A MEETING IN BROOKLYN
By Jayno Miches
In retrospect, he wished it had not occurred to him to ask that fellow any questions. But then again, he also now wished he had asked his questions and left it at that, and that he would have been gone without waiting for answers. Instead of doing the opposite, he had gone for chatting up that fellow, and so he got himself mixed up in one of those situations we often lament as being of the kinds in which “one thing led to another.” For, good things are not always connected, but bad things always are. It was, however,absolutely irrelevant now that against his best instincts he had chosen not to ignore that man. And honestly, it had long been too late for revisiting his regret. His rueful feelings had begun to gnaw at him not long after they had exchanged casual greetings, before getting into conversation. But even sooner than that, deep remorse had taken over him. That began exactly from the moment when it dawnedon him that, if he came out alive from meeting Todvrodoswky for the first time, he would do so only to more strongly wish he had just passed him by,and had kept walking on in silence.
At that precise moment the late evening looked as if perforated by an uncertain darkness. Already moving towards its end, the day when Mario Rosario and Todvrodoswky crossed paths with each other had a different feel to it; nothing in it announced that daytime would soon start to get shorter and darker. Nothing was certain concerning what October would turn out to be when it finally arrived. It was through that uncertainty of the pattern worn that day by the weather that, as they ascended from the underground to the streets, the two men discovered each other. They both had been riding the same F train, and, in appearance at least, each was going his own way.
The way it seemed to Mario Rosario, Todvrodoswky looked tentative as he walked, as one would who was not entirely sure where he had meant to be going or wasn’t quite familiar with the part of the city where he now found himself. But as we all know and often tend to forget, things are oftentimes not what they seem. Shortly after they exchanged their first few words an excellent opportunity would open up for Mario to see for himself that there are things which indeed popular wisdom gets right.
Cobble Hill, where they were now walking, wasn’t anymore Mario Rosario’s neighborhood. He had lived there, or in the proximity, for a long number of years. Presently, he was slumming around Red Hook, where renting a dismal studio was still more or less affordable; but maybe not for long. Still, after he would subtract the rent money from his paycheck, he could afford food and clothing, and pay for the utilities, which now included the Internet and his Netflix membership. And he still bought books, but now only secondhand, and since thankfully not many good books were being put out, he needed less money for that. Altogether, his monthly expenses qualified him as an old-school New Yorker; he was as a full-fledged Brooklynite. Being “Brooklynite” still came with a certain ethos back then, and Mario felt naturally inclined to offer directions to someone who was going along his way looking a bit lost, as Todvrodoswky seemed to him. Mario knew the ins and outs around those corners, and was perfectly familiar with the whereabouts where they could lead, if someone turned on the right corner at the right moment.
That’s how he came to talk to the man. Rosario asked if he needed to be pointed out in any direction. But now that he was looking straight at the man, Rosario seemed to have discovered some sort of familiarity in his face, and the vague, fleeting recollection came to him that he might have seen Todvrodoswky before someplace else; if so, that must have happened before he knew his name, and then, even before he learned to shiver when he even thought of the rendition of such name in the Cyrillic alphabet. Oblivious to what he was getting himself into, Rosario charged on.
“No. I’m serious. I’d swear I’ve seen you before, at least a couple of times.”
A blank stare looked directly at him.
“Yet that has always been in Manhattan, never in Brooklyn, that I’ve seen you.” The blank stare was still in force.
But then, as if talking to nobody, the other man said:
“Obviously,” he got in response.
It was true. Rosario had seen Todvrodoswky before. Yet, the latter was right in disbelieving him, for Todvrodoswky knew himself to be a distinct type of man; his being distinct consisted in his taking great care never to look exactly the same as he did the last time you thought you would have seen him. In his personal life, for not obvious reason to the unsuspecting, he consciously conducted himself much like a Shakespearian actor in a cheap production of Henry IV, who must play half the cast. For one, Todvrodoswky tended to alter his dressing habits so often that it was fair to say that the very phrase “dressing habits” didn’t apply to him. His only “habit” in this respect was that quite often, although not every week, he molted his clothing two or three times in a day and sometimes more; in doing so he also took care to style himself, from morning to mid-afternoon and from evening to night, in the most diverse and contrasting manners.
