ONE MAN’S TREASURE
By Andrew Paul Grell
“He is some hunk, Arielle. If he went in for an emergency hunkiotomy today, he would come out tomorrow still hunkier than anyone in, say, Mamaroneck. That’s what you like, Ari, isn’t it? The good-looking guys? You’re 31, girlfriend. Your days of being a six or better are dwindling down to a precious few. Go for the guy in the A. Testoni shoes. That man has a job where he gets paid.” The friends were having a reunion lunch at the Temps Perdu, their old hangout, after both had returned home from assignments in the European Union. Both were glad to see that the fish and moose were still mounted over the fireplace, which happily had not been replaced with a heat exchanger. The dozens of etchings of boys carrying open baskets of baked goods would never stand to be altered in any way.
“Oh, sure. Remember Mr. Antonier from Earth Science? What shape is the Earth, Martina? Say it…”
“Alright, alright. Oblate spheroid. And getting paid? That just means that when I’m 37, he’ll have more than enough money to get a fresh, brandie-new 28 year-old. No. I want a real relationship, mutual interests, disparate tastes we can teach each other, progressive and involved but not an actual tree-hugger. Someone you can take out in public. Pina Coladas. Walks in the rain. A guy who does something important. What is that thing he’s wearing around his neck?”
“Not sure. From here it looks like a tiny garbage can. You know the drill, Ari. Face me, undo one button, knock something off the table. Three, two, one, go!” The only thing unbreakable and unstabable on the table was the napkin Martina had used to normalize her lipstick. In the space between maximum cleavage and the formerly starched and virginally immaculate napkin parachuting onto the ambergris-colored jute carpeting, Hunk beat out the waiter to retrieve Madam’s dropped item. Naturally, he handed the linen victim to Tom, commander of tables four, five, and six, and wiggled his fingers in a manner clearly indicating that Tom should provide a new serviette tout suite. Martina quickly switched roles to Arielle’s wingman, running interference for her friend.
“We were admiring your bling, sir. Is it really a little trash can? And why is ‘WASTE’ spelled with periods between the letters? May I?”
“Of course, young lady. You wouldn’t think the New York Department of Sanitation would have a museum, or that said museum would have a gift shop. The museum curator had these commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Pynchon’s V, which features a cameo role for DSNY. The periods between the letters are for another of Pynchon’s books, The Crying of Lot 49, which contains the secret of why the closer the address to which you mail something, the longer it takes to get there.” Hunk’s sight line transited, perpendicular, port to starboard, Arielle’s now almost demure cleavage line. “Is your table setting sufficiently in order, Ma’am?” With his left hand he presented the W.A.S.T.E. receptacle to curious Martina and offered his right hand to Arielle in greeting. "Marshal Proud, Iona House, New Rochelle, at your service.”
“Marshal Proud, is it servicing you think I’m in need of? Arielle Friedman. My dad owned five houses, The Bronx.”
“That’s very good, I haven’t heard that one before,” Marshall white-lied. I’ve got to see a man about a dog. Here’s my card. If you’re ever interested in insuring anything, give me a ring. I don’t sell policies, but I know which ones are best for anyone in a particular situation. Ladies, I bid you enjoyment for the remainder of your repast and the remains of your day.”
“He gave me his number. That’s a switch. How do I play this, Marti? And what was the bit about the dog?”
“I remember that from when I was interning for the Dictionary of Regional English. Antiquated southern expression, it means he had to pinch a loaf. Maybe he fell in. At least you have the card. Let’s see it, kiddo.” Arielle reluctantly handed it over. “Senior VP and Chief Actuary, Hellespont Bottomry Bonds and General Insurance. Wait. I’m googling this. Alright. Says here, a senior actuary pulls in about $700K. Now that is a guy who gets paid. Forget I suggested the shoe guy. But.”
“But what, you vacillator?”
“The little trash can he was wearing around had actual trash in it. A Doublemint gum wrapper. A crumpled receipt. An empty vape pod. Who would do that?”
“Where was the receipt from?”
“Couldn’t tell, but definitely not CVS. One of those babies would have need five little trash cans. Play it the normal way but inverted. Spend three days looking for anything you might want to insure, your life, the stuff in your loft, disability. You’re making big bucks at graphic web design, but you know, at any point that could get taken over by A.I. Insurance has been around for three thousand years. So call him in three days and see what’s what. Plan?"
