I was halfway up the staircase when I heard a friendly, slightly intoxicated voice calling me, “Good sir, what brings you to this humble neighbourhood? State your purpose hungry pilgrim and, should it be noble, you may enter”
Francis grinned devilishly. “However, dare you offend my hospitality with ill intent, draw thy sword ye mischievous mime”. I bowed and replied, “O, my good sir, Dame Coleman has informed me of your gathering and urged me to trust in your hosting qualities, nay, inspect them for there is nothing more depressing than a celebration of the simple done complicated.” He dropped the act faster than I’d realized what he was going for and waved me in. “Yeah right… just hop on in, my feet are gettin’ cold.”
Francis’ dorm was every college freshman’s dream. It had more space than you could imagine for being, as he said, ‘cheap as pasta’. There were shelves filled with books and mementos left behind by former residents. The smell alone was straight out of a historical museum, a strange cocktail of dusty old parchment and the odour of oil paint gone stale. Yet, combined with the modern furniture and all the artefacts left by students and artists that must have visited, this place felt like the cultural centre of the 21st century.
Francis remarked while closing the door, demonstratively cautious, “Normally we keep the door open but Rebecca’s cat has been planning the Great Escape for a while now and I really don’t wanna find a Cat McQueen popsicle on the stairs tomorrow.”
Rebecca must’ve been a new roommate. They kept changing but Francis stayed the same. A blonde handsome devil of a man, he loved to live and lived to love; to most people this life seemed like a dream. I don’t know if he came from money but he made due with what he had. It didn’t interest me and certainly did not interest the girls and occasional gentleman he was with.
Francis and I had a peculiar friendship that, as I once put it, was mounted on my patience for his fiendish indecency. He’d say I just started following him, to learn from the best. Francis was a rogue, a scoundrel, and a charlatan. Basically, every word that described the ‘Iagonian malignity’ he seemed to have but never actually acted on. He just had a face that said I’m up to no good, beware! To top it all off, he couldn’t hide his intellect if he tried, which made it all even worse. We joked one night that a lobotomy might help him overcome the burden of his brain but ended up picturing ourselves in bowler hats drinking milk to Singing in the Rain and in one voice screamed “NOPE!” at the thought.
I don’t want this to turn into a Francis love letter, something he would undoubtedly never let me hear the end of. Still, there are some people you have to appreciate for their mind alone, and his was tuned to my frequency. Add a few years of bad choices, tragedies, and plain good times and voilà, a friendship worthy of any literary masterpiece!
I couldn’t take my eyes off the various paintings and installations the guests were roaming around. Francis kept most of the stuff his former roommates, guests and lovers had left. He owned the apartment for as long as I could remember. Gatherings at Francis’ had become an institution, not just because he seemed to know everyone but because he knew the right kind of everyone. From the recently duo- turned-single with an urge to throw him or herself into the dating scene, to the wallflowers, stoners, college sweethearts and other breakfast club attendees, all admired the diverse crowd he was able to surround himself with. There had been more love stories, intrigues, drama and comedy within these halls than in The Globe and Jersey Shore combined. If life really were a stage, I could get you front row seats at Francis’.
His current girlfriend, Shelly, was a cook in one of the small independent cafes across the street. You know, the ones that start as a coffee shop and end up as something completely different, like a hairdresser’s or a place for trading Magic cards. The woman was a genius at the stove and I can say this without falling into gender stereotypes or monologues about ‘the good old days’.
Shelly made sure the guests had everything from the Fundamentalists’ Favourite Falafel, pulled pork for the Pseudo Intellectuals, vegan varieties for the Alternative, to the Cosmopolitan version of Sushi, over which any Samurai Enthusiast would shamefully throw himself onto a sword. You could add some of your own delights to the menu, Shelly would always have some extra fancy plate and be interested to know everything about the preparation of your food. She made you proud to be a cook, rather than feeling inferior to her mad Martha Stuart-Michelin skills. I imagine that must be why Francis had set a new relationship record, since he and Shelly were together for almost ten months now. “The way to a man’s heart…”, I guess.
I found myself on a couch in the living room, grasping a pumpkin muffin I had snatched from one of the trays while Shelly was ardently decorating in the kitchen. I watched the whole place move and spin. Two girls were playing chess on a Beanie Bag in the corner while a small posse of guys gathered around them. They were rallying battle cries resembling more a game of rugby rather than a board game. The room filled steadily with a blue fog emanating from a custom-made hookah pipe that was placed next to the balcony in case of emergency ventilation. I saw the silhouettes of guests disappear and emerge from the fog, jumping, dancing, laughing and kissing.
A couple just arrived in the hallway, looking for familiar faces in a sea of deep conversations and silliness. The cat was enjoying itself as well, strolling through the legs of guests with the swagger of a night club owner. It got me thinking there must be at least a dozen photos of cats in pimp gear on the Internetz, as the kids call it.
