“Okay. Right now, I still haven’t finished waking up or getting dressed yet. It’ll take me about a half hour to charge my batteries so I can be my regular self.”
“I understand. How about you can call me again when you’re ready to connect? I can give you the address to my place.”
“Sounds good. If my voice seems nervous, it’s because… I don’t have a great excuse. I just sound nervous.”
“Nervous means you’re alive. I wouldn’t want to meet someone who was a dead lump.”
“Oh, shucks. I was going to ask my dead lump to join us. I guess I won’t now, ha ha.”
“That’s funny. You sound cute.”
“Thanks. You do, too.”
“Awesome. Please hurry. I feel you are already here and I want your body to catch up to the feelings.”
“Okay. Call you soon.”
I hung up and ran in the guest room. I was not sure what she would wear but I wanted to show her I was conscious of appearances. I saw two examples only of how she dressed. William told me she was consistent in her appearance. I assumed that whatever she had on would be for my benefit. She would put on something before I arrived. I picked a blue button shirt and black jeans with the sleeves buttoned because, though I liked the rolled-up and pushed-up sleeve look on women, I thought that it was strange on men. I would not do something that seemed not right for me. I did tuck in my shirt because Ann would probably think I looked sexy wearing it.
If she had been a Goldman, she would consider an old moth-eaten muumuu to be dressy, as opposed to loose faded sweat clothes with stains on them. The contents of half a dinner would clinging on the front of the shirt. Paul had a whole closet full of clean impeccable business suits which would have made him look professional but he was afraid to try them on because they no longer fit him and he wanted to avoid them ripping. He wore sweatpants with large gaping holes in the front and he never wore underwear. Sometimes he went on his errands with no shirt on and cockroaches crawling all over his stomach. He would walk in the middle of the street, to avoid bumping into anybody on the sidewalk, so cars had to swerve to avoid him. When I visited them, I did the opposite of what I would do with Ann. I made sure to wear clothes that would not get ruined by the dirt and dust in their apartments. I would dress the opposite of good. I would make sure to pick things that had a few stains so I could indirectly say there was no way I would look spiffy for them. They did not even notice. They would compliment me and say I looked great.
The amount of time I took getting ready was ten minutes. To me, even as little as fifteen minutes would be rude to a woman like her who was not just any person but an author and not just any author but a good looking female author who was eager to meet me. I thought I felt a little bit of what she meant about my energy because I was feeling hers, also. Perhaps we were sharing a psychic connection.
When I called her back, the conversation was short. I told her I was on my way and she gave me her address. She lived merely eight blocks away from Georgette. If I had been in Antioch, I would have been walking a half hour. New York’s blocks were shorter so I doubt I walked longer than ten minutes.
Her place looked quaint and classy, like a kind of parody on its own seriousness. There were a few steps leading up to a porch. The other houses did not have porches. Just that little bit of difference made it stand out in a way that one would have to see to believe but was otherwise congruent with the surroundings, as if the neighborhood’s rules were one house per block had to be the noticeable one and hers volunteered. I knocked on the door. An older man answered. He was wearing a tuxedo. He said, “Hello, Mr. Kauffman. Miss Nowak is inside. Please come in.”
“Thank you.” Inside, her house reminded me of the type of modern-day home seen in an art movie, where the main character is psychologically screwed up and about to have a fit but everything around him is elegant, causing a contrast between the person and the architecture. Ann in no way looked like she had a problem. She walked towards me with her hand extended, wearing a pin-striped white button shirt, tucked into dark blue jeans with a white belt. Her sleeves were rolled up like a business person’s. She was very sexy, especially with her hand out and an expression on her face like she had been planning this handshake all day. She said, “Hi, Phillip. I’m looking forward to talking with you.”
I walked towards her and she shook my hand. Instead of letting go, she kept shaking. Her grip was not extremely firm but it was exact. I knew she wanted me to continue holding on until she decided to stop. As far as I was concerned, the longer the better. I felt not only her hand but her stories as well.
“So, how do you like your stay in New York so far?”
“I think it’s magical. I was here ten years ago and I still have great memories and I’m glad I’m back.”
“Yes. New York is great. Where do you live?”
She nodded. “I was there once. I think the area was Piedmont Avenue. I was invited to hear a friend speak at UC Berkeley and my friend lived in Piedmont. I would like to go there again.”
“Piedmont is a pleasant street, a little more upscale than the rest of Oakland. I live more in the downtown area by 14th Street and Broadway.”
“Okay. So that’s where I’ll be going, by 14th Street and Broadway.”
“It’s more like the rest of Oakland. I’m not saying it’s spectacular or anything. But it’s okay.”
“But if you live there then that’s where I’m going.”
“You mean, when you visit again?”
“Yes, when you leave at the end of the week.”
I was not sure if she was joking but I had trouble thinking she was serious. She sounded like an old grandfather in a movie, telling his grandson, “You stick with me, kiddo. I shine the shoes, you tap dance for the customers and someone will discover us. We’ll be rich and famous. Bigger than Mr. Rockefeller.”
