Roast Beef Kazenzakis, Observed, December 2011.
As Told by C. Onstad.
The rain spat and drizzled without conviction as Roast Beef sat at his workstation. The sky was twenty percent gray and the window was open wide, letting the chilly evening air blow over his mouse hand. He liked it this way.
He checked a few math websites to make sure he still had his game about him, then felt the first stirrings of hunger. Molly wouldn’t be home until later; he considered a solo trip to get won ton soup. Maybe a cigarette if no one was watching. He fished around in the back of his desk drawer and found the old pack of Nat Shermans, which yielded a solitary cigarette of extremely high quality. He himself never spent nine dollars on luxury cigarettes; these had been left outside after a party at Ray’s. The second-to-last one had been smoked alone in the narrow space between the pool house and the neighbor’s fence; he’d immediately gone inside to wash his hands, brush his teeth, and gargle afterwards. Instead of drying with a wash cloth, he had used paper towels which he threw away in Ray’s trash can, along with his toothbrush. Molly had been staying overnight at a girlfriend’s house, watching Steel Magnolias and getting chatty on Campari, but no precaution was too great.
He walked with his contraband for a while before lighting it with a pack of matches he had found on the mantle, and was pleased that it only took one strike; she would never notice the match missing. He tucked the lid of the matchbook into the ring which held his keys so that he wouldn’t forget to replace it on returning home, and considered getting some handi-wipes from the corner store to clean the smoke off his hands. They had wipes at the bodega for customers who bought the heat lamp fried chicken and jo-jo potatoes; perhaps a snack of these things would help erase the odor which would dwell deep within him.
As he turned the corner to enter a dark, wooded section of the park, he saw a familiar silhouette in the tall grass which grew between the pines. It was Ray, and he was swishing a golf club around in the rough, looking for something. He glanced up and smiled when he saw his friend.
“Yo Beef!” Ray exclaimed, taking a nip from a hip flask he’d secured inside his puffy winter jacket. He was wearing a Tam o’ Shanter in garish road work safety colors.
Beef steeled himself and resolved not to toss his cigarette aside; he allowed himself this one small pleasure.
“Oh uh hey Ray what you got goin’ on down there.”
Ray pointed at Beef’s cigarette. “That’s a secret,” he said in a knowing confidence, free of judgment. It was a strong understanding between men.
“Thanks dogg, I got night feet pretty bad and needed a mile.”
“You seen a bonchity-bonch Titleist anywhere up ins? I straight-up shanked this damn new hybrid sand wedge and the thing got a wild hare up its ass. I never even saw it.”
“Well uh I’ll help you poke around for a bit. How come you hittin’ balls in the park anyway though, Seven Pines gettin' like aerated or such?”
“Urban golf, dude! It’s hella great practice for the short game, all with crazy lies and slopes. You ever putt down a slide? Bank one off a plywood fire engine? Teach a child to sing? Thrills, man! I’m makin’ the game feel ALIVE again!”
“Ain’t police down on you makin’ a ruckus all with clubs and balls flyin’ everywhere?”
“Police? Nah, dogg! Plus, there ain’t signs against golf. Just alcohol.” Ray took another swift nip and slid the flask back into his jacket pocket.
“Well uh I mean ain’t it just common sense that hard little balls that could go in any direction real fast might not be too welcome in a public area…I mean they got like kids and way litigious moms and stuff in parks.”
“Well, all the better they ain’t someplace else, then,” Ray said distractedly, picking at his teeth with a wooden tee. He had found his ball behind a large garbage bag that looked to be filled with filthy towels, discount popcorn bags, orange peels, and sticky emptied cans of Monster energy drink. “Heads up!”
A choppy three-quarter swing sent the cold little orb off through some trees, and Roast Beef carefully tracked its arc, noting the approximate amount of energy the vector contained and roughly calculating how far it was likely to travel on its path of woodland surface ricochets. He pulled on his cigarette and told himself he had one more good puff left, then surveyed the area for cedar branches or pine needles with which to camouflage the scent on his hands. Ray made off into the underbrush, and he followed close behind.
Their journey led them to the banks of the creek, where they were plussed to find old Cornelius angling in a slowly purling pool of thick brown water. Beef stamped out his cigarette before the old man could see him.
