Waiting For The Bank To Open
Excerpt from Buffalo Boy
by Ross G. Drago
In Buffalo, outside the restaurant, the fine snow hissed by the window. I would have to wait another half-hour before the downtown main bank opened. I asked Dorothy for a refill of coffee. I had finished a glazed twist donut, and although I was still hungry I had only a dollar in change left in my pocket.
Dorothy was thin and her hair was straight, turning gray from dark brown. Her eyes were Italian, but she was not. They had darkness beneath them, and in her eyes, like stage suns with still lashes thick from mascara, there was a sadness I hated to see.
Her skin was getting soft looking. I had touched a young woman once, a woman I didn’t know, accidentally. I was walking behind her, and my hand grazed her rear end, and for the first time I felt a woman’s softness in a sexual way. But that kind of softness was different from the way Dorothy’s skin looked like it might feel. It was beginning to look too soft, as though she was leaving. It was starting to look like flesh whose spirit was quietly and over time, slipping away.
She poured my coffee. I studied her hand, took a picture of her wrist with my mind. When she had gone to talk with the older woman at the other end of the counter, I took out my sketchpad and pencil and drew her hand. I called it, “At the Deco restaurant this morning, Dorothy poured.’’
Funny there was no low society magazine, like there were high society ones. There were so many people who ate here, and no one ever covered it except an artist or two. I entertained the idea of starting a low society magazine, interviewing people who had donuts and coffee every morning at the Deco Restaurant. How did they like their coffee? Did they use a napkin last Wednesday when they had guests? Who did they meet here? What were they wearing for lunch? Did they have lunch? Where did they buy their hat? For how much? How did they arrive? The more I thought it out, the more I liked the idea. It would be the first society magazine that read like The Grapes of Wrath.
Last week it had turned into 1957. Everyone knew it was going to do that, but still, what a surprise! They celebrated it as if it had a choice of happening. What luck! To celebrate in spring, because you survived the winter, that seemed like a reasonable surprise. What luck! But to celebrate what was inevitable seemed strange to me, the way it always seemed peculiar that sports people jumped up and down wildly when one team or the other won. Someone had to win. There were two teams playing, and the odds say that one will fall behind the other. It would seem to me that something more worth wild elation would be the very rare occasion that both teams tied. That was rare. But how could they go home, week after week, out of sorts because they had only won, and failed to tie. They would lose patience waiting for a tie. It just wouldn’t work. It was best, no doubt, just the way it was.
I drank my coffee slowly. I did not want to be outside waiting for the bank to open. My buckle boots were holding melting snow, dripping on the footrest beneath the counter. Long underwear, white, thermo type, absorbed water upward like a slow wick on my ankles, and I wore double socks over still cold feet. My long gray wool coat was too thin and two sweaters were not enough to stop that wind from blowing through me, making me unbearably sexually aroused. It didn’t happen often, but on occasion there was a wind that seemed magnetic, that the air wind obeyed. It was that wind that could not be stopped. From nowhere, always in winter, it came through my body like a violin bow across a violin, and I wanted to stop and wail at the feeling of sexuality. There was no hiding from it. It was blowing through the restaurant. It was after me.
In ten more minutes the main bank in Buffalo would open. For some reason I remembered a day when my mother brought me downtown to the bank. I was ten. She took me not to the tellers, but to the carpeted area of the enormous, Cathedral like building. She introduced me to the president of the main bank. It never struck me as being odd, we being so terribly poor, that she should know the president. He welcomed her, called her Francis, and shook my little hand.
All of that I guess was important to her. She had gone through the depression. She never recovered from it. Security meant everything to her after that, economic security. She had bonds. War bonds. They looked like giant money. They looked important. They were safe, she told me. You could trust them. Clearly, you could trust nothing else. What a great mystery it all was to me, all of the important paper things. The important paper work in my life was all made up in sketchpads. Mine said Drago, in a quick scrawl, hers said Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin and Ulysses S. Grant. Who could compete with the already known?
I made another sketch of Dorothy passing by with a box of napkins in her hand and signed it Ulysses S. Grant. It definitely took on another feeling. Suddenly, my work looked valuable.
In two minutes they would open the doors to the Bank. I gave Dorothy my money at the register and left a fifteen-cent tip. The coffee and the donut were thirty-five cents. That left me fifty cents. It added up, they said. Fifteen cents, a couple of times a day from me alone, eventually amounted to something. I knew they must be right. I had just never tried it.
I shoved my hands into my gloves and my gloves into my pockets and went out into the icy wind. The tiny hard granules of snow took a whip to my face and I started tearing immediately. The tears ran down my cheeks from the whipping Mother Nature was giving me for God knew what, but I knew damn well I deserved it. Imagine, a guy like me.
I slipped in the street, almost fell and caught myself. People glanced for a second and judged whether I was drunk or not. In a typhoon, if you fell down, they’d try and figure out if you were drinking or not. People. Where do they really come from? And why are there always more of them briefly around Christmas and New Years? Mysteries.
I walked across the black and white marble entryway outside of the bank. It had thin brass banding between the colors of marble to make a mosaic design. It meant that it wasn’t really marble, but cast marble. I grabbed the bronze door handle, pulling it against the wind. The giant thick glass door opened and I forced my way in.
Inside, it was warm, and the smell of perfume and after-shave lotion freshly applied came through. People were beginning to come in behind me. I brushed the snow off as I walked toward the marble walls. Against the walls at regular intervals in the four story vaulted mezzanine, were dark oak wall desks where checks could be made out, funds withdrawn. I removed my gloves and blew into my hands to warm them. I went to a wall desk, shook all of the wetness from my sleeves and jammed my gloves into my coat pocket.
Carefully I opened my sketchpad and set it out before me on the black and green marble top. Mounted into the marble top, all polished and cool, was a bronze cast ink well with a straight long fountain pen standing straight out of it. Carefully I lifted the pen, saw the jet black and thick ink on its nib. I touched the point to the bronze sheath and let the excess drop find its way back down into the ink well. I held it, gently, and moved it over the white paper, and began to make my marks.
The rich black ink came out, fluidly, brilliant against the pure white. Nowhere, nowhere left in America could you find a straight fountain pen. Everything had been converted over to bright blue ballpoint pens. The river of perfectly controlled black ink came onto my page, and made lines for me. It knew how much I loved it. It knew that it was the last of its kind.
I made waveforms like my father, the artist who had taught me. I made continuous infinity signs. I filled a page with repeating round forms and blew on the page until it dried. Inside of me, I felt happy. I had found a thinnest thread that lead back in time. I could feel the past, as though I were the one elected, to come here, to see the marble, to dip the fountain pen, and of a hundred-thousand people over centuries of time, to be the one who understood what was ending, to be the one who knew what was just ahead, and to feel for just a few minutes all that was being forgotten in the rush.
When the armed guard at the door repositioned himself to watch me, I understood that it was time to go. It would not be long before this too was converted to a bright blue, throw away ballpoint pen. The guard would watch the blue ball point pens just the same. He would guard anything he was told to guard. I closed my notebook, and put my gloves back on. Under my arm, I carried the last of the sensuality America would tolerate.
Buffalo Boy may be purchased through Amazon.com for $14.95 plus shipping. Buffalo Boy, by Ross G. Drago
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