short story 1

(c) 2007 Alexanderlorenz.com

Alex's body convulses lightly again, as if jerked by invisible marionette strings. It was the dry cough he had developed on the way to the airport.

"Well, this is frustrating," he casually thinks to himself. "Knowing my luck, this cough will last the entire week, as I interact with my clients, face to face."

In the waiting lounge , he settles into a seat, designed with perfunctorily spartan comfort in mind for the brief wait before unintelligible boarding announcements are barked muffledly over the PA system, the seat causes Alex to shift his position impatiently, in search of a soft spot. "None to be found," he mumbles to himself.

Cough.

Sojourners nearby shift uneasily in their seats, or move further away, in an effort to escape the perceived onslaught of germs.

The laptop cast a dull glow on his face, portraying him as even more erudite and animally magnetic than already perceived by his doting suitors - his chiseled features further made apparent by the gloomy refulgence of the LCD. He often uses the laptop as a way to avoid eye contact and unsolicited conversations from admiring female onlookers.

He raises his head reflexively to ponder word choice, noting to his chagrin that a mewling admirer was attempting to make eye contact. He shifted his gaze back to the laptop. "Dream on, woman," he growled, inaudibly, with a contemptuous smirk.

The tappity-clutter of his keyboard, when accommodating his stream of consciousness at full bore, occasionally offers up a complimentary syncopation with the "nyick, nyick, nyick" of the sticky-wheeled trail-behind baggage that passes by. He is distracted in mild amusement, but only for an instant; he dives back into his thoughts. His fingers blur furiously over the fatigued notebook keys.

"I just... got this notebook,,, in October," cursing quietly to himself, as he double-tapped the "L" key, "and already, the 'L' key is intermittently responding. How the hell could I be using the 'L' key so disproportionately higher than, say, 'E' or even 'S'?" The tappity-clutter, occasionally punctuated by a percussive slappity-BAP of the 'L' key causes nearby travelers to glance up distractedly from their "Family Circle" magazines and more mechanically-sound notebooks.

"Sorry," he grunts under his breath.

Racked by another dry cough, he watches his fingers collide clumsily against the keyboard. "This cough," he groans tacitly, "wwwwwhat am I going to do now..."

Mippity mippity, his keyboard replies stonily, as he taps his backspace key to correct the mistakes, brought on by his cough.

His fingers slow imperceptibly, as he thinks back to just what may have caused the cough. "Perhaps due to the prospect of going to LA, a town with a markedly poor reputation for drive-by shootings, road rage, and a generally recalcitrant sub-populace - healthily interspersed throughout the town?"

Tappity-clutter, his keyboard dejectedly rebuffs.

"Perhaps due to the fact that my 450 square-foot apartment is mystifyingly impossible to heat?"

Tappity-clutter, his keyboard insolently posits.

"Perhaps because I unintentionally inhaled coffee into my larynx on the way to the airport, spraying my bronchii with caffeine, over-stimulating my diaphragm?" he thought, with a raised eyebrow.

Tappity-clutter, his keyboard desultorily assents.

His fingers begin to cramp in protest. He leans in and taps even more intently on the keyboard, in an effort to focus again on his task. His mind wanders to impertinent thoughts - images, really - of how he will find a way to interact with his insipid clients. "Now, how am I expected to concentrate?" he implores his laptop.. The LCD stares back at him, impassively.

His lungs feel tight, as if wrapped in elastic bands. He is forced to sit up straight to fill the reticently sluggish lungs.

The battery level sinks slowly, as he delves back in. He notes, mildly perturbed, that his AC adapter is cozily ensconced between two cushions of the sofa back at his apartment. The exhaust fans of his notebook whir to life, helping to drown out squalling children, ancillary boarding announcements down the terminal, and disabled travelers' shuttles, operated by drivers, festooned with large wooden beads in their hair. Beads, perhaps, purloined from a bead curtain, welcoming wayward travelers into a grotty brothel, he mused with a wan, dejected smile.

The hum of the fans provides only temporary solace from the surrounding din... as the cough returns.

"Please save your data. Your battery power is critically low," the laptop mocked him with mute truculence.

