Saturday, March 26, 2016

Fairy Tales of Manhattan: Pretty Music

Pretty Music (The Pied Piper)
by Julie Baumgold

Jack would not get up. He lay in a tangle of sheets, face down, smelling of sex and sweet sweat, exhausted by fulfilled desire.

He was often like this.

When the maid snapped the shade, he sat up, squinted at his face in the hand mirror next to the bed, then crawled back under the covers to search for his pajama bottoms which were a black silk print.

He rumpled his already rumpled hair, scratched his pale thin chest, then crashed back down and slept for another two hours.

When he got up, he was his usual self, a man born to be desired, an aristocrat of temptation, a Cheri in the afternoon ready to be loved all over again.

However, he had to get up and do things, the first of which was bathing himself and then dressing and then going out to eat something in some place where he might be noticed and appreciated.

He liked the restaurant on top of the Armani store in midtown. He had a velvet blazer given to him by Mr. Armani himself which he wore frequently. It was of a green so dark it might as well be black and this he wore with a cream silk shirt, mostly unbuttoned, and jeans which he'd had recut.

When Jack went out alone, often someone came over from a group and said, "join us, come along," put out a hand, picked up his check and off they would go into the night. Jack's job began at night. He was the lure for many clubs, he was a party organizer, on retainer here and there to provide youth and beauty and people who could pay big bills. Some of these clubs were places with no visible entrance. They were entered through unmarked doors that might look like a dry cleaners or an abandoned refrigerator in an alley.

These days the club Ondine paid him for his services and right now they owed him $8000 which he intended to collect, at least in part, this night.

The group he was with now were European and Jack found himself lost in the repartee. He was often lost in the repartee not only in other languages but in English too. Often it didn't matter to his new sudden friends. They liked to look at him and imagine him in bed. They were talking about exercise now. Jack's only form of exercise was strolling up and down Madison Avenue and dancing, but he pretended to be a runner.

"I know a place where we might all go. It is downtown."

"I never go below 57th street," said an older man who surely was paying for everyone.

"Trust me. You will like this place. It is elegant and fun and there is no better DJ in the city. She is gorgeous too."

The older man began to show interest.

"Is it very loud?"

"Not in our section which is reserved, a private room overlooking everything. They know me there."

"I hate dark places where you cannot see the dirt," said one of the women.

Jack considered leaving this group but then the older man, Philippe, ordered caviar and champagne. Then came Misticanza Estivo with mushrooms and cipollini onions and eggplant, some tagliolini with langoustine and black truffles and branzino.

He hadn't realized they were just beginning dinner. He was going to tell them his story about Mr. Armani and his jacket and how, when the designer had seen him trying it on, he had just given it to him on the spot, but they were chattering away and not paying any attention to him. Often in pauses such as these he would brush back his hair with his hand and stare out a window in profile and think about who he would sleep with later.

Out on the street they all lit cigarettes and pot and the man's car that had been circling the block approached. All slid in, the women on laps, smoking away, waving their cigarettes so that Jack was afraid for the sleeve of his jacket. One of them tossed a flower around. Another passed a popper in a gold bullet case.

"Hier soir j'ai casse la gueule. Tu vois la tete que j'ai," said Philippe, cupping his face.

It was still early for Ondine but he might plant them upstairs and go see Isi, the manager who owed him. It annoyed Jack to have to go begging like this and often he wished he was in some daytime business like in an office where people got paychecks every week. He never thought of W-2 forms or health coverage at all.

He guided them past a rather sad looking line, tipped the doorman the usual, which was almost nothing and just for show since he was on retainer, and they were in. Neri, the DJ, was not in evidence as Isi took them up to their table in the blue green room trying for a sea nymph theme. Along the way his people, like sea fronds waving in the currents, reached out for him and tried to pull him from the group to their tables. They were his followers. He had brought half the room here at one time.


"Jack, over here! You must meet ...

Kisses in the air, arms reaching for him, the dance floor opening a path. His people, his place, he had enriched the room. "Just ask for me," he had said to them all.

"I need to see you," Jack said to Isi.

"Not now, my friend,"

"We have to talk."

"If it's about the eight you've been bugging me about. I can't do it now," he said into Jack's ear.

"I won't keep bringing ..." he nodded at the group "and you can forget about the next event. Uh-uhn. Nope."

When he came back to the table they were all suddenly silent. He guessed they had been discussing him and whether any of them might have heard him and what was involved. It was a good guess. They had all put their Zombies down and everyone was sipping from the same straw.

"It smells like dirty feet here," said the Italian actress. She reached for his face.

"Tuscan cheekbones," she said.

"Let's dance ..." he said to one of the women. They walked into the smoky blue air together and began dancing. She was awkward, jumping and flopping, while he barely seemed to move and yet it was cool and sinuous, just enough, highly practiced. They danced until he pushed aside his long damp hair. His silk shirt clung to his chest. He had left the jacket at the table.

Over on the side Isi was watching. He had the money but he thought eight was too much. He would give Jack $1500 though that wasn't what he had agreed and he knew it wasn't enough. Still, he had Jack's fickle crowd and they seemed to like Ondine's.

When Jack returned to the table, his jacket was not there. He looked under the table. He asked them all. He called Isi over and went to the guy on the door to see if he had seen anyone walking off with his velvet jacket. His Armani from Mr. Armani who had watched him try it on, look at the price tag, and take it off. And then it was his, for two years now, and now it was gone and Isi was only offering him a measly $1500. In a fury, he stormed out of the place, left his group.

A photographer took his picture out in the cold night in just a shirt and without the usual pack around him.

The next night Jack was back. He brought another group. He was wearing a leather jacket and he went all over making inquiries about his velvet jacket at each table. He told everyone very quietly that he had found a new hotter club called 23. His group would be going there next and very soon. They had hired Neri, the DJ. It was the place to be and they should follow him there.

And soon enough everyone did follow Jack to 23 and to the next club after that. Isi was distraught, the room was too quiet, the light shining hollow umber cones on the empty booths and tables. He was sorry he had not paid Jack in full, sorry he had swiped the jacket but it was too late to return it now and say it was found by the cleaners after hours.

Wherever Jack went, the people, his children, would follow, for he led them into places where the music was sweet and hot and he was there to look at, arms up in surrender, dancing his nights away.

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