# # #
“Miss Arielle, so nice of you to come. Sorry you had to take the subway. I tried booking a glass coach but apparently the King of Sweden has the last one. Get ready for a love bomb, Ari. May I call you Ari? Kindly allow me to introduce you to Shulamit.” Proud turned around a corner of the office; Arielle heard some thumping, whining and metal scraping. Suddenly she was inundated by a lap full of White Lab. She gave a good scratch to the vertebrae two superior to the dog’s tail, the spot that dogs can’t reach to scratch. Shulamit returned the favor with a face lick; her tongue was like butter. Then she jumped down and rolled over for the real test, the belly rub, which Ari thought the dog gave her an A+ grade.”
“What’s wrong with her foot?”
“You know how they still have these signs about curbing your dog, even though you’re already required to pick up their poop? Not a good idea for lower Manhattan. A car backed over her paw. Her owner is a friend of mine, but absolutely couldn’t handle the rehab, and on top of that, he just found out he was being rotated to The Hague. It was better for everybody if I just took her in. So I did.”
“Wow. My friend had you pegged all wrong. You in fact were going to see a man about a dog. Not going to the men’s room. And this is why you recommended wearing sweats.”
“Sometimes euphemisms are literal. Ready for our ‘date’?”
“Ready like Freddy, Marshall. Can I hold her leash?”
“Sure, just make sure her bad foot is on the inboard side. At first it won’t be easy to fall into a cadence with her, but if she likes you, the two of you will work it out. And what’s not to like?” The trio left the mysterious warrens of the John Street insurance Cabal and strolled through City Hall Park, where Shulamit determined that the best place to poop was the base of the statue of Nathan Hale. Marshall had a bag out and opened before Arielle could figure out the dispenser on Shulamit’s leash. In a matter of seconds, the $700K+ actuary had the poop in the bag, tied it up with a Turk’s head knot, and tossed a three-point shot into a Parks & Recreation trash can; old enough to be almost identical to the souvenir Marhall wore around his neck.
“He is eternally at his post and on his mission to remind us of the price of liberty and the value of sacrifice.” Arielle scrounged around looking for a hint of irony or a scrap of humor, perhaps even a pun or a double entendre. She came up empty; her date had delivered the line straight. Marshall led them through the PATH station at the new Freedom Tower for a look at the Oculus, the only award-winning hole in a ceiling. “I like the new tower. The old ones never really fit in. Now, we have the Woolworth Building, the Freedom Tower, The Empire State, and The Chrysler Building, all of a piece.
“I was downtown the day of, but on the east side. Some of the techier of us got together with portable power packs and boosted GSM transceivers to port out people’s data in case the worst wasn’t over. Like everybody else, I gained 15 pounds and started smoking again, just like everyone else. No cancer yet. Let me show you something.” Arielle reflexively cracked wise with her canned response to a line like that: Whatever you got, mister, I don’t wanna see.
“C’mon, you’ll either like the majesty of it or it’ll scare the shit out of you.” He took them around to a spot, not officially open to the public, where the “bathtub” could be observed.
“They consulted me on the insurance for the reconstruction of the station. You can see traces of the cracking in the rock due to the freezing of Hudson River water leaking through the rocks. Ever been to Israel? That’s how Masada was built, successive winter freezings of water poured into the cracked rocks. Only in this case, we want that to not happen. ‘Scuse me.” Marshall let out an explosive sneeze into a magically appearing tissue, followed up by a series of honking nose-blows. The last blast took the tissue with it, landing about yards along the station platform. He went after it, and Shulamit went after him, with only Arielle to keep her from a second tragic accident.
“Marshall, let it go.” He did not, rather, he dove for it and nabbed it while it buffeted in the station cross-winds.
“That was weird. Why not let it go?”
“They took the trash cans out of the terminal; this is still a high security area. Nobody wants a track fire. And besides, there’s a large security presence here, if they have nothing to do, they can write littering tickets”
“What about your little Thomas Pynchon can?”
“No fluids allowed in that.”
“Still. It was only a tissue.”
“You saw the mess on Park Row, on Center Street, the tourist detritus at the Brooklyn Bridge foot path entrance. The more trash on the street, the more people can relax about just tossing stuff to the winds.” Arielle certainly couldn’t argue with that; she was a New Yorker and not quite a neat-freak, but kind of close. She decided to deny the signs she was seeing.
“Here we are. The Vestry Street Tribeca dog run, hippest dog park in New York. Large dog section, small dog section. Agility and interactional equipment mounted permanently. Airlock-style entrances. Year round water. Slatless benches. A park an insurance guy could love.” Arielle unclipped the leash and Shulie made the rounds of the dogs already there. Only two dogs tried to take advantage of the crippled pup; most of the rest exchanged butt-sniffs and kisses with her. She was able to wrestle with her bad paw but couldn’t do the running around in circles thing or the jumping to catch the ball. The pair retreated to a bench to let the dog feel her way into the new environment. They could see other doggie parents approving of a hip and happy dog couple. Shulamit started a game of “doggie football,” which was more psychology than athletics. Marshall was thinking of kissing his companion and opened a tin of mints. The little anti-desiccant pack blew away. Marshall sprinted toward it as it landed next to a pile of unscooped poop. He pulled out a pair of nitrile gloves from a hidden cargo pocket in his pants and retrieved the litter. Arielle was right behind him.
