Half asleep in frog paja.., p.1

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, page 1

 

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas
 



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Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas


  Tom Robbins

  Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas

  For Maestro Rudolpho.

  For Our Man in Nirvana.

  And for the visiting faculty.

  It has been demonstrated that some amphibians are able to use celestial bodies for orientation.

  -The Encyclopaedia Britannica

  No doubt the world is entirely an imaginary world, but it is only once removed from the true world.

  -Isaac Bashevis Singer

  FOUR P.M.

  The day the stock market falls out of bed and breaks its back is the worst day of your life. Or so you think. It isnt the worst day of your life, but you think it is. And when you give voice to that thought, it is with conviction and a minimum of rhetorical embellishment.

  This is the worst day of my life, you say, as you drop a salted peanut into your double martinion better days, you drink white wine-and watch it sink. It spirals downward more slowly, more gracefully, than your own plunging fortunes, the pretty little gin bubbles that gather around the peanut a marked contrast to the lumps and burrs and stinging things that are attaching themselves to your heart.

  It has been approximately three hours since the market slid off the roof, and the shocked and, at times, hysteric roar that had filled the Bull&Bear earlier in the afternoon is starting to give way to a slightly dimmer din of elaborate survival strategies and cynical jokes. You share neither in the desperate ploys nor the false mirth. You hold your prematurely graying head in your hands and repeat, This is the worst day of my life.

  Come on, kid, says Phil Craddock. The marketll be back.

  Maybe the market will be back. But I wont. Ive left my clients so far underwater, theyre going to need gills to breathe. You gulp a fireball of martini. Posner knows it, too. He passed me in the hall right after the bell and asked me if I didnt think nursing was a noble occupation.

  Maybe he meant for him.

  You laugh in spite of yourself. Posner emptying bedpans? Before that happens, the Pope will star in an X-rated movie shot on a mink ranch. No, Phil, the old man sent me a signal that said, Sell your Porsche, baby, and line up for food stamps. If there isnt a major bounce-back on Monday, I am puppy chow.

  Mondays four days off.

  Thanks for reminding me. A whole extra day to go crazy in. Well, Good Fridays famous for its executions.

  Settle down, little lady, says Phil. Nows the time to slip into your bulletproof bra.

  At the reference to intimate apparel, you redden. It was fine and dandy for you to joke about X-rated movies, youve never seen an X-rated movie, X-rated movies are unreal to you, but when a man, even a man like Phil Craddock, looks you in the eye and speaks of things personal, things private and tinged with naughtiness, your inevitable fluster paints such dollops of pimento on your olive cheeks that they would be fit to garnish a martini-in this case, the third one of the afternoon, all doubles-and when you attempt to stem the blood, it makes you blush all the harder. Your propensity to be easily, blatantly embarrassed is one of the several things that annoys you about your lot in the world, one more example of how the fates love to spit in your consommE. The company at your table is another.

  Phil Craddock trades soybeans and pork bellies and, except for the loosely knotted tie around his neck, looks as if he might farm them, as well. Come to think of it, the tie is rather a farmers tie, a chronically unstylish, country-prayer-meeting kind of tie, broad and outdoorsy and turned up at the tip. (There is only one person in the Bull&Bear more slovenly attired than Phil, and that is the man at whom Ann Louise, your other tablemate, is staring.) Actually, Phil is considerate and congenial, but that annoys you all the more because he reminds you of your annoying supposed boyfriend, Belford Dunn. Phil and Belford are really very much alike, except Belford is a decade younger, and, of course, one could hardly imagine Phil sharing his apartment with a born-again monkey.

  As for Ann Louise, you dont know her well. She joined Posner Lampard McEvoy and Jacobsen about six months ago, moving from New York, where, apparently, she was a house-afire broker, and where, gossip would have it, she indulged an inordinate fondness for sodomy, practicing it with practically every bigwig on Wall Street, including a few who are household names. Ann Louise is middle-aged and squat, but not unattractive, and you suspect you could learn a thing or two from her-in the area of business-but Ann Louise has a reputation, and, moreover, shes barely acknowledged your presence, having spent the past half hour staring at the back of a long-haired stranger (strange to you, that is), who appears to be holding court at the bar. You lack the angle and the eye-power to see him clearly.