"Sonofabitch... sonofabitch...," he coughs, shaking his head ruefully. "I'll grab a bottle of water during the layover in Houston," knowing this to be a consummate impossibility, as he absentmindedly recalls that there is no time at all for a layover in Houston. He already pictures himself, scurrying breathlessly through Bush IAH from Terminal D to Terminal A... twelve minutes to go... laptop bag, slapping in somber, drunken, asynchronous cadence against his left thigh, causing him to list diagonally down the slowly-moving sidewalk. He ground the butt of his hand into his eye in frustration. "Sonofabitch...."

"Put your change, keys and watch in the DOG BOWL!" the TSA agent barks at the queuing travelers. "Take off your shoes!" she bellows. "Remove your belt!" she screams.

Alex continues her vituperations aloud, "...and anything else you could use to hang yourself!" causing travelers nearby to snicker. "This feels more like prisoner intake, than anything else!" The TSA agent slowly turns her gaze to Alex, with upturned corners of her mouth. "You've been singled out for ENHANCED SCREENING, sweetheart."

"Be gentle," Alex says. "I bruise easily."

"Bruise, meet Bruce," she juts her chin to an ample-girthed gentleman, who cascades generously-drooping folds of flesh from every one of his oversized overhangs. Large, tortoise-rimmed eyeglasses, brown-tinted half-way up the lenses, sit toward the tip of his nose, due to the low-set ears on the side of his head.

"This man fits perfectly, the tropism for a typical pedophile," Alex muses nervously to himself, knowing that the agents have been screened for ideal, sociopathic tendencies, and trained for optimal officiousness and contempt.

Bruce flashes a fluorosis-encrusted smile, gestures him over with a double-flick of his blue-gloved index and middle fingers, then follows him with a hungry stare.

Alex clenches his teeth as the pot-bellied TSA agent caresses him below the belt, punctuating the examination with approving grunts and admiring falsetto-sighs. He resigns himself to the only alternative to subjecting himself to the known dangers of millimeter-wave technology, affectionately dubbed "Naked-body scanners."

"Your daddy must be really proud of you," Alex casually says with a mild look of insouciant disapproval, "seeing you affectionately cradle grown men's what-nots. You should have finished middle school." The closet-pederast quietly slumps his shoulders in defeated acceptance, and signals with a dispirited wave of his arm that the groping session has ended.

Alex absently pulls his pants back on, and heads to his terminal.

The boarding announcement, to the uninitiated ear, resembles, "mwa mwa... mwa mwaba mwa," redolent of condescending admonitions from Charlie Brown's schoolteacher. To Alex, however, in his element when amidst sketchy vernaculars and obscure patois, understands without hesitation, that it is time to board the flight for LA.

Jaw set in determination, he heads toward the plane on the deserted tarmac, he shields his eyes from the buffeting gulf winds. His summer wool pants ripple desperately, as if throttled by an unseen force. "Had airplane engines ever sounded this shrill before?" he asks himself, imagining his skull about to crack open, from the noise. The click-clack of his Bostonian cap-toes is drowned out by the whine of the engines. The collar of his windbreaker snaps sharply against his neck in a blurring tabla rhythm, flicking out hybrid, post-colonial Karnatak staccatos, often heard in Wembley desi dance clubs.

The red strobe from the underwing markers cast a stark glow on his face. The unforgiving strap of his laptop bag, black and sharp-edged, slowly chafes its course down his shoulder, ready to clatter to the floor. At the last moment, he shifts it from one shoulder to the other.

Gazing sullenly at the two moribund batteries, he resigns himself to spending the rest of his evening tweaking his post-Descartesian treatise on the socio-gender aspects of "Go Dog Go."

While people are still boarding and getting situated, he nestles uncomfortably in his cattle-class seat, between a father and daughter. The mother of daughter emerges frequently from first class to talk animatedly with the daughter, only to return to her seat a couple of minutes later. Fellow passengers begin to notice with veiled curiosity and annoyance why the woman keeps returning from first class, sweeping the curtains aside, with great flourish.

Alex, continuously interrupted from his writing, beholds this spectacle several times, before speaking up in a beneficent, magnanimous tone.

"I certainly wouldn't want to be the one who separates you from your charming daughter..." he says, smiling at her. She leans in, intrigued at his lead-in.

"This is going to be a long, four-hour flight, and obviously you two have a LOT to talk about..." he continues, noting her growing eagerness.

For a final pluck at her heartstrings, he drops his quivering chin and gazes diagonally up at her, "I... I... I just COULDN'T look at myself in the mirror, having knowingly split up a beautiful family such as yours..."

She can hardly contain herself.