Francis sat down next to me, somehow managing to hide his right arm behind my head and breaking a huge chunk off my muffin. He then delighted in watching me stare at him in disgust, while he picked tiny bird bites of pumpkin out of the soft doughy body, then flicking them in random directions. “Choke on it you monster!”, I cried out in a high-pitched voice. He giggled and pressed the entire chunk of de-pumpkinned mush in his mouth and replied: “mmhh…hmmmm mm rgllll m hmmm!” – A big gulp, then after pounding his chest tried again: “Your food has always tasted better.” He turned into a Cheshire Cat again, half-moon grin littered with muffin residue. “So, do you enjoy my little Tea Party? I planned it just to get you out of the house for a change.” Francis always knew how to distract me from being a melancholic prick (His words, obviously). “I have to admit, you do throw a swell party Mister Gatsby.” He didn’t show any reaction to my comment. It was meant as an insult, as Francis hated any mention of the Old Sport. He left the sofa with a quick, “Gotta go Buttercup!” and headed straight for the chess match to coach the brunette. She already had two fingers on a rook and was in dire need of guidance.
Suddenly a video camera emerged from the shadows and directed itself at my face. “Yo, any words for the future generation? Advice, prophetic stuff? Or maybe you want to tell your grown-up self a little somethin’?”, a voice attached to the camera interrogated. “Don’t grow up inside, just out.” I wanted to be smart but for some reason the only thing that came to my mind was Peter Pan. “Ah, and if you hear a ticking clock, run!” I said, knowing I had failed to deliver a good punchline. My interviewer glanced at me, his right eye now wide open, still hiding the left one behind the lens and rolling: “So you’re a Lost Boy huh? How does it make you feel to be foreeeever young?” That last part he sang out. “Well healthcare is irrelevant now. Also, if you hate long hours in the waiting room at the doctors’, immortality will make you mad as hell, until you can’t take it anymore. Lots of killin’ time, you know? Maybe pick up knitting or something practical. I should start sucking blood or pretend to be from a different age.” He zoomed in on what must’ve been way too close in relation to where I was sitting and unveiled, “Hate to break it to you but it seems you already are. Boom, hashtag mind-blown!” I raised an eyebrow, partly amazed and weirdly amused. I had no idea how to respond and felt old and rusty in comparison to this edgy camera guy. He promptly left me because the brunette had lost the chess match, immediately after Francis had left the coaching bench for a few seconds. Graceful in defeat, she started taking her top off. Kasparov would be proud.
In search of a different, less American Pie-ish scenery (which, according to Francis may have caused entire non US-American cultures to turn the college experience into a red-cupped nightmare of an intoxicated fuckfest) I headed out to the balcony and jumped into one of the two bright red leather armchairs, letting out a sigh of relief. Then I noticed the girl inspecting me from the other chair. “Hello sailor!” God, that voice, that smile… I was immediately struck. The epitome of effortless beauty, she reminded me of all the things I loved about old cinema elegance. She was in fact that person you wish you would’ve met on the balcony in a bright red armchair at the best and in some ways worst party you can imagine, but instead expect to be surrounded by handsome hordes of trimmed beard hipster hobos, low carb fanatic Abercrombie Models, and up and coming Brokers at a Junior Fund raiser. Ok, maybe you don’t but those are the guys I want in my punching bag for motivational morning exercises.
My thoughts drifted back and I realized I hadn’t replied yet. “Of all the joints in all the world…”, I started, “I walk into yours?”, she finished. “Does that actually work? Please, you can do better than Casablanca! Come to think of it, I never imagined myself as an Ingrid Bergman. I’m more of a Tippi Hedren kinda girl.” Oh, it’s on! You want me to up my game? Let’s do this, I thought and in that moment, it came to me. “Tippi wouldn’t stand those chairs.”, I smiled. It took her a second, it could not have been more than a glimpse at them for her to notice. “Dammit! Well played mister but let’s talk about you. Are you a Bogart, Brando, DiCaprio or… oh my god, don’t tell me you are one of those James Dean wannabes?” Even as she faked disgust, trying to look ugly, she couldn’t be any cuter. “I am a tool. Uh no, you know an O’Toole.” I had to slap the back of my head out of pure embarrassment. “Oh, good for you Lawrence!” she said, folding her arms, impressed. “Do you know the host or who is the gorgeous better half of you that brought you to this sexy soiree?” “In a way, both! Francis is as close to me as a brother. I wouldn’t say better half though. You?” I tried not to think it but could only scream internally: “Please don’t say boyfriend now!” “Neither actually.” I hid my sigh of relief like a freaking boss. “Francis is the host then? I just came by and crashed this joint. I’m pretty Punk Rock, you see.” She tried to look tough and failed. A petite black and white dress does not exactly scream Sex Pistols, at least not the latter. “I’ll give you Punk if you tell at least three people about my street cred as a rapper.” That smile again, got to stay tough! What would 2Pac do?! “I can try. But I’m afraid they won’t believe me.” “Keep the dress and they’ll join a cult if you ask.” I couldn’t believe it, she actually blushed. “Ok, you are good. I allow you to stay in my little retreat.” “Any particular reason you are hiding out here?” “Makes me more mysterious, I guess. This is the perfect scenario to let my mind drift for a bit, avoid the tumult in there while being close enough to participate. And you never know what curious creature might join you. Then she eyed me up one last time: “I gotta go now, bye Lawrence.” She kissed me on the cheek and stormed through the balcony door, vanishing into the hookah smoke.
