There are a number of things Victoria won’t do. And the trouble with that is I’m paying her to get up off her skinny ass every fifteen minutes and look down at the street. And that’s exactly one of the things she won’t do. She won’t do it because I want her to. She won’t do it because she likes to get something for nothing. Maybe she won’t do it because in our miniature thimble food stamp life, it amuses her to see the pissed-off look on my face all the time.
“Go,” I say. “Go.”
And I raise my hand like she can talk to the palm if she wants to argue. But Victoria doesn’t argue. She never talks to the palm. She dyes her hair blond every month and lets it go dark at the roots. She eats us out of house and home. She disrespects me on a daily basis. She lives in a different universe than most other normal people.
Still, sometimes I say go and she does. Sometimes, I think she actually does what I’m paying her to do just to keep me guessing. That’s another thing. I never know what’s wrong with her. But there is something definitely always wrong with her. And I’m always on the receiving end of it and guessing about it and how it’s going to screw up my life next.
I’ve been guessing for over ten years of marriage to the woman. And I still have to pay her minimum wage. We got married long enough ago for me to have forgiven myself for the period of temporary insanity—compounded by horniness and rapid decision making—that led up to the wedding. In short: I’m a victim of the human condition. And that’s something at least I don’t have to guess about. But: capitalism. She’s got to get paid or she don’t go.
She comes back from the window and just stands there.
“Nothing,” she says. “Linda doing her whore thing. That Hoffman kid’s sitting on top of his car. There’s a dog. Nothing for you down there.”
Then she stops and smirks. She’s waiting for the punch line, the second shoe, the moment I look disgusted or angry or depressed or even like I don’t care anymore. So she can laugh at me and say something sarcastic and go back to her crossword puzzle.
And she goes: “I’m sure you’re going to make it down the stairs in time before Linda gets a customer. I’m sure.”
“You don’t know a goddamn thing.”
“Oh, I know a thing or two,” she says raising her eyebrows at where my legs should be. Instead of a thing or two, I’ve got a stump or two. But I’ve got all kinds of moves. It’s like she doesn’t even see the guide ropes down the stairs or the pulley system I put in. I’ve got a lot of time. What did she think I was doing up here with the hammer? I’ve told her, but the words just bounce right off her crossword-doing brain.
Victoria’s done every crossword book published in the last 50 years by Simon and Schuster. She has stacks of them. I asked her one time does she want to just stick to the ones in the Herald because they’re free and she tells me they’re way too easy. So she’s like this crossword puzzle Jedi master. And she’ll throw words out on me, too. Like: lugubrious.
I’ll be sitting here, drawing something—what I usually do every day—like trying to get the line of Linda’s calf just right or the expression when one of her customers looks up and thinks he sees me watching but he’s too busy getting his money’s worth to keep thinking about it—and Victoria will just come out with lugubrious. Just spontaneously like that and completely blow my mind.
“Where do you think all these drawings come from if I can’t make it down the stairs in time? I’m even faster now than when I could walk.”
“You keep on telling yourself that,” she says to the crossword book. “Mmm-hmm, you keep on believing.”
And if she busts out with a word like lugubrious, I’ll usually say something like, “Lugubrious? Get the fuck out of here with your lugubrious. I don’t even know what that means. That’s not even a word.”
But it won’t do any good. She’ll just nod like Buddha and take another sip of coffee like she’s doing right now. And I’ll know it’s a word because I’ll definitely go look it up in her crossword puzzle dictionary. And then the joke will be on me. Always. But I never back down over a word.
“Look, I’m paying you too much to keep an eye out for me, in that case, if you don’t even think I can get down there in time.”
“It’s your money.”
“Damn right it is,” I say, wheeling myself over to the shelf where I keep my sketch book and backpack. “I’m going to go do my art. With my money that you’re stealing by not doing your job.”
“Keep your money,” Victoria says. “I’m going on strike.”
She isn’t going on strike. We’ve been married a decade. My wife doesn’t strike. Even when, for example, I get really pissed-off and use a word like lugubrious in every other sentence to drive her crazy. I might say something like, “I’m not trying to be all lugubrious about it, but I think we’re running out of coffee” or “Those kangaroos on the show were really lugubrious the way they ran around like that. Don’t you think?” That sort of thing used to get to Victoria. But now she just laughs at me. She doesn’t even bother defining the words for me anymore.
The rope and pulley system gets me down to the landing and then out the front door of the building in less than a minute. It works like this: I’ve got a pair of really smooth electrician’s gloves. It took me forever to work them down so the rubber wasn’t sticky. Now they slide on the ropes like no tomorrow and I can glide down the stairs hand-over-hand. I’m using a double-braided Mammut Supersafe 10.2mm climbing rope threaded through a system of 12 extra-large anodized aluminum pulleys nailed to the wall of the stairwell. I cinch up the seatbelt on my wheelchair, kick off from the top step outside our door, and let gravity and expert hand coordination do the rest.
Whenever I get to a pulley, I have switch hand positions. I’ll admit I missed a switch once and wound up on the landing after taking a dozen stairs upside my face. But since then, I got professional at it, and I cross-train with 10 lb. weights for those times when I have to carry something heavy down in my lap. It’s all in the biceps.
So that’s what I do to get down, and today I’m actually out on the sidewalk as the guy gets out of his car and follows Linda into her apartment building across the street. Why she takes her customers up to her own residence I will never understand. But I don’t ask questions because we’ve got a good thing going. Her building has an old-fashioned Otis traction elevator inside with an expandable iron gate. By the time I wheel myself up the ramp and go into the lobby, the elevator is coming right back down for me.
The lobby’s all brown marble and decaying sofas, and if you’re moving fast in a wheelchair, you really have to be careful you don’t turn too sharp. Marble’s slippery and it hurts your face when you fall.
Ever since getting blindsided by a drunk child in an SUV in the winter of 1994, I’ve learned new things about all kinds of surfaces. I was on the crew resurfacing the part of upper 47th street that runs down to the water when the girl’s fender pinned me against our truck. That day, my life changed in just about every way. No legs, no more job at the DOT.
Now I read a lot more, and I’m compiling my own set of words like a Sith master getting ready to pull one on the Jedi. I even went back and got my AA degree. Recently, I’ve earned certificates in painting and drawing from The Odessa Institute Online—not cheap, but what the hell am I going to use my money for now? Just to pay Victoria to be my lookout?
I was about to retire so we could move out of the city. Instead, now I’m an artist. That’s what I do. And my subject is, and always will be, Linda.