Creative Work: Short Story ‘Help Wanted’ Part 2, by Cais Jurgens

Creative WorksIn last week’s installment of Cais Jurgens‘ story ‘Help Wanted’ we found the protagonist, Fish, starting his new job at a gentleman’s club in Manhattan. We were immersed in a world of sensuous delights countered by the unglamorous reality that lies behind the scenes in such places. Cais’ work is richly textured, giving us both the glamour and flash as well as the alcoholism and despondency that pervades both sides of the bar. 

We return now to Fish and his upstream struggle to understand and belong.

Help Wanted, Part 2

By Cais Jurgens

Ja ja ja, drink it slow or you get no more. I tried my best and I took my time.  I picked up my pen and got to work.

A Degustation

How can you nurse like that
I drowned my own secret
Baby when you checked
The roast

I hoisted bitter sails
Wide mouthed
Courageous
Sunday measures

We know another on sight
Eyeing a polite bottle
Dreary longing
Eyes

How you cradle and warm it
Enjoying more the thought
Before you
Filling up floating
Dust

Your glass polished
A sundial
I’d rather see wasted than
Neglected

Knock it over
Rock it back
I’d hate to have to watch
You mop it up

Pablo was a time traveler.  He did so often and without hesitation.  I believe it was one of his only joys in life but I may be wrong.  For someone I spent up to eight hours with each day, I really knew very little about him.  What I did know was that his preferred time machine was made of Hennessy.  He’d get into his time machine sometime on Saturday evening and it would transport him to about three in the afternoon the following Tuesday.  It did this each week like clockwork.  Sometimes he would begin his time travel at work and then reappear again the following day, barely aware he’d ever been home.  He’d show up for work in low spirits but accepting of his personal hell.  Within a few minutes, out would come a stiff cup of coffee and the Baileys Irish Cream.  This would get him back to his higher function and a mindset capable of tolerating another 8-10 hours standing behind the bar.  I found Pablo to be amazing in this way.  He was living proof of the durability of the human body, a testament to what it can truly tolerate, at least in its general youth.  It’s true that he did look older than twenty-six but not a day over thirty.  

You have an order, Fish.  Off I went, food in hand.  A salmon roll, some French fries and a plate of lobster, a skirt steak, a tuna avocado roll and an order of miso soup.  It was an odd combination and therefore was going to a high roller with a couple of hungry ladies at his side.

The cashier pointed me in their direction.  The two girls were Russian.  They were tall, blonde, almost identical and spoke in a thick accent.  They flanked him on both sides at the bar in the club.  The man was middle aged, American, not a native New Yorker.  If you were in town on business you could request that the club print the name of a different restaurant on the receipt so that you could charge everything to your expense account without your company knowing you just spent several hundred dollars at a strip club.  I suspected that this was the scenario I was dealing with.

Can you bring me some ketchup? 

I brought you some ketchup, it’s right here.  I handed the man the plate of ketchup I’d prepared upstairs.

No, I need more.  It’s for the lobster.  

You want ketchup for the lobster?

Yes, please.  The lobster special that evening cost eighty dollars.  This man and his two escorts were going to cover it in generic brand ketchup.

Yes, sir.  That will be one hundred and forty-six dollars, please.  He looked at me in disbelief.  I handed him the bill, which he studied while the girls laid into their food.  Obviously this man was not aware that you shouldn’t give two exotic dancers free reign over the menu when you’re the one buying.  It was a lesson I’d seen many people learn the hard way. I saw one man escorted by two very large bouncers in black.  I over heard the cashier say that apparently he owed the house twenty-six grand.  Nobody ever saw him again.