  In any case, it is no wonder youre irritated. Of all the brokers, managers, and investment bankers in the Bull&Bear with whom you might hold mental hands at this critical, even historic moment; before whom you might pour out your singspiel of personal defeat, why did you have to end up at a table with these two … outcasts? It is unfair, although not untypical, an insult pasted to your injury, and further evidence, you think, that this is the worst day of your life.

  The worst day? Gwendolyn, you are forgetting, perhaps, that day-was it eight years ago?-when in the same mail you received notice that you had been rejected for graduate study at Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvanias Wharton School of Business; in the same mornings mail, turned down by all of your top choices, and you a female member of an ethnic minority at a time when institutions, in a befuddled, heavy-handed attempt to compensate for past injustices and in an almost panic-stricken scurry to be perceived as sociologically correct, were falling all over themselves to add persons of your description to their folds.

  The worst day? Surely it would require more than the markets free-fall, with you in its arms, to eclipse that day when your mother scribbled one last sonnet in her lavender notebook and stuck her head in the oven.

  The worst day? You are only twenty-nine years old. There will be other days, other catastrophes. Perhaps in the very near future. In fact, something may be building at this exact minute, something connected to, if not wholly precipitated by, the born-again monkey.

  FOUR-FIFTY P.M.

  Located in the failing heart of Seattles financial district, the Bull&Bear restaurant and lounge is an old-school, masculinized establishment, with pressed zinc ceilings, dark wood paneling, and passages of velvety maroon wallpaper dotted with rows of spiky gold fleurs-de-lis, which some patrons, after a few cocktails, habitually perceive as mutating dollar signs, money symbols grown lush, radiant, and, they hope, prophetic. On any Friday afternoon, its bar is crowded with noisy bookies, as they call themselves, winding down at the end of a stressful week in a stressful occupation, but on this Friday, which is actually a Thursday, the population of drinkers has nearly doubled-and it gives no indication of thinning out. Indeed, many of the brokers will remain in the Bull&Bear until it evicts them at two in the morning. It isnt simply a matter of pouring alcohol on their wounds or of a reluctance to go home and look the family in the eye. There are practical reasons. Everyone is on pins and needles (or fleurs-de-lis) waiting to learn how the foreign markets will react. Then and only then will it become clear whether or not this plunge is the Big One, the Death Crash, the financial apocalypse that will put the broke back in broker once and for all and leave the United States of Americas standing in the international economic community somewhere between that of Portugal and Mongolia.

  To that end, all eyes are on Tokyo, where, due to the sixteen-hour time difference, the international date line, and daylight saving time, the Nikkei is just now beginning to light the gas under its morning teapot. Every brokerage house in downtown Seattle has left a scout or two in the office to watch the wire, and throughout the evening the spotters will ph
one in to the Bull&Bear or, in some cases, deliver in person, the latest report on the state of the Nikkei. It is Good Friday already in Europe; markets there closed long before it became apparent how much of Americas doo-doo had hit the propeller, and they will not reopen until Sunday night, Seattle time.

  When a bartender shouts, Gwen Mati! Telephone for Gwen Mati! a momentary hush falls over the room. Could this be the first dispatch from the front? As you scoot your chair from the table and rise, people from Merrill Lynch, Prudential Securities, and other prominent firms gaze at you with eager, almost envious orbs, not stopping to consider that were you a major player, you would have had your personal satellite phone alongside your martini glass. Your colleagues at Posner Lampard McEvoy and Jacobsen suffer no illusions about your importance, yet because they are aware of your ambitions, they do pause to wonder if you might have bribed the office sentinel to call you instead of Posner with the early numbers from Tokyo.

  Here! you yell, and wave your arms. The phone is attached to the wall at the far end of the bar, and you set out for it, gingerly threading your way through the mob. As soon as you are out of earshot, which is a matter of inches, Ann Louise turns to Phil and says, That girl is finished in this business.

  Why you say that? You hear something?

  Lets just say I have a feeling in the seat of my pants. Ann Louise grins lasciviously.

