PART IV – The Falling
CHAPTER TWENTY: Tom’s Restaurant – Morningside Heights
I was watching Tommy at the table, scribbling something on the top piece of a stack of wrinkled papers. Beside him was a closed telephone book. Kate watched him too, through the window from a safe distance across the street. Tommy was becoming increasingly harder to differentiate from the rest of the city’s crazies, Hobolicious, Gwyneth Paltrow and the like. On the tabletop sat a brown banana peel and a coffee cup that was currently being used as a receptacle for his writing instruments. Whether or not there was still any coffee in the cup was unknown, but nothing would have surprised Kate at that point.
Tommy had no idea that she was observing him.
She decided the best thing to do would be to enter the restaurant, rather than spy on her best friend from afar any longer. Tommy paid no attention to the ringing bells of the front door. Kate sat down across from him, yet still kept as much distance as she could. When Kate got out of the cab the night before, she caught Tommy crying in the back seat. He wasn’t bawling like a baby; he was wiping wet eyes with his sleeve while trying his best to shield himself with the pilfered toilet seat. Jesse didn’t seem to notice, but it had bothered Kate all night.
“What are you working on, Tommy?” she asked carefully.
“Check this out,” he said, sliding the papers across the table not concerned at all when some of them flew away from the pile. The top sheet had nothing but a list of women’s names on it, some of which Kate recognized, but most of them she didn’t. “I’ve spent the morning compiling a chronological list of every girlfriend I’ve had since moving to New York.” He drew an invisible line with his finger, from the top of the page to the bottom. “It starts at Mince Wilson and goes all the way down to Rachel Ponzini.”
Kate pushed the papers back to Tommy. It was astounding to think how Tommy could actually recall all of the information he was presenting; Kate didn’t realize he’d had such a copious number of girlfriends over the years. “I’m sorry I asked. Because now I have to ask: why the hell are you doing this Tommy?”
“I’m not really sure yet,” he said. He leaned back in the booth and scratched his head as if only just realizing the mess he was making. “I thought this might be useful. Like it might help me try and remember the person I used to be. The person I really am. I actually thought it might be cathartic.”
“Sounds like the emergence of a spectacular mid-life crisis to me,” Kate said. She signaled the waitress, making the universal hand sign for coffee: a hand in a claw shape, and slightly twisting it at the wrist. “Honestly though, I figured I’d have beaten you to it.”
“Me too.” Tommy opened the phone book beside him. The coffee shop’s dusty tome was quite a few years old, and it sat at the front on the cashier’s table, barely used by anyone anymore. Flipping through a couple hundred pages, Tommy stopped and jotted a number and address down beside one of the names on his list. “You ever wonder why there’s no email book? You know, like a phone book but with email addresses instead.”
“It’s probably because that would be a horrible idea,” Kate responded bluntly.
In record time, the waitress arrived with a fresh cup of coffee. She almost topped up Tommy’s cup before noticing it was full of pencils. She joked, “Should I bring you another cup or just some more crayons?”
“Just the coffee, thanks.” Tommy replied, wondering when the coffee shop waitresses started getting so snarky. He glared at her as she approached another booth with her coffee pot. “What would be so horrible about an email book?” he finally asked Kate.
“Oh, I don’t know. Would you be happy if just about anyone in this city could email you?”
“I already get emails from people I don’t know. And you know what I do? I delete them. I’d much rather get email spam that I can delete than have to answer phone calls from people I don’t want to talk to.” Tommy flipped through another handful of pages in the directory until he found the next name on his list. “I tell you,” he said, jotting the number down. “People take their emails far too seriously.”