He sets the hook, "Why don't you and I switch seats?"

She inhales quickly, eyebrows arching, as if he were saving her life. "You'd do that?? For us??"

He closes his eyes, and shakes his head slowly in mock gravitas, "Ab..."

He alights from his cramped seat, extending his meaty hand to the mother, as if to flick her from shark-embroiled waters, and gestures her to his seat.

"...so...," he turns to her daughter, smiling,

"...LUTELY, ma'am. This is just the way I was brought up."

He strides up the aisle. Before reaching the curtain to the luxury beyond, he turns back, only to witness dozens of pairs of eyes, scowling enviously after him.

Sinking into the buttery-soft seat, he watches the stewardess approach, reading from the manifest. "Good evening, Mrs. Evelyn Greenblatt. Would you care for a glass of wine this evening?"

He smiles, as he pores into the last few pages of a Portuguese translation of Tragedy and Hope, "Bourdeaux, please."

He arrives at the hotel, a majestic white edifice, trimmed with blue patio lights, and curved balconies. The lobby is dotted with doe-eyed belles, all mutely staring at each other. Techno music permeates the space. He was warned in advance that this hotel is more than just a destination for weary travelers; it is a place to be seen by fellow "Ell-Ayans." He wades through the writhing throng, shoulders softly colliding, eyes averting at the less-than-subtly last moment.

The receptionist greets him with little more than an imperceptible jerk of his chin. Alex gazes past the immaculately unkempt lad, to the back panel behind the desk. He notes with passing amusement that it is a glass chamber in which a young woman is sleeping soundly, wearing little more than boxers and a camisole. The wall of the chamber is adorned with sexually suggestive excerpts from articles out of a back-issue of Cosmopolitan. Fragments of phrases, not-so-furtively intimating libidinous messages. "your first experience," he reads with mild amusement... "ever been with more than one," he recites with a wry grin... "her pleasure of..." he squints with a wan grimace... It isn't until his eyes scanned across the messages does he see the red message that overwrote the panel. "Let's talk about sex."

"The Standard Hotel," he rolls the name over his tongue, trying it on for size. I " like this hotel'" he reactes vacuously, "I'll have to ask my clients more about this place,"

After leaving his effects in the room upstairs, he settles into a comfortable chair in a quiet corner of the bustling lounge.

The pencil leaves hemispherically hexagonal impressions on his thumb, middle finger, and index finger, from the non-stop scribbling of his treatise. His fingers ache from fatigue.

As if weighted with leadshot, his eyelids rasp heavily against his retinas. A voluptuous yawn stretches across his face, causing the skin on his cheeks to itch. He scratches the stubble on his jowls. "Damn. Have to remember to shave tomorrow," he muttered, massaging blood back into his fingers. He strains to scrawl out another phrase, but his hand collapses in exhaustion. "Who would have known that literarily dissecting "Go Dog Go" would have been so mentally taxing?" he reflected. "So many layers..."

He reluctantly lays the pencil down, finally reflecting on the culmination of an entire evening's work. Only then does he note that the pages are stained and pockmarked by coffee, sweat, drool, and elbow impressions, weighed pensively by word choice.

He glances at his watch. "four ay emm," he reads to himself. The two-zone time difference, however, mercifully concedes him two hours. He adjusts his wristwatch. Regardless, returns to his all-white hotelroom. The dull sigh of traffic on Sunset down below crescendos to a caustic roar, as he slides the patio door open. The titter of laughter, intertwined with hostile honking and rev of engines meld to forge a soporific bond between the frantic night and Alex's depleted mind. His body resigns itself without resistance to the close of a day, as he oozes into the luxuriously soft bed. He surrenders to the call of sleep.

He rolls out of bed early the next morning, twenty seconds before the alarm clock angrily heralds the new day. He showers and dresses without a wasted movement. Scraping the razor across his face, he runs through the tasks for the day. "Manipulate CIO at 11am, force hand of IT director at 1:30pm, instill buyer's remorse in skeptical VP of technology at 3:00pm, sow seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt in UNIX system administrator at 5pm." He continues to strategize, "get director of operations sloshed at 7:30." He saunters to the window, overlooking the streaming traffic below. "All in a day's work," he smiled weakly.

He has three hours to burn, before the workday grinds to life.

He chooses to walk.