  On you push, sustaining an occasional elbow to the breast or blast of cigarette smoke in your face. Inebriation is rampant. Liquids are being spilled. Glasses shattered. Confessions exchanged. Cocaine-when is the last time youve seen cocaine in this milieu?-snorted. Brokers are openly necking with their sales assistants, managers are caressing their secretaries thighs. It is akin to the sudden outbreak of war, when all social rules are temporarily suspended. As you squeeze past the table where Sol, your firms chief analyst, is sitting, he gives you a faint, rueful smile and says, AprEs nous le dEluge. The fun has stopped, mon amie. You pat his shoulder and press on, but as you near the telephone, you hear his voice behind you. The fun has stopped.

  You reach for the receiver. There will be no co-worker on the line, no exclusive flash from the Nikkei wire. It will be, rather, Q-Jo Huffington, your supposed best friend, calling to tell you she is waiting for you at the Virginia Inn. You are well aware that Q-Jo is waiting. You had arranged to meet at four-thirty at that arty tavern among whose bohemian clientele Q-Jo is very much at home. You dont much like the place, since it reminds you of your supposed parents, the kind of place they would have frequented, but it is far, far preferable to having Q-Jo, all three hundred embarrassing pounds of her, show up at the Bull&Bear. You are annoyed that she is impatient. Could she really expect you to keep your date on a day such as this? Not if she has listened to the news, she couldnt. Alas, Q-Jo listens only to the music of the spheres.

  Hello, you snap, sounding as gruff as your little schoolgirl candy valentine voice can manage. The voice on the other end belongs to Belford Dunn, your assumed beau. Gee, honey, he says, sorry to trouble you with this on a terrible day-Belford has heard the news-but AndrEs got out. Hes run away!

  Belford is virtually sobbing. Yet, you feel more annoyance than sympathy. Leave it to Belford! Your career is sailing down the greased chute to Hell, the entire American economy is sailing down the chute, while Belford goes to pieces over a runaway pet. On the other hand, AndrE is no ordinary pet. AndrE is a monkey with a past.

  And he has not so much run away as escaped.

  Belford, please, you hear yourself plead. Somehow, the alcohol has distanced you from your voice just enough so that you can listen to it as if it had been prerecorded. Still, you cant be entirely objective about it. Nothing about yourself annoys you quite so much as your voice. This is the way, you think, a package of Hostess cupcakes would sound if a package of Hostess cupcakes could speak. Q-Jo, on the other hand, says your voice is your lone saving grace. She claims you are the only career woman she has ever met for whom Dental Drill was not a second language. You explain that businesswomen have to talk harshly in order to compete with men. And if your voice is as airy and warm and vulnerable as Q-Jo says, it is only because you have been unable to alter it. Once, you took up smoking in an attempt to produce deeper tones, but cigarettes made you nauseous. What Q-Jo hears as sexy, you perceive as squeaky. That, regrettably, was your childhood nickname: Squeak. Your mother never called you anything but Gwendolyn, but to your dad and everybody else, it was Squeak-this and Squeak-that. Made you feel like a goddamned mouse.

  Please, Belford… . You make it clear that while the market has been closed since one p.m., that while its sudden nine-hundred-point decline probably has given you a permanent haircut, that while you may be in a swell saloon swilling gin, you, nonetheless, are technically still working. You owe it to your clients as well as to yourself-your personal account has been bled of some relatively serious juice-to remain on duty, as it were, until the heathen Japs, for whom the anniversary of Our Lords crucifixion is just another day in the shop, demonstrate whether or not they intend to follow us to the bottom of the lake. However, not wishing to appear insensitive to Belfords plight, you, in spite of your responsibilities and woes, offer him a deal. To wit: if AndrE hasnt turned up by supper time-and you are confident that he will not forgo his raisin bread and banana Popsicles-you will join in the search. Furthermore, you will bring Q-Jo along so that she might apply her considerable psychic powers to the determination of the monkeys whereabouts.

  Relieved, Belford thanks you profusely. So profusely it annoys you. Meanwhile, you say in your most efficient manner, you can scour the neighborhood. And better notify the police.