“You might have a point there, Tommy.” Kate recalled one of the last conversations she had with Dwayne Reamer. The Did-You-Get-My-Email conversation. Having gone from working in an office for eight years to a week of sitting home alone with nothing but her computer, some wine and the occasional cheeseburger was a fairly drastic change. When Kate left Pendulum a week before, she hadn’t said another word to Dwayne. But there was something about the mail room temp that Kate found herself really missing at the oddest of times. She couldn’t recall ever missing Gene no matter how long she went without seeing her husband. “Gene wasn’t home when I got in last night. I was already asleep when he finally showed up. He didn’t tell me where he was, and I never asked him.”
“Did he smell like a Jersey City hooker?”
“No. I think I did though.”
Tommy sniffed in her direction. “I think you still do.”
She managed a smile. ”It would be so much easier if I could just bust him though, don’t you think? Then we could just end the whole damn thing.”
Tommy mused. “Relationships seem to be so much harder to end than they are to start. Why is that?”
Kate thought the answer was obvious. “It’s probably got something to do with having actual human emotions Tommy.”
“Yeah, probably.” Tommy sat back and thought for a moment. He flicked his tooth with a fingernail while he deliberated, just like Rachel used to do. “Do you know that I can remember absolutely every place I’ve had a relationship end, yet I can’t remember where any of those relationships began?”
Kate shook her head, in an effort to try and find some common ground. “Nobody really knows where relationships begin Tommy. It’s all about that first kiss. That’s what we remember.”
“Well, that’s just what I mean Kate.”
“You don’t remember the kiss?”
Tommy sat back, arms crossed. His answer was obvious.
“Come on. Where did you and Rachel have your first kiss?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Tommy! It was just a couple of years ago!”
“Three can be a couple, can’t it?”
“Three’s not a couple Kate. Two’s a couple. That’s the definition of a couple.”
“No, no. I’ve always been told a couple is two or three.”
“Well, you’ve been horribly misinformed.”
“I really think you’re wrong.”
“Right. Well the next time I ask to borrow a couple of hundred dollar bills, I’ll be sure to expect a little extra for my trouble.” Tommy suggested.
“Since when do you ever need money from me?”
“It was just a hypothetical example, Kate. How the hell did this discussion get off me? The point I was about to make was: how come I can recall where my relationships ended but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you why?”
“Maybe you should consider asking some of your ex-girlfriends?” Mockingly, Kate pointed at the list of phone numbers in front of Tommy. “I’m sure they would be happy to jog your memory.”
“Right. I know Keekee Kaufman would be extremely anxious to answer that phone call,” he snickered. But Tommy thought about the possibility for a few seconds longer. “That’d be a real High Fidelity moment though, wouldn’t it?”
“Pffft. The movie of course. I love a good book, but when a movie gets something right it’s gold.” Tommy mulled over many of the Top-Five lists he and his friends had come up with over the years. There had been some really good ones. “Maybe I should talk to them?” He looked down at the names in front of him. “Yeah, you know what? I should give these girls a call!”
“No, Tommy. You definitely shouldn’t.”
“What? But you just said—“
“If you knew anything at all about women, you’d know I was kidding.”
“Well, I’d like to think I’m capable of doing anything John Cusack can do.”
“Trust me, you’re not.” It was obvious Kate wasn’t going to change her stance on the matter. Sure, maybe the idea had just come to him, but Tommy thought it was still much better than any other one he’d had in the last couple of weeks. It wasn’t spiteful or based on revenge or born out of fear; it was simply along the lines of self-discovery. If alcoholics and over-eaters and sex addicts can have their own laid out steps to recovery, why couldn’t Tommy? Still, Kate could see the wheels turning inside his head and she wished they would just come to a stop. “Please don’t do it Tommy. You’ll only end up hurting yourself more.”
“That’s the idea, isn’t it?” Heartache is always followed by a little additional pain, like it comes free of charge. It’s all part of the human condition. Tommy was never one to dwell on failed relationships, but he didn’t mind the supplemental aching that came with them. Tommy’s Top-Five songs to listen to after a breakup (in no particular order) were:
- Sunday Night by Buffalo Tom
- A Long December by The Counting Crows
- Say Hello, Wave Goodbye by Jools Holland
- After Laughter (Comes Tears) by Wendy Rene
- Come Pick Me Up by Ryan Adams
“So how come you’re not writing today?” he asked Kate.