Always in good taste, as if his wardrobe only held collectible articles of clothing, the best way to describe him is that Todvrodoswky appeared to dress as if to create the effect of the “unexpected.” If for example in the morning he could come across as a tycoon on his way to signing a front-page worthy business deal, beyond the afternoon he could be taken to be a community college adjunct professor of English 101 with questionable left-wing inclinations. And yet, by dusk, the same man would reappear and pass you by all dressed up as a mainstream hipster, minus the beard, of course, but with jeans uncomfortably tight for his effeminate legato, and thin-soled children’s sneakers, a skateboard, and a set of graphic “novels” in his backpack. He could as well be wearing makeup of some kind, and his light-brown hair, probably dyed to cover the blond, would never move to the same side of his head. That particular day, when Rosario came to give him directions, he was going around dolled up in the classical cliché of a movie director. Everybody knows somebody of this type.
The reason for his sartorial shifting would in due time reveal itself for Rosario to make a note of it; but that was still far from happening. So, when Rosario insisted that he had seen him before, Todvrodoswky wasn’t exactly telling a lie when he corrected his questioner by simply uttering a “no,” leaving him to his own devices, to wonder exactly what his “no” applied to.
The only thing clear about him, and only for the moment, was that Todvrodoswky, despite affecting the contrary, was not totally bothered by being approached by Mario Rosario. They were establishing a relation whose motivations would become self-evident in due time. Actually, that relation had been already established a while ago; but Mario was, between the two of them, the last to catch up, and so he wasn’t up to the minute with the news. As it was, Todvrodoswky was sneakily appreciative of the help he was getting from the target of his operation, who was also his willy-nilly victim. The Russian was coming after the Hispanic man.
They let a silence pass between them. That’s usually what happens with strangers, who have not much to tell to each other. Truth be told, though, Todvrodoswky wasn’t there looking for someone to “tell” things to. He was more into doing things to people.
“Court Street’s this way, I suppose?”
The “foreigner” to Brooklyn said that suddenly. He was implying a question without actually asking it. That could have meant that he knew where that street was, but wanted only confirmation. Or again, perhaps he didn’t know, but neither did he care to know; he was “just asking,” maybe to reinforce in Mario the belief that he was actually going somewhere, not hounding him down.
Yet the other man continued walking, as if not caring about the answer. Later, when Rosario tried to exchange names with him, Todvrodoswky simply said that “a name is just a name.” In a failed attempt to trick him, Rosario said that his name was, in fact, “Roberto Bolaño.” He had been reading the Chilean author around those days, and the name had been on the tip of his tongue. He failed there, because Todvrodoswky knew what Rosario’s given name was. But that didn’t matter either; Todvrodoswky’s undisclosed interest in Rosario made knowing his real name something of lesser importance. A man who concluded, correctly or incorrectly, that his life has up to this point been a failure, begins by wishing he were somebody else, and follows up this wish by giving himself somebody’s else name, just to start over somewhere. That’s how Todvrodoswky thought of his walking companion. And he was correct in thinking thusly of him.
A sudden change came when Todvrodoswky, unprompted, told Rosario that his own name was, “Sigürd.” His voice made the name sound Scandinavian. This marked an unexpected development and introduced a new pace in their relationship. Whether that was really the name his family and friends, which those who knew him better called him, Rosario would never get to know. But over a meaningful span of time, time and again he had moments when all he could remember about Todvrodoswky was precisely how he pronounced his own name, which came to him as if carrying a vibrating whisper, like something ethereal precipitating from a fjord. It would soon change back, becoming more as it would be the next time they met again. But presently, still on the street leading off from the subway, his words were coming out of him as if linked to each other through a reverberating distance. And his outstanding Slavic features ran in his face like a loose translation from the Norse language. He talked as if hewasn’t there, but with no hostility in him, only with an unfriendly indifference. It was in that tone that he informed Rosario.
“I have also seen you many times, though not as often as you think you have seen me. You, like me,” he continued, “often sit at that coffee place on the Bowery, where Bleecker Street’s no more.” He had meant to say “where Bleecker ends.” The Hispanic man, which is how he thought of himself, wanted to correct him, but didn’t. Rosario had been around that area as recently as the previous week.
One of them had entered the coffee shop as the other was leaving, and one of them had likely held the door for the other. But when Rosario tried to remind him of that, Todvrodoswky denied it. “Certainly not last week,” he said, quietly enigmatically. He offered as proof the logical argument that, if one man gets the door for another, neither can see the other withoutbeing seen by him. Todvrodoswky was emphatic; he knew how unrecognizable he was capable of making himself look.
Unable to completely rule that out, what he was now hearing wasn’t as he believed it had happened just last week, Rosario subsequently began to doubt the certainty of having seen this man all other previous occasions he could have said he had. He didn’t become doubtful without a reason.