“Okay, Mister Proud. What’s going on?”
“Those little packets could be poison; they clearly say ‘DO NOT EAT’ On them. Denial was making a valiant attempt at a rally but wasn’t getting much traction. When Marshall dropped her off at home, Arielle called Marti right away.
“He’s perfect. He’s 46, straight, single, good looking, rich. But he has this weird thing about garbage. Or litter. Garbage is inside, litter is outside, right? Litter. That’s what he’s weird about.”
“You’re unraveling, Ari. Sit down. Take some deep breaths. Do you think he might be dangerous?”
“To himself, maybe. He almost got hit by a 6 Train when he dropped his Metro North schedule and it was headed for the tracks.”
“One week. Don’t call him, don’t answer his calls, don’t acknowledge his voicemails or texts. I’ll be inspecting your phone logs, young lady. Permanent grounding for you if you break protocol.” Marshall stopped calling and texting after day three. Arielle decided she missed the dog and was wavering on answering if her eccentric potential boyfriend called. The logjam was broken by messenger at the end of the week of radio silence. He bore flowers, chocolate, an 8x10 glossy of the dog, and a dinner invitation to Iona House actually carved in stone. How could she resist?
# # #
“So, young lady. What did you think of my friends?”
“The dentist was hysterical. I had heard most of the jokes before, but she told them so well. And I never met a Biff before, that was pretty cool. I didn’t go in for Greek life when I was in school. Interesting to see a frat boy up close.”
“Drum roll, please… Have you thought about my proposal?”
“I have. I enjoyed our, umm, desert, shall we say. I would likely enjoy it again. And again. And I’d be happy to see you anytime as long as it’s indoors. For the sakes of your safety and my sanity. I’d also love to hear some background. I asked a shrink I know about it, and he told me there were germaphobes, OCD neat freaks, people terrified of losing things, but nothing in the literature about fear of littering. Any background?”
“You’ll think it’s silly.”
“Try me. I’ll only think it’s silly if it is silly.”
“You asked for it. It’s my New Years resolution. Over the years, I’ve done the resolution thing four times. Smoking, cursing, junk food, recycling. Each of those years I crapped out and had a rough time for the next twelve months. Years without resolutions were generally pretty good. I just wanted to see if I could actually keep a simple resolution.”
“Yes. Littering. Should be simple, but we see that it can be complicated. With you around, I’m a bit more careful to avoid things blowing away. Especially around trains and dogs.” That was Shulamit’s cue; she got up from the foot of the bed and gave them each a little lick. “So, will you accept my invitation to be my New Year’s date? Every year, Bottomry & General books the top floor of the Times Square Red Lion for the big-wigs. We can see the ball drop and not get groped or peed on.”
“Mr. Proud, I would be overjoyed and enchanted to be your companion.”
# # #
It was twelve minutes to midnight. The happy couple went to a matinee of Stomp, a show they both secretly wanted to see but were embarrassed to admit. Fourteen feet from the exit to the Uber, no disasters. Dinner at Sardi’s, then the final Uber.
“I made this for you. Old hobby of mine from my virgin days.” She handed him a little gift shopping bag.
“Oh, my gosh, this is the cutest thing I ever saw. Is this what I think it is? An origami adding machine? That is just way too thoughtful.”
“It doesn’t actually add anything, but when you pull the arm down, the digits change. Best I could do.”
“It’s wonderful! I will treasure this forever!” Forever might have been limited to fifteen seconds; while Marshall was pulling out an extra cash tip for the driver, the gift bag got loose and would up in the 8th Avenue bike lane. It would be seen as litter and likely to be run over by one of the many pedicabs in the priority reservation before Marshal could retrieve it. But from across the street, a cyclist dismounted and rescued the gift.
“Thank you so much, I can’t believe you risked Manhattan traffic to pick that up. It’s a gift from a person very special to me.”
“I had to do it, chief. It was my last year’s resolution. If I see that something’s been lost, I do my best to get it to the rightful owner. Never crapped out on a resolution, didn’t want to start now. Happy New Year to you, chief!”
Two Franklins had gotten the concierge to look after the dog until their return and sneak her up to the room. The three of them watched the ball drop; they kissed, belly-rubbed, and howled at the fireworks, although who was doing what was not clear. Shulamit took up her station at the bed’s foot, watching over the human’s hopes for a fabulous new year.