“Yo, Connie!” Ray beamed. “You see my damn Titleist chompin’ round in this rough?” He hacked and spat.
Cornelius eyed them with a barely perceptible measure of displeasure. Roast Beef sensed immediately that Ray’s ball had disturbed the water, sending any already-skittish aquatic life darting beneath distant logs and shadowy outcroppings. “Sssh,” he hissed at Ray. “You gonna scare the fish even more than the ball with all that yellin’.”
“My Titleist go in the water, Connie?” Ray asked, incredulous. “For real?”
Cornelius gave Ray a brief dose of eye contact which was not unlike solid public steel in its overall effect—in its effect on Roast Beef, the party of the third part, at any rate. Ray poked around in the reeds for a creel, hoping to compliment the old man on a productive evening of sport. Beef stiffened as muddy eddies languished out into the larger waters, now alerting even the most remedially sensate of fish to the dangers which came from shore.
Cornelius gnashed his teeth with a brief, compact efficiency and set his pole down on the shore next to where he sat. Within moments he had produced a small thermos of orange pekoe and a ham biscuit wrapped in waxed paper. As Ray rustled and kicked about in the underbrush, he continued to spread his modest repast out in silence. Though none of this production’s uncomfortable silence was for Roast Beef’s benefit, it was perhaps felt by him the most. He nervously smelled his hand to see how badly the tobacco had perfumed him. It was strong, but he didn’t dare stick it in the creek, as he thought he remembered that smell travels even more quickly through water, and he didn’t want to taint it for the fish. Tobacco is a very polarizing substance in nature, and generally indicates an imperfect environment, he reasoned.
“Strawberry, Strawberry, the dopeman’s ho,” Ray sang to himself as he fished for his ball. Beef silently told Ray not to run this song down around Cornelius, as it would no doubt offend his aged ears and sensibilities and make an already bad situation worse, but could not make himself verbalize the admonition. He merely stood and felt his blood pressure rise within him. Ray took another nip from his flask and then had a noisy coughing fit as the volatile, pocket-warmed liquor dissolved the mucus in his throat.
When his spasm had subsided, he offered the flask to Cornelius. Beef watched nervously; there were many signs posted against the consumption of alcohol, and if Cornelius’s fishing license were revoked there would be hell to pay. It was one of his last pleasures, along with agreeable temperatures and recording payments in his ledger.
“Yo, hit this, Connie,” Ray insisted. “You gonna get bored if you don’t, dogg.”
Cornelius stood his ground for a moment, and then, with an affable elevation of the shoulders, shrugged off his mantle of displeasure and accepted the offering.
“Es tut sie kein gutes in der Flasche,” he said. “It does you no good in the bottle.” He sipped genteelly from the brushed pewter, held the liquor on his tongue to evaluate its quality, and then swallowed without air. It was the practiced device of one who is used to accepting dubious snorts from strange vessels.
“Thank you, Raymond,” he said, passing back the flask. “I believe you will find that your gutty has come to rest beneath the taller of the two manzanitas just ‘round the bend.”
“Dang, Connie!” Ray chuckled. “You let me do all that splashin’ around in the water for nothin’?”
The warmth spreading across the inside of Cornelius’s chest extinguished a choice acerbic retort, and he merely mentioned that he had been looking for an excuse to break out his evening rations.
Ray clambered off over the uneven terrain in search of his quarry. Cornelius offered Roast Beef a hand-rolled from an old engraved case in his breast pocket.
“You will enjoy the flavor of a fresher tobacco on your evening stroll,” he said. “And if you wish to keep from scenting your hands, I find that gloves are a happy accoutrement.” Beef noticed that the old man was wearing black leather driving gloves. He accepted the cigarette, an anise-flavored hard candy, and a dab of vetiver oil which Cornelius instructed him to rub on the offending area.
A loud thud sounded from behind the trees. “Fuck me, man!” Ray yelled to no one, amid the sound of crackling twigs and the rustle of nylon clothing.
“Some are to be endured as we sally forth, arm in arm, unto the familiar embrace of death,” Cornelius said serenely as he surveyed the waters.
Roast Beef nodded, thanked him for the sundry goods and services, and made off for home. Perhaps he would take a shower and find some won ton soup, he thought. The chill was now bracing, and something hot would do him good.