Not long ago, more or less one year and a half from the day they were tensely chatting each other up, the not exactly unprovoked but completely undeserved September Eleventh Attack had occurred, which history still remembers as “September 11th.” One of the lasting consequences stemming from that day, which will maybe never go away, was that the city government, working with the media and with any able bodies, was out to apprehend the culprits and to prevent copy-cats and repetitions. To that end, a Gestapo-inspired campaign got launched aiming at turning the whole city into a den of police informants. To help the city, every city-dweller got scared into being on the look-out, watchful on the streets, the trains, buses, the planes, and the buildings and all public spaces. Then people took to going around wondering what you may be carrying in your bags or on your person. For people are quick to take to paranoia, and some citizens went as far as to induct themselves as freelance spies, and started to go around nosing on other affairs and the lives of citizens, who themselves were also spying on others. Everybody was fine with that for their own safety, as they continued to be cordially invited to snitch on whatever looked suspicious in their eyes, giving no mind that snitching in itself is a suspicious behavior. With time, everybody became somebody else’s suspect, and as suspicion reigned, people refrained from doing almost anything, including talking to each other, lest that looked suspicious to anybody who was ready to snitch.
Despite that, for unrelated reasons by then Rosario himself had already spent endless hours of his days and his nights in what he referred in his mind only as “the search.” His searching throughout the city had nothing political in it and didn’t issue from fears for the national security. His search concerned itself with, and was limited to finding a love or a sex interest of his, who went by the name “Sabrina Santo Schmidt,” that being the most clear datum about her, and that she was a wannabe actress. She claimed to be from Germany, and from time to time, from Mexico.
Even though he was yet doing it only part-time, something that eventually changed, Rosario often saw the need to go to odd places, to loiter on streets and around buildings, residences and establishments of the most diverse occupations, some maybe dedicated to businesses he shouldn’t have had an interest knowing about. Wearing his hat and his dark glasses, at any day time of the night or the day, Rosario could often be seen by whomever would look at him suspiciously, going about town without any itinerary or fixed destination. And so could have been seen bumming around from far more standpoints than the Empire State Building can be reconnoitered from the four corners of Manhattan.
If it were true that Rosario and Todvrodoswky kept running into each other, it would have been logical under the circumstances for either of them to assume that hadn’t been happening by chance. Yet, the Hispanic man believed he had reasons to suspect Todvrodoswky of taking upon himself putting Rosario under his personal watch. If you do not believe that coincidences happen in sequences, he thought to himself, there was no room for believing otherwise, and the thought infused him with apprehension. Feeling his wellbeing was on the line he gave himself free range, and continued to freak out. Of course, he knew he was up to nothing that required his name to be put in a watch-list. But, taking precaution, from now on he began to weigh his words when talking to Todvrodoswky; because most people seemed to swallow whole the official explanations for the September Attack, he had become wary of words when talking to anybody at all. Fortunately, like the good books which were not being put out, New Yorkers had begun to drop the use of talking to one another. More than tad worried by now, Rosario began to ready himself up for whatever came at him from the Russian, while hoping it would be nothing. Struggling to look undaunted, he waited for the man to be the first to show fear, while also wishing something would be said that would relieve him of his. Moments ago Rosario had realized that by approaching this man he had created a situation nobody needs to be caught in. But nobody could have expected it to go that way. Unexpected situations usually take unexpected turns, so he was wishing for ways of kicking himself out of this one maybe already too late.
Still looking absentminded and as if reciting from a piece he would have many times said from a stage, here Todvrodoswky began to mention many other places downtown where the Hispanic fellow should have seen him. What he was actually doing was giving his interlocutor notice that he knew all the city nooks and holes where his fellow walking-traveler had been of late, where he was a “regular.” Not that Rosario would have a clue; but a scene alike this one, so ripe with real danger, already awaited him in the near-future. The Russian had already started work on it. In the meantime, his recitation was having the desired effect. Rosario began to see that what he was trying to achieve, to pin him down, was doomed to failure, and he recognized that. Compulsive and unpredictable, Todvrodoswky was a born histrio, a hypocrite in the Greek sense of the meaning for “actor.” The man could in short notice pass himself off as whatever he would choose to; he wasn’t a “person” more than he was an interpreter of personas. So, good luck to whoever tried to bust him! There was going to be no success for Rosario in deciding which one was this man, of all the foggy faces from the days behind him, which he managed to summon to the present. He was already far-gone into thinking that this man, Todvrodoswky, was a dedicated psychopath, and that he had, no doubt mistakenly, become the center of his attention, a situation that if true was as pregnant with danger as very few dangerous situations are.