“It’s the whole Gene mess.”
“What happened to the easy comfort you had, or whatever it was you called it?”
“Obviously I was lying,” she admitted.
“For the record, I didn’t believe you for a second. I doubt Jesse did either, and we all know he’s the worst liar in New York.”
“I was thinking of following Gene on his lunch break.”
“What? When? Today?”
“Yeah. I figured I just need to hang around outside his office when he leaves and then I’ll see where he goes. It might help make my decision easier.”
Tommy snorted. He couldn’t believe the audacity Kate had sometimes. He joked, “What are you going to do, wear some big dark glasses and a trench coat and hide behind a newspaper?” She didn’t answer with words, but Tommy could tell that his facetious summation was exactly what Kate had planned. “God, that is so cliché!” he blurted. “Do you want to borrow my trench coat or did you already stop by the Spy Store?”
“I’ve been hiding a trench coat in the back of my closet for years,” Kate confessed. “Just in case.”
Tommy shook his head in disbelief. “I know you’re probably going to tell me I don’t know anything about women, but I’m going to ask anyway: Why would you hide a trench coat for the off-chance that you’d need it to spy on your husband? That is so fucked up.”
“Well I can’t wear a coat Gene would recognize.”
“You don’t know anything about men, do you? Trust me, Gene’s not keeping track of those kinds of things. He’s got no idea what your coat collection looks like. Now, your underwear on the other hand…”
“What about it?”
“Men can always know their women’s underwear options. Heck, they even know the options other women have. But trench coats? Forget about it.”
“Okay fine. But, if I can just catch Gene in the middle of something incriminating then I’d finally have a solid reason for leaving him.”
“You already have a reason: the guy’s a weird loser with a crazy-ass mustache! AND you don’t love him! Isn’t that enough?”
“I know but -” Kate looked out the window and saw Patrick on the other side of 112th Street. He was on his phone and seemed particularly distressed about something. Patrick noticed both Tommy and Kate in the window, and held up a single finger, letting them know he’d be inside in another minute.
The two of them turned to one another. Kate was worried that they were about to get busted for breaking into Titanic Utilities the night before. Did she touch anything? Did she drop something accidentally? Were there video cameras? Oh god, they never even looked for cameras, did they?
“I feel kind of stupid now for breaking into the warehouse,” Tommy uttered. “Partly because we never did find anything of importance, but mostly because I can’t believe I let myself get so carried away.”
“You should probably tell Patrick that.”
“Are you kidding? I’m not saying anything to him! If I did I’d probably have to give back the HyGenieSeat-3000. We installed it in Jesse’s bathroom last night. It’s fucking awesome!” Because of the fire, Tommy had spent the rest of the night at Jesse’s apartment. Earlier that morning, the fire department had given the okay to the tenants of Tommy’s building, and they would all be moving back in that afternoon.
“As awesome as a toilet seat can be, you mean?” Kate pontificated.
Patrick did not seem to be getting anywhere with whomever he was talking to. He leaned up against a tree and a clump of snow fell from its branch onto his shoulder. He didn’t even bother to brush it off.
Kate asked, “Where is Jesse anyway?”
“I think he was going into Brooklyn today to visit Edie. He didn’t really want to talk about it, so we didn’t. He was still on his bed psyching himself up when I left.”
Finally, Patrick entered. He had his choice of seat, and decided upon sitting next to Kate. She feared it was so he wouldn’t have to look at her, angry because of what she’d done. Tommy was just happy he didn’t have to move his coat and bag from the empty seat beside him. Before Patrick returned to New York, Tommy never had to move his things for anyone.
“Hey Patrick,” Kate squeezed the words out almost against her will. “Where’s Sheldon?”