The hills of Hollywood beckon him, sultrily. He is drawn to the narrow, sinuous streets, known for their characteristic switchbacks and cantilevered houses, thrusting over sheer escarpments. His peripatetic venture yields explosive masses of bougainvillea, brilliant clusters of radiation lantana, bright specks of mexican heather, drooping trumpets of brugmansia, intoxicating sprays of jasmine, and views of the smoggy valley, gilded by a low-angled sun.

"Beautiful," he breathes.

He wanders into a house, still under construction. The immigrant laborers believe him to be the buyer, and afford him the utmost deference. "Only two million," he muses. The house is tastefully elegant, clinging precariously to the hillside. Arched doorways welcome the sun to wash in on the unfinished floors.

In immaculate Spanish, he gestures in frustration to the laborers that the long, winding stairway at the main entrance is situated at the wrong. side. of the room. The laborers nod sullenly and shuffle back to dismantle the stairs. He laughs quietly to himself, "Oh, the owner is going to love this."

Gazing out the front door, his eyes glaze over, as he notes that the house is located at the apex of two valleys that open up to the hazy city below.

"Lost track of time," he remarks without emotion. He walks back to the hotel.

His colleague is waiting out front, revving the engine of her '78 TVR 3000S, a reprehensible shade of mustard diarrhœa.

"Time to get to work."

They stream through the shuffling traffic, flitting from client site to client site, like a parched hummingbird. His brow furrows in frustration, as the clients yield effortlessly to his every solicitation. Active Directory migration projects are booked. Multi-million-dollar desktop refreshes are signed. Multi-thousand-unit server forklift-upgrades are executed. Seven-figure software brokerings flutter into his hands like Monopoly money.

"Alex," his obsequious clients mewl, "we're so glad you came! How much money can we spend with you today?"

He scoffs inaudibly through his nose in disgust. "Where's the challenge in this?" he wonders. "Where's the 'Don't call us, we'll call you' that I had been hearing about from my fellow colleagues?" he broods. "Where's the 'We won't be needing your services for the forseeable future.' that thwarts my cohorts' efforts?" He crumples the innumerable six- and seven-figure purchase orders, stuffing them exasperatedly into his suit pocket.

"Just ONCE, do I want to have to try," he inadvertently reflects out loud, interrupting a CTO in mid-sentence. The executive stares at him, frozen, mouth barely open, as if waiting for Alex's cue on how to proceed."

"I'm... sorry. Please continue," with your blithering blather, he signals with a repeated flicking of his hand to the trembling CTO.

They suspend the multiclient onslaught for lunch. The IT director of another faceless client stands waiting nervously outside of Hollywood's latest must-be-seen-at destination: Matsuhisa. Nobu's latest brainchild in a series of understated joints, Matsuhisa is as famous for its unobtrusive exterior, as it is for its meticulously crafted sushi.

Unhesitatingly, Alex orders the signature dishes, heralded by epicureans the world over. Bento box with tempura shrimp, creamy sashimi of abalone, snapper, and eel, caramelized blood cod ladled over with eel-free eel sauce, and seared ahi tuna. More crucially, though, was the gossamer uni sushi. Luxuriously creamy sea urchin, adorned with a nuttily ambrosial yolk of quail egg. Deftly, he flicks a roll into his gaping maw. Rather than biting down, he closes his mouth and raises the flat of his tongue, slowly squashing the composite morsel against the roof of his mouth, allowing the work of genius to disembogue sluggishly over the five impatiently-waiting gustatory regions of his tongue. So subtle. So multilayered. So many dimensions.

"Note... to... self...," he scribbles on a barnap, tuning out the IT director's pointless dronings . "First thing... monday morning... begin writing... 'Sea Urchin... Sushi... for Dummies.'" He lays the pen down, pensively. Eyes narrow to a thousand-yard stare, as he ponders the possibilities. "I could make a killing," he whispers.

The IT director continues to fidget in his seat, crossing and uncrossing his legs, making Alex uncomfortable. "I know he wants to hand me purchase orders right now, but can't he wait for the lunch bill, to start shoveling deals my way?" Alex bristles, silently apoplectic, "Can't he just eat in silence? This visit is not just about business..."

His colleague tears him out of his reverie with sharp jabs of her elbow. "Alex, that chick from E.R. is staring right at you." She points with her chin across the restaurant. "Go talk to her!"