  Yeah, I guess I better, he concedes unhappily. I dont think AndrE would … revert or anything. But I guess Im morally obliged to tell the authorities.

  You are about to ring off-expressions such as morally obliged rather irk and embarrass you-when he says, At first, hon, when you talked about waiting for news from Japan, I thought you meant Dr. Yamaguchi.

  Who?

  You know. Dr. Yamaguchi. Hes due in town tonight.

  Oh, that cancer guy. What would he have to do with any of this?

  Well, Belford says, hes from Japan. And hes bringing good news. That could help the market.

  You sigh your best long-suffering sigh and hang up. Since you are in the vicinity, you go to the ladies room and urinate as hard as you can, forcing a stream against the porcelain that would knock a small animal off its feet or put out the eye of a cyclops. Then, you commence to fight your way back through the crowd. As you move parallel to the bar, you find yourself directly behind the man at whom Ann Louise has been staring; a tall, slender man with bleached, stringy hair hanging halfway down the back of a worn leather jacket. Hes in tight but frayed jeans, and you notice a gold earring in his left lobe, as well as some sort of tattoo on the back of his hand. If it is incongruous that a fellow of uncouth appearance would be standing at the bar of the Bull&Bear, it is all the more unusual that throughout the afternoon other, more acceptably attired, people, people in the business (Posner, even!), have been stopping to chat with him. There are a couple of brokers around him now, schmoozing it up, and you think, This couldnt have happened in the eighties, this could only happen on the worst day of my life.

  When, on the spur of the moment, the stranger spins around to leer at you, a high-pitched little yelp Minnies out of your throat, and you flinch as if you were a ripe tomato thats just heard the creak of the garden gate. Small wonder you are startled. The smile that slices across the bony plain of his stubbled jaws is as fierce as a paper cut, and his eyes are as reddened as bedsores, as probing as coat hangers. You feel their gaze in your uterus. Before you can move away, he lays a single bony finger against your wrist and nods toward Sol, the analyst. The fun is just beginning, he whispers confidentially, and his bad grin widens like a rip in a wetsuit.

  Back at your table, you slide with exaggerated helplessness into your chair and slump there. Good grief! you exclaim. Who
is that scumbag?

  Why, thats Larry Diamond, says Phil.

  And Ann Louise adds, as if it explains everything, Hes just back from Timbuktu.

  FIVE-FIFTEEN P.M.

  Because you feel a trifle queasy after draining your third martini, you decide to order food. For years, you have subsisted largely on green salads made from exotic plants with astringent flavors and unpronounceable names (try saying arugula or radicchio after a hard day riding the range) and drizzled with vinegars that cost more than good champagne; but today the rules have been suspended, and your taut tummy is crying out for animal protein. Being a traditional meat-and-potatoes kind of cookery, the Bull&Bears kitchen is quite prepared to fill your request for chopped round steak with carmelized onions and steamed asparagus.

  While the waitress is arranging your utensils, your bread basket, and butter dish, Phil volunteers some information on this distasteful Larry Diamond character. Seems Diamond used to be an ace, quite possibly the hottest broker in the Pacific Northwest, but he threw his darts a bit recklessly and lost his job and his assets in the last crash, the crash of 87.

  We knew about him in New York, Ann Louise interjects. For a hooterville like this, he generated jumbo juice. But basically, he was a churner, and smiling-and-dialing will always bury you in the end. At that, she shoots you a pointed glance. You cannot help but blanch.

  Yep, says Phil, running his clunky farmers fingers through his white hair. Ol Larry was prone to go dialing for dollars. Wonder what hes doing nowadays.

  Hes just back from Timbuktu.

  Yes, Ann Louise, you mentioned that. But why? you ask. What would a guy from the business be doing in a place like that?

  It is Phil who answers. Maybe he knows something we dont.

  About Timbuktu?

  Hey, we got a global economy.

  But Timbuktu? I mean, thats supposed to be the end of the earth.

  Well, everywhere else has already been tapped. Thailand. Argentina. Turkey, now, and Vietnam. Maybe Timbuktus a play.

 
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