"One plastic cigarette lighter; one three-by-five-inch spiral-bound notebook, blue cover; one leather wallet, no cash ..."
"Hey!" I snapped. "There was cash when I got here!"
"That's not what the logbook says."
"Son of a bitch!"
"Continuing on:" said the police officer as he tallied the items piled on the desk in front of him; "one cell phone, turned on; one breath-mint tin full of business cards; one watch, cheap-looking ..."
"No editorializing, please."
" ... one eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch flyer, folded; three condom wrappers, empty--want me to throw those away?"
"I think I'll hold onto those for now," I replied with a grin. Mementos."
"You are a smug bastard, Fuentes."
"And finally: two disposable pens."
"Thanks, Roger," I said as