His eyes roll in displeasure. "Why don't these celebs just respect my space, and leave me in peace?" he groans, turning away, cupping his temple and eyebrow. "Why can't I simply go out and enjoy a lunch in privacy?" He reflects on the encounters of the past two days. "Yesterday, a pregnant Heidi Klum at the airport, tugging at my carry-on bag. This morning, Anna Kournikova hissing invitingly at me from a balcony, as I walked the hills..." He taps a wasabi-stained chopstick on the table, annoyed. "What's next," he surmises, looking left and right, "Me'shell Ndegeocello grabbing my crotch at a Mappelthorpe exhibit at the Getty?" He begins to yearn for his relative obscurity in Austin. "There, everyone knows to leave me alone..."

Lunch ends with insolently limp handshakes and mechanical leave-beggings. They careen back into the remainder of the day. Caroming from lobby to waiting room to parking garage, he begins to feel drained. "Must... have... guava juice," he stammered, the corners of his mouth curled downward, like a sanguine daruma. The toes of his shoes scuff, scraping on the sidewalk as he musters the last vestiges of energy to stagger off to dinner with a final bevy of prostrating clients.

"Ago," a trendy destination off Sunset, attracts the upper echelon. The valet area is liberally dotted with Bentleys, Rolls, Ferraris, Maseratis, and most fittingly, Alex's colleague's rented Taurus.

He is not disappointed with this group of clients, he soon discovers. They are a younger crowd, late-ish mid-thirtysomething, full of energy and absolutely hilarious. Yes, he thinks, they are squarely and fanatically loyal to Alex's company, yet not disgustingly obsequious about it. They do, however, nearly cross the line, by unhaltingly begging him to join them on a Saturday night outing.

Conversation turns to music. Their eyes brighten as he validates their existence by agreeing that Bossa Nova is among the greatest music genres of the century. Their hands ball and unball enthusiastically, upon hearing him mention that Marcos Valle is among his favorite artists of the genre.

Candle-illumined flecks of spittle alight inadvertently from their lips as they boisterously and fervently exult at his assenting to join them Saturday evening.

His chin imperceptibly sinks toward his chest from exhaustion. He attempts to counter the sleepiness by forcing himself to re-engage in banal conversations around him.

This works. For a short while.

To gather his thoughts, he turns away from a conversation about the subtle intricacies of the latest episode of "Just Shoot Me."

He begins to feel sleepy.

Without warning, his chin slams into his supra-sternal notch, squashing his tongue between his teeth and jarring his eyes open. "I can't nod off like this," he chides himself. "Not here."

He rises slowly, pushing his chair back from under the table. The absence of teflon glides on the bottom of the chair creates a jarring scraping noise that halts the din of conversation throughout the restaurant. All heads turn silently in his direction.

Someone coughs.

A fork clatters to the floor.

The muted squawking of central Americans in the back of the restaurant stops in mid-sentence.

He surveys the room slowly, his eyes stopping upon each attentive, upturned face. He notices with disappointment that they are awaiting his next move. Eyes are wide and glassy. Mouths are frozen open in a glossy "O", bordering on panic and anticipation.

"I'm just going to make... a phone call," he struggles to say, masking his disgust.

Not a word.

"I'm not going anywhere. Really."

Shoulders relax in relief. Conversation returns in a gradual crescendo. He brushes past Oliver Stone, who attempts to elicit a high five. Alex merely responds with a quiet, stony stare - more borne of sad curiosity than outright pity. He leaves Oliver behind with his hand still raised, as if with a question,s waiting to be called upon.

"Celebs," he grated sharply.

He ducks out the back door, amid perplexed looks from the waitstaff.

Behind the restaurant. reamed limes, rancid aioli, and scraps of roasted pepper squelch underfoot, unnoticed.

He was determined to make it back to the hotel - a hotel where the staff and the clientele know not to stare or initiate unsolicited conversations.

"Ahhh... home," he sighs languidly, slipping into the welcomingly soft bed.

============000=============

He is wrenched away from the solace of sleep by the shrill alarm.

Another day blurs by. He wades hip-deep through obsequies of pusillanimous clients, indistinguishable from one to the next. The day is punctuated only once by a unique event; the CTO, chin quivering in enthusiasm, bursts through the conference room door, garishly adorned birthday cake perched in his canned ham-sized hand.

"Happy birthday, Alex."

Speechless and unmoving, Alex is caught off guard by the unexpected gesture.

The CTO coaxes the reluctant VP's into a warbly, dry version of "Happy Birthday to You." Alex's colleagues stare at him, nearly catatonic, as they had never witnessed such a spectacle on any customer visit.

