For Lewis Fein …
Swimming to Acapulco
[From April 26, 2006, for 8763 Wonderland]
3:45 on a mild Thursday afternoon and Acapulco was beckoning me (the chain restaurant, not the actual Mexican resort, which I have never been to but this story isn’t about my travels around the globe, albeit I have been around the globe) so into my briefcase went the research file on my new magazine assignment and a paperback copy of The Stories of John Cheever.
And I was out the door.
As usual and without disappointment, the “cantina” was empty when I arrived, unless we count the bartender and I guess we probably should because otherwise who would have served me a drink, right? So, okay, it was just me and the bartender, a thin and wiry young Mexican-American who disquietly calls all the male patrons “Boss.”
“Do you want some appetizers today, Boss? Some guacamole or some buffalo wings?”
“No, thanks, just the margarita for now.”
I perused through the research file casually, made a few pertinent notes, and then I pulled the 693 page volume of Cheever short stories out of my battered briefcase.
I began reading “The Swimmer”, which I wanted to read immensely in the quiet of the bar, away from the confines of my combination home and office, and then, just as I read the now-classic opening line:
“It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, ‘I drank too much last night.’”
Yes, just as I read the line that pulls you into the story from the starting gate, Sharif arrived. Like the character of Neddy Merrill in Cheever’s “The Swimmer”, Sharif is something of a living ghost but what he haunts are bar stools around Glendale. Not that Sharif – who owns a lucrative dressmaking business – is a drunk or anything like that. Far from it. The thin, dark-skinned, Egyptian-born businessman sips Courvoisier all day long and conducts business over his cell phone.
So, on this day Sharif chose to sit down where? I mean, the fucking bar is empty, right? What does he do? He saddles up on the stool right next to me.
“What happened to your old girlfriend? The one you used to come here with?” Sharif inquired in his deep and petroleum-thick accent after he ordered his brandy with water back.
It’s apropos of nothing as Sharif and I rarely exchange more than a polite “Hello.” And further, my nose is buried in a book. A thick book. Anyone can see that I am, as they say, otherwise occupied.
“Which one?” I siphoned some margarita from the glass before me with a blue straw. It tasted like an alcohol-laced Slurpee.
“Dark hair and –” He cupped two half-fists to his chest to complete the sentence: Dark hair and big tits.
“She doesn’t live here anymore, “ I replied, bored, anxious to get back to Neddy’s horrific progress from optimism to bottomless despair as he makes a symbolic cross-county swim from one affluent swimming pool to another.
“Oh,” Sharif said and took a slow sip from his brandy snifter.