“You guys are not going to believe this. My warehouse was broken into last night. That was Jules on the phone just now; he gave a report to the police.”
Both Tommy and Kate just sat, waiting for the other shoe to fall.
“I’ve got to go over there today and assess any damages.” He slammed his fist down on the table hard enough for everything to jump, the napkin dispenser, the salt and pepper and sugar, even Tommy’s mug of pencils. “Seriously though, we only set that place up a couple of weeks ago. That’s some shitty luck.”
“Who would even want to steal a toilet seat?” Kate asked Patrick but stared directly at Tommy. Tommy gathered his pencils and paper, stuffed them all into his SpongeBob bag and threw on his coat and scarf. “Where are you going Tommy?”
“I can’t just sit here all morning. I’ve got to go check on my apartment, and then I’m off to High-Fidelity my life.”
“You’re going to do what?” Patrick had never read the book, seen the movie or even heard any such a reference before. It was embarrassingly astounding how many things Patrick had never experienced in his life, how much he had absolutely no clue about. He didn’t know who Dustin Hoffman was. He thought India was somewhere in Africa. He couldn’t name one Major League Baseball team. And purely by chance, he had never actually seen a picture of the Mona Lisa. Not even once in his entire life.
“Don’t listen to Tommy,” Kate advised. “He had a rough night.”
Tommy dropped some money on the table for his meal and said goodbye to the two of them.
“Hold on Tommy,” Patrick started. “Before you go, I wanted to ask the both of you something.”
Tommy muttered under his breath, “Uh oh…”
“Uh oh? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What did you want to ask, Patrick?” Kate was quick to add.
“I just thought that we should all go out tomorrow night. Jesse too. Aside from sitting in this coffee shop we haven’t spent any meaningful time together since I came back. I thought it would be nice.”
Tommy didn’t want to make a flimsy excuse, but what was really so wrong with his coffee shop anyway? It was where he felt safest. “Tomorrow’s Halloween though,” he said. “All the crazies are going to be out there.”
“Didn’t we used to be those crazy ones? Weren’t we once running around drunk in New York and screaming at all the uptight people? Come on guys, it’d be fun. How about the Temple Bar at eight o’clock?”
Their first evening in New York was spent at the Temple Bar in NoHo. The four of them showed their fake Seattle ID’s and they all got in. It was a fantastic night, celebrating their newfound independence until getting kicked out at three in the morning. Jesse assumed the reason they were standing on the sidewalk was because somebody had finally found out about the ID’s. Not realizing it was simply closing time, Jesse yelled drunkenly at the bar staff. He had assumed Manhattan bars never closed.
“I don’t know…” Tommy wavered.
“Come on. We should all wear costumes too,” Patrick suggested. “What do you say, guys?”
Tommy looked over to the woman at the front cash, as if she could possibly help him out with the decision. She just shrugged and continued to count the money in the register. The framed picture of Cosmo Kramer seemed to nod, as if saying everything would be okay. “Fine,” Tommy finally said. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow night.” Tommy exited out onto Broadway with his pile of paperwork, scratching his head and trying to decide which direction to head first.
Patrick turned to Kate, now that it was just the two of them. “Why does Tommy keep acting like that? He’s been so indifferent and obstinate ever since I came back.”
“I think he just misses you,” Kate said without really even thinking about it.
“Yeah. I guess so.” Uninterested, Patrick flipped through the menu a few times before realizing he didn’t want anything to eat. He sat as far back in his seat as he could, and huffed, “Now where the hell am I going to find a costume for tomorrow?”
Kate stirred her coffee slowly, not really for any reason. “This is New York,” she said. “You can have whatever you want whenever you want it.”
“Do you really believe that?” Patrick asked.
“I do,” she said. “If you stick around long enough this time you’ll see it’s true.”
Patrick tried his best to not think about why he had ever left so many years ago.