Tears brim in his eyes. The superior turbinates in his maxillo-facial sinuses swell in protest. His throat clicks dryly as he swallows hard.

He is touched.

The sun sinks, splashing warm, rich hues across the western-facing buildings in Oxnard and Ventura. Alex notes that the pace of life is far slower here, than in LA proper. Strawberry fields blur by, beckoning him with a sweet, alluring aroma. The ragged edge of the Santa Monica mountains stand like a menacing barrier between him and the ocean.

They arrive at their final client visit. The entire IT staff that greets him is textbook, soy-boy effète geek. From the bad facial skin, to the worse taste in clothes, to pushing the glasses up the bridge of the nose with the tip of the index finger, to the maniacal, girlish laughs.

"These poor boys were clearly force-fed soy at a young age," he quietly laments.

The visit goes by with no emotional involvement from Alex. Detached, his mind wanders again, unbeknownst to his customers, who vainly attempt to interact with him animatedly. He flicks sidelong glances at his watch, begging for time to advance.

His brow arches sadly, crestfallen that he must also endure dinner with this group.

The clients, not known for their social skills or sense of restraint, order the MOST EXPENSIVE things on the menu.

The most expensive wines.

The most expensive desserts.

The most expensive grappa and aperitives.

Alex and his colleague slowly look at each other, confirming later that they were thinking the same thing:

"Casting pearls before swine," he mutters, with a cocked neck to his colleague. He gazes out at the rim of the mountains again, now resembling black construction paper, torn crudely across the grain - inky blackness, set with a backdrop of oily purples, pinks and oranges.

He hastens to bring the dinner to a close - not proving to be too difficult, since the entire IT team was outside, smoking. The Japanese have a saying, when it's time to break up the party, "Soro soro, " loosely translated as "allrightythen." Alex sees a window of opportunity and plays the card, "Gentlemen?"

Their eyes sink to the floor. They shuffle their feet. They understand.

He returns to the hotel and relaxes in the lobby with his notebook.

"Apparently proper decorum and common courtesy are not exhibited here," he growls in Spanish, as he casually waves away Kate del Castillo, yet another lithe-bodied Univision star, jostling for his attention. "Tipicamente, me confieren courtesía de la privacidad, mientras estoy de laptop abierto," he lectured after her.

He finishes another chapter - just in time, too, as his MTBY (mean time between yawn) decreases to an alarming three seconds. His jaw aches. His cheeks itch again. He accepts the bed's inviting entreaties.

He sleeps.

He had changed rooms the night before, for a balcony that faced the valley of lights and concrete below. The view was overwhelming. The next morning, however, leaves him dazzled. The sun washes in, slicing the sclerae of his dime-slotted eyes with fiery beams.

He lies with his eyes closed, waiting for his eyesight to return. In the meantime, he muses quietly at the reverse-image of optic capillaries tracing through the back of his eyes. Perhaps it is only the veins in his eyelid that he sees, but the details don't concern him. His bare body is drenched in warm sunlight. Warm convection waves rise from his abdomen, causing cause dust filaments to dance in mid-air, rising in miniature heat elevators and falling in cool columns, spiraling and wheeling in unpredictable paths. Several minutes pass, his eyes drinking in the aerial show, before it dawns on him that he can see again.

He steels his nerves and merges into the streaming multitudes in the garment district. Most of the shoppers are hispanic, while the merchants catering to them are overwhelmingly Persian. Alex's majestic stature looms over the shimmering mass of humanity, drawing prolonged glances of envy.

He manages to find a soccer shirt that fits him - no small feat, with his broad shoulders, and grossly overdeveloped chest. "Chivas?" the shop owner suggests. Alex admires the bold stripes of Guadalajara team's colors. "No? How about Grêmio?" Alex pauses on the blue black and white of the south Brazilian team. "No? How about this one?" Wide black and white stripes are waved in front of him, like an august standard. The single white star on black background. "BOTAFOGO," Alex whispers reverently.

A roll-behind carry-on case catches his eye. He snaps it up without a second glance.

He ducks out the door as the seasoned Persian bazaari crumbles in tears, after accepting Alex's cruel, low-balled price for the two items.

The blast of a delivery truck's horn yanks him out of his reverie. Alex is jostled and pummeled as the shoppers throng to the truck, clawing at the contents inside.