You know that moment when you need to process before you can act, when your body won’t move until your brain tells you to? My brain screamed at my feet like Gunnery Sargent Hartman. I was at the door before it had closed, reached for her hand in the mist and instead pulled Francis in front of my face. He was a bit perplexed but still grinning. “Something you wanna tell me? No reason to show your affection like this, Sally would be up for it if she has to share me now. “I had no time for this even if I had infinite replies and smack talk in store. “TIPPI, where is Tippi?!” “Who?” “Tippi Hedren, for god’s sake, Francis, keep up now. Where is she?” “Uhm, what now? I have not seen much of her lately. She still acts as far as I know. The Birds was dope though. That scene where all these birds are flying and…” “Thanks for everything Francis. See ya.”, I rushed outside shaking my head with a smile at Francis’ amazing talent for whipping up intentionally non-descriptive movie reviews.
Then my mind was back on track. I had to hurry, I might never see this girl again and that was not an option. I nearly grinded down the stairs, skipped a couple of them with a brave leap and was ready to transition into a full-on sprint when I heard her. “Caaaaat, caaaahaaaat!” It dawned on me, she had given Cat McQueen it’s opportunity to escape greatly. “You did this on purpose, right? If you wanted to remake Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you could’ve just told me. Without the American playing an Asian though, that was just wrong on so many levels.” She looked startled and a bit worried. “Yeah, I get it but let’s just hope this becomes the film version because in the book the cat never returns.”, she sighed. “All right, all right I’ll help you but you have to tell me why you left that quickly. “Deal!” She was already back to being cheery. We walked a few steps and saw the cat’s footprints, tracked them around a few corners. “You know Lawrence, sometimes it’s better to leave some things untouched,” she remarked unexpectedly, “You don’t know me, and trust me, you really don’t want to. I was just saving you a couple of hours to realize it.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Uhm excuse me but as someone who knows me for quite some time, I have to strongly disagree. You are cute as a button and I happen to have a thing for manic blondes with a fear of red.” She seemed surprised that I kept going with the Marnie reference. “Ok, let’s run with it then. No real names, just aliases. I want a second first contact though. I’m way cooler than that silly moment on the balcony. Rewind it! We don’t know each other, let’s just be two strangers meeting at the docks, maybe next Tuesday? Do you know the steps at the whale statue? Three PM and you better let me be the one that’s five minutes too late!” I chuckled, “Because you are the cooler one of us!?” She punched me on the shoulder, “Exaaaaactly, but only if we find this damned cat!”
Half an hour later we found poor cat McQueen, shivering in the backstreet of a Chinese restaurant. Tippi jumped joyously in the air and then in my arms to hug me. Overwhelmed I just stood there and received, feeling like a little boy who has never held a girl’s hand. When she released me from her warm and comfy embrace she looked disappointed. I think I could’ve kissed her right there. But I had to stay strong and was surprised at myself that I actually did. I said:” You know, I have this date with a really really cool girl coming up…” She flushed. “Too bad. She must be pretty awesome then. What are you guys going to do if I may ask?” “Oh, nothing special. It’s just sex I guess… The rough physical attraction of two naked bodies forming the beast with two backs.” It was an expensive joke you could lose a lot of girls over. But not Tippi. She just replied: “Oh dear, I hope she won’t hurt you old man. Can you still keep up?” I sighed:” I’ll try!”
We brought the little furry escape artist back to Francis’. At the door Tippi told me she didn’t want to go back inside and said goodbye with an innocent but somehow longing kiss on my cheek. I went back in and tried not to think about her, distracting myself with the circus inside the apartment. I asked Shelly to prepare a special treat for cat McQueen, a tuna sandwich with avocado and catnip. My personal thank you for the time with Tippi that the cat had ‘arranged’ for me. After watching the feline sandwich consumption in all its glory, I turned to Francis and told him about what had happened. When I asked him about the girl, he said, “Sorry, I don’t know who she is and have never seen her before around these parts.” Coming from the guy who knew everybody in a sixty-mile radius, it seemed almost too perfect. “I can ask some people if you want me to. I wanna know who your Jane Doe is as well. I have a reputation to uphold, you know I know everybody in an eighty-mile radius.” It was a running gag; the radius grew every time he told anyone about it. “At least!”, I said with genuine excitement.
Normally I’m a guy with almost monk-like patience, self-control and as you can see, filled with humility. Unlike half of our population, I can wait for hours in a restaurant on an empty stomach without having the urge to piss off the waiters every two minutes. Because everyone who has ever worked as a barista, barkeeper or cook, knows the pain and suffering, the idiocy and the evil and darkness in the heart of men they have encountered and need to endure to stay sane. The horror, the horror!
But at that moment, in Francis’ apartment, during one of the best parties in a fifty-mile radius, I couldn’t have been more impatient. Six days, forty-seven minutes and twenty-one, twenty, nineteen seconds until I’ll get to see Tippi Hedren for the first time again.
Julian was listening to Aurora while writing, Jinsang – Solitude during the rewrites and Ryo Fukui during the final formatting.