We never saw a lot of people again, that was the nature of the business.   Our lives existed around alcohol and our livelihood because of it.  Anything and everything became an excuse to indulge heavily and it got to the point where Pablo and I drank to feel normal.  It was like coffee perking us up in the dead of night.  More than once I found myself waking up at east one hundred and fifth street in Brooklyn at five or six in the morning or maybe all the way down in the financial district.  I fell asleep on the train during my ride home many times.  It took the sanctity out of night and out of sleep for there’s nothing worse than heading home and hearing birds mock you at every turn.  I liked to imagine that morning commuters took pity on me but I didn’t mind, for you don’t really, truly know comfort until you can find happiness on a blow up mattress on a wooden floor in the center of Bushwick.  

Around Christmas I began to spend time with a beautiful, Chinese waitress named Lilly.  She was petite, striking, interesting and full of energy.  Although originally Canadian, she’d grown up in Harlem and was to me the epitome of a cool, New York girl.  We hung out every night after work at her apartment in Bed Stuy where she showed me her artwork and told me about all the things she wanted to do and be.  She was also a vegetarian but I saw her eat a real cheeseburger more than once.  She was flexible about this and I was pretty sure that I was falling for her.

I became very aware of this every foggy morning during my commute over the Williamsburg Bridge.  These few minutes often correlated to be the best part of my day, when the entire wintery city was laid out before me.  In the fog and the snowfall of early afternoon, Manhattan was like a sprawling ghost.  I’d find a place by the door if the train was empty and stand so that I could see everything a little better.  Most days I’d look out the north side to watch the skyscrapers of midtown skewer the low hanging clouds.  They’d follow the river forever uptown and I could make out exactly where I’d be walking in a few moments.  Way, way up there I knew was the rest of New York, Connecticut up on the right and the comfort of family.  Out there on the left, over the crest of buildings was New Jersey.  Other days I’d choose the south facing window and look downtown and watch newer towers grow.

I came to the city as a child one November and watched as a pile of rubble stank and smoldered.  I saw desks and curtains hanging out the sides of office buildings like they been sawed in half and cauterized.  I knew there were still people under there, waiting to be found.  Or rather, someone was waiting for them to come home.  Now a new structure was slowly climbing and I could say I’d kept track of every floor on the way up.

Out over the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges on a clear day, one can barely make out the Verrazano.  It was the last one out there, the one the cruise ships tuck beneath on their way out to sea.  When living in the vastness of human development that is this metropolis one easily forgets they’re near the ocean.  I often made a mental note to go see it, make sure that it’s still there, one of these days.  I thought maybe, when the weather warmed I’d take Lily down there to Rockaway or Cony Island and I’d get to see her in a small bathing suit, laying out in the sand.

That, unfortunately, was never to happen.  One day I just stopped hearing from her.  She stopped answering my calls, she simply fell off the face of the earth completely and I spent two weeks straight swimming in Becks from morning till night, wondering what I’d done.  I killed each morning wandering around Central Park to the places we used to sit and on sunny days, sometimes, I’d make it up to Strawberry fields with enough time to spare before work and wonder where in the world she’d gotten to.

Out, LaGuardia
Saw you from high
Thursday last
By the bright and
Lucky in a window seat

I spied
Jungle gym souls
On earth
I’m a tourist

Sunbathe above clouds
Where
A church organ
Spouts reggae

See
All the bridges
Never meant
But I don’t much care
For things
Meant

Anyway

That train
Looking up gladly
Sips
Blues on a handle
Bar

I see Queens
Where we went
To see your guy
For a haircut and

I can’t think of
Better subway Sundays
Spent admiring your bullet
Scar legs

You may be a sociopath
So is the cockpit man’s
Gentle aircraft

Fill the brim
Fuel
A pilot light
Blooms

In Help Wanted we find vivid imagery that evokes an emotional response to Fish’s plight. An author’s goal is to create that emotion, to bring it to the forefront and make the reader feel both what the character feels as well as feel for the character. Cais has done a fantastic job of both.

Stay tuned into Words, Pauses, Noises for more creative endeavours and helpful advice from our mentors in Kingston. 

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