"Christmas shopping," he reflects.

For respite from the shoulders and elbows outside, Alex shoulders himself into a boutique on a side-street. A customer is arguing with the store owner, over the contents of a bag that he had returned with.

Alex darts through the aisles, in search for just the right shirt, while pinning one ear on the conversation in the front of the store.

"Where are you from?" the patron demands accusatorily of the store-owner.

"Mexico," he answers too quickly, pronouncing it "mack-see-koo." He directs the conversation back to the issue at hand.

Unfazed, the patron cocks his head in confusion.

Nothing strikes Alex as worth buying, so he heads for the door.

He throws a parting salutation to the owner, "Khod'afez."

"Khod'afez," the owner replies, reflexively. His eyes follow Alex quietly, embarrassed, knowing that he had been outed.

As he walks out the door, Alex juts his brow to the patron, "He's Iranian, by the way."

On the way back from downtown, he stops at Hollywood Boulevard and Western, epicenter of "Thai Town." Gazing at signs emblazoned with Thai script, Alex feels confused - an unfamiliar sensation for him. Noticing early on that Thai is a phonetically written language, he attempts to distinguish one letter from the next. He concedes that they resemble little more than "n" and "u" with an array of curley-cues and diacritical marks, at a vain attempt at differentiation.

He shrugs his shoulders dismissively and steps into "Palms," the highest-rated Thai restaurant in LA - rated by Thais for quality and authenticity.

He already knows what to order, but scans through the menu nonetheless. Roast quail with penang sauce. Duck soup with coconut milk and bean sprouts, pan-fried venison with basil and chillies.

"I'll take the northern sausage and the wild boar in green curry sauce."

The officious waitress asks in a thick, unmistakable Chiang-mai accent, "How spice you want it?"

"Medium," he replies.

The waitress eyes him with suspicion, "Maybe yoo get mild; medium too hot foh yoo!"

"Ma'am," he lowers his voice, looking up at her, "I come from Texas."

"Ah! Okay!" she nods understandingly, backing away. "He want spice!"

Alex fixes his gaze on the steaming pile of love, approaching from across the room, watching it as it is placed gingerly on his table - unaware of a rivulet of saliva, coursing down the right side of his athletic, well-defined chin. "You had me at ."

He crams a dripping wad into his yap, and instantly he is transfixed by inter-melded flavors of the steamed boar coupled with the capsaicin-impelled cocktail of endorphins and dopamine. The boar has a gravitational pull that he cannot resist; his gaping mouth careens in a lateral death-spiral toward every bite - his internal navigational instruments spinning with a shrill whine; his altimeter alarm beeping shrilly, as each fork-full encroaches his palate.

After a moment of pensive, reverent silence, he summons the apropos words to describe the flavor:

"fucking... AWESOME!" he groans, causing small children and glistening-gummed senior citizens nearby to shrink and sob quietly.

For years to come, Alex would try unsuccessfully to summon the memory of this experience - much as a dying man's synapses would still fire helplessly with blurred images of his past life, strobing through his waning consciousness.

============000=============

He reluctantly returns to the hotel, knowing though, that the evening is about to begin. He reclines by the pool, beer clutched in his talons, and begins another chapter on his treatise on "Go Dog Go."

He gets through three paragraphs before his phone intervenes sharply.

"This is Alex," he growls, annoyed at being pulled away from his project.

"Alex! This is Andy!" a Thai-accented client of his from the evening at Ago. Alex remembers him due to his sparing emplo of definitive articles. "We want to take you to dinner! There is awesome restaurant that you gotta try!"

"uh huh..." nothing more.

"It called Palms, in Thai Town, and yoo HAVE to try wild boar!"

"I just got back from there, and as a matter of fact, I had the boar," I replied.

Laughing, Andy asked, already knowing the answer, "How you like it?"

Alex, still unable to free himself from the groping tendrils of the memory, falls silent. His mind floods with tenderness and longing to reexperience the boar again.

Andy, uneasy with the hum of the silent telephone line, "Alex, yoo there?"

At risk of choking up on the phone, he croaks, "It was incredible, Andy."

Setting his writing aside, he asks, "Why don't we circle up after dinner? What's on the plate for this evening?" half expecting to be told about some bar, full of people so perfect to the point of being computer-generated.

"Alex," Andy pauses with emphasis, "Bossa Nova."

Suddenly, he is hungry again.

END.

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