But maybe there was a sliver of hope? One of the associations stood out in his refreshed memory. Earlier that same afternoon when the episode took place, it seemed completely ordinary, presaging nothing but a motif for amatory disillusions. At one of the cafes missing from the tally Todvrodoswky had recited, where he had assured Rosario had been seen in previous weeks, the latter had a casual but endearing meeting with two sisters and their mother. The three of them were in the city traveling from Denmark. Although strangers talking with each other, meeting-up, and coming together around a table to share an amicable conversation was something on its way out, displaced by the computer, by gentrification, by collective city paranoia, those things still used to happen now and then. The Danish daughters were saying to Rosario that they would soon be coming to live in Brooklyn for a while; they were acting students at the Lee Strasberg. That casual piece of information decided that drama was going to be the subject for their ever prolonging but in the end inert conversation, from which nothing would come. Nonetheless, Rosario had emerged from the meeting and the talking with the feeling of a man who would have visited any part of Scandinavian mythology. In that mythology, all female creatures are goddesses, and all goddesses are marked for death, from an excess of beauty. But before he emerged onto the streets bathed in that feeling, Rosario had ventured some mild opinions that apparently worked to tick off someone who could best be described as a maniacal zealot of the performing arts, a description that later he would find out, perfectly captured his Russian assailant.
The women and he had been “just talking” and maybe to provoke them into saying more, Rosario let out this.
“If you asked me, but you would not,” he said, “The Oscars, The Grammys and the others are essentially flawed; or fraudulent all the way.”
“And how do you figure?”
“Well, they award actors who play for an audience, for its money, yet the audience who pays for them to play doesn’t get to vote on the winner. Actors, directors, producers and so on vote for one another, and so, whoever is better at schmoozing and bullshitting is almost sure to win…
“That usually is whoever throws the best parties…”
“Or whoever has nicer things to say about the others, and is more believable in saying it…”
“Because of that,” Rosario also added, “since everybody is ready to die to get an Oscar, actors are best known for fucking their way to getting nominated, which they hold to be an accomplishment in itself…”
That was all said on the topic before the coterie that included Rosario moved on to other themes. No phone numbers was exchanged, and no word had been spoken about the vague possibility of meeting up again, which anyway, it being New York City, would most likely never happen. To whom it would have occurred that the inner, idle coffee babble of a man totally inconsequential to the acting business would come to have a near-fatal repercussion in his future, a time which seen from the perspective of the earlier afternoon of one same day, was already here, and walking next to him?
But that was, nonetheless, what was happening now.
Because to him “Sigürd” sounded like a Slav name, Rosario was thinking that the man confronting him now must have been eavesdropping, undetected being a party to that café casual conversation. Having developed an interest in the women, he was speculating, this guy was giving chase, coming to claim them as his territory, and to mark it by delivering a sound beating on him. Situations like that used to be a commonplace element of city life; but that happened mostly among blacks and Puerto Ricans. And besides, that was in times when men used to see in women good reasons to fight each other off over them. But that was before. Now, most city men seemed to have lost serious interest in women; men now preferred the childlike homoerotic company of their video gaming buddies, brought to them by Silicon Valley. And they also went for porn, instead of sex, which had fewer complications.
Rosario was still agitatedly trying to trace a mental line back to that coffee shop, to see in his mind if he had seen anybody who fit the slim, tall, blond human constitution represented in Todvrodoswky, with his pallid, somber face as of a man under the influence of a hang-over from the last season. But Rosario had not run into anyone resembling him; not while the soiree at that café was on, and not afterwards during his search. He had nothing to work with. He knew not a thing about Todvrodoswky’s inborn histrionics, which he cultivated into a personal art. And so, not knowing who he was dealing with, Rosario didn’t either know what he could have done to bringing about the hostility he sensed quietly amassing in the heart of this perfect stranger.
But he would better be careful. For Todvrodoswky was convinced that Rosario knew all too well what was coming to him, and why, but was acting coy, perilously playing stupid. Todvrodoswky was not the kind of man who expected people to freely acknowledge their mistakes out of their own honesty. Therefore, he would only give Rosario warning tidbits about the things that people’s stupidity makes other people do unto them.
“As a matter of fact…”
Seeking clarification, Rosario restarted saying something, but was cut short. He was told that “As a matter of fact, there is nothing in the past that’s a ‘matter of fact’.” In Todvrodoswky’s way of thinking, the past is the past, and a fact is always in the present. He was showing that although his actions could appear to some to be somewhat off, despite his appearance, he was a logical man. To that, Rosario said nothing; he maintained his silence but inside himself he was in agreement. Yet again, he began to mumble something. It would turn out to be a question, to which “yes” or “no” wouldn’t have advanced his chances of moving away from the other guy, and Rosario stifled that question. But, again, since it was his turn to say something, but also because he was really confused and could not associate “Sigürd” to anything or anyone he knew and besides he had run out of memories to associate the present moment with, he linked it to “the search,” and made recourse to a name he had been trying hard to keep out of his tribulation. Thus, he asked as if by chance, if Todvrodoswky knew some actress who went by the name “Sabrina Santo Schmidt.”