She looked at me as if she was waiting for my response. I did not know what to say. Her handshake was still going. I felt like she was using it to inform me that what I agreed to do with her was something in which I could not stop. Finally, she raised her eyebrow as if she was wondering why I did not speak so I said, “There’s only one ticket. I don’t have another one for you.”
She shrugged and smiled. “Okay. Then, maybe something else can be worked out. Would you like to sit down with me?”
She walked, pulling me with her. The room was white and so was the couch, in contrast to the rest of the house with walls like silver and black marble. We sat down. She said, “William tells me you write stories too. Is there a place where I could find them?”
“There’s a few in some small periodicals but none are big name publications. Most don’t even qualify to be included on the list for the Pushcart Prize. But I might have one or two back home. When I go back, I can make copies and send them to you.”
“That’s possible. You could also tell me about some of them.”
Suddenly, I was nervous because my stories were about subjects that were too close to this situation for me to want to mention. I said, “I can tell you more later but for now they’re about people meeting.”
“Okay. Now I know. It is not as though that’s a common subject, people meeting. It’s just as unusual as stories about fathers and sons. You don’t have to hide. I want you to expose yourself. Tell me about your stories.”
“I’d probably feel less nervous pulling down my pants and exposing myself that way than telling you about the stories.”
“Okay. Do that.”
“I was just actually making a point. I don’t think I could really pull down my pants right now.”
“Then tell me about your story. Any story. You read some of my stories. I have not had the same privilege to read yours. Please tell me at least a little bit.”
“Well, if I tell you what I usually write about you might not know what to think.”
“That’s what’s happening right now. I’ll know more how to think after you tell me.”
I shook my head. Enough was enough. I would just say what I would say and let her deal with it. “I write stories about women who meet men and they shake hands and the women keep shaking and don’t let go.”
She nodded. “Does this story have a name?”
“One is called Awkward Partners. It’s about a business man on a vacation with his family and they need to get gas for the car. They’re in a really remote area next to a highway which has miles and miles of nothing. The man gets gas and then goes inside the station to pay for the gas. The old woman keeps telling him he looks like that old star Burt Newman. He does not want to correct her because he wants to get out of there. Something about the place seems too weird. However, right before he leaves he has to use the bathroom. He gets the key to the bathroom and uses it. When he comes out, a younger woman is standing there and says, ‘You can give it to me.’ He gives her the key and she extends her hand and thanks him. He shakes her hand and she grips very tight and will not let go. He tries to let go but she keeps holding on, laughing like she now has the voice of the old woman. The old woman says, “Missie, do your thing! She’s a good partner there, yes mister!” His family is outside, honking the horn of the car impatiently. His wife screams, “Let’s go!” He tries frantically to pry his hand out of Missie’s but she just laughs viciously and keeps on shaking and that’s how it ends.”
“That’s beautiful. Now, why wouldn’t you want to tell me that?”
“Maybe because you’re shaking my hand for a long time.”
“I don’t see why I would be bothered by that story idea.”
“I also describe Missie as wearing a white button shirt and black slacks and her shirt is tucked in. I like how women look in tucked in shirts so most of my stories have the good looking women wearing them.”
“Does that bother you?”
“Nothing about you bothers me.” She put her other hand on top of my hand that she was still holding and rubbed the back of my hand. “People get so nervous about connecting. People need to attach themselves to others more.”
“Kind of like how you’re attaching yourself to me, ha ha. A little joke.”
“You don’t have to be nervous.”
Suddenly, the butler came in the room. “Peter is here to see you.”
She shrugged. “Fine.”
A tall young man wearing a loose black T-shirt and blue jeans, with curly brown hair and glasses, walked in. He pointed to a watch on his hand but did not say anything. He was straight faced.
She said, “Peter, meet my guest. This is Phillip.”
Peter said, “The time…” He sounded impatient.
She smiled. “Thank you. Is that all?”
He rolled his eyes and sighed but did not answer.
I figured there was something going on that I did not want to be in. I said, “I can come back later.”
She said, “Stay.”
“No. I really think I should go.”
Peter said, “I would.”
Ann frowned. “Hey!”
Peter looked at her as if to ask, “What?”
I got up from the couch. Ann was still holding my hand with both of hers. I said, “Please let go.”
She said, “No. You let go first.”
“I don’t want to be a jerk. That’s why I want you to let go first.”
Peter folded his arms. “You don’t want me involved.”
To him, I said, “I apologize if I did anything to offend you.”
Peter said, “You just saved yourself.”
Ann said, “Oh, come on now. You weren’t going to follow him and do something?”
He shrugged. “Good idea.”
Ann looked frightened. “Oh, come on, don’t hurt him!”
Peter smiled mischievously.
I pulled free. I thought she would keep me from letting go but that did not happen. Peter’s calm and cool stance of menace freaked me out. I walked out without saying anything. The butler nodded sadly.
As I walked, I looked back for a split second as if to give my final acknowledgment at least to the building. Peter was standing outside by the doorway. He took a picture of me with his cell phone.