Here, a chill descended over him. The other man welcomed his question with the coldest, most hate-filled look Rosario had ever been given. Unless Todvrodoswky was overdoing it for effect, what was going to happen to him from that moment on was handwritten in that look, and in uppercases. Already feeling the sharp edge of that look rummaging through his skin, one single blood-coagulating phrase got inspired in him, for Rosario to say. But he didn’t dare: “He’s a cold killer.” In the next minute he grew feverish. In the glowing light from closed storefronts, his face took on a tonality that to people passing them by would have made it obvious that one of those two men was going to be the end of the other.
They had been walking on Warren Street. If you are past Smith, there comes a point at which Warren splits and you meet Court Street. If walking on its left bank, once you go across, Baltic begins. Rosario usually took that street to reach the overpass on the BQE highway, to get to Red Hook. But now, to avoid any further cooperation with Todvrodoswky, to not collaborate in his own murder, thus preventing his life ending as a crime scene, around which a post-modern “artist” would try to put a NYPD Do Not Cross Yellow Line, and call it a Human Blood Installation, Rosario decided to skip Baltic, not to lead his nemesis straight to his home.
On one of the vectors of that corner, where Warren is separated from one of its halves by the main throughway, there was a ghostly, unfrequented, but brimful secondhand bookstore. That corner used to keep odd hours depending on the season; in the autumn, it closed very late in the day and opened very early in the night. The bookstore had stood many years on the same corner, but its days were already numbered. The bookstore’s owner was a friendly taciturn man who always gave off the appearance of having just woken up, and at the same time, of getting ready to go to bed. He was sitting at the entrance. He was smoking in the company of another man; but for the smoke, they looked like the reflection of each other’s taciturnity. Yet, to the man running for his life, his business presented the sole opportunity of escaping horror before it could strike. Here, Rosario took the only opportunity. Once sheltered in the dusty safety of decomposing books, Rosario would try his effort to remember what the fuck had he done to Todvrodoswky.
Slowing down his pace, he had caused “Sigürd” to pull slightly ahead of him; then, indifferent to the one-way traffic, Rosario broke off running in despair, to safety. Yet, anyone noticing would have derided him; for he would have been mistaken for a costumer in a rush to get something to read before getting home when reading was not considered anymore a “cool” thing to do even in neighborhoods that erstwhile were well-read and book-friendly. Like Rosario himself, that had been diagnosed “almost dead.”
Running for his life, Rosario headed straight up to the dimmed back of the establishment, for he knew the secret password to the alphabetic chaos in which the books there were arranged. Many times, not in a rush to get back home to his Red Hook quarters, Rosario had gone in at any hour of the night, sometimes just to do a little browsing. And when his search had brought him there at night, he sometimes went in and did not come out until late the next day; there had been occasions when he had ended up falling asleep there under some dark staircase. There was never the risk of getting the cops called on him and getting charged with trespassing. Unless you actually got something and decided to pay for it, the bookstore owner didn’t seem to ever keep a close eye on the coming-ins and going-outs of his costumers. Rosario kept this in mind as he entered. Following a maze of dusty counters, which in all probability had been set in a place intended to be provisional but decades after were still displaying their items on a first-come, first-served basis, he found a hideout to spend the night in.
As he was making him his escape, Todvrodoswky had time to say to the flying prey that he would be “seeing him around.” There was menace and revenge lurking in his words. He said it loud enough for the already running man to hear him through the fast falling darkness. After giving him that cold-blooded killer look, when Rosario had asked him concerning the object of his “search,” Sabrina, wanna-be actress from Germany or Mexico, Todvrodoswky angrily had shot back that he knew not “who the fuck nor where the fuck” Sabrina Santo Schmidt was. He was lying. But that was to be discovered only much later.
About the Author:
Jayno Miches is an American writer of Dominican-Spanish ancestry. He studied Spanish at the New York University, where he received a Master’s, and Philosophy and European Thought at the City University of New York, where he received a Ph.D. He writes fiction and nonfiction, but remains largely unpublished. He has lived in Germany and Switzerland, and travels extensively through Spain and Latin-America. Miches is a life-long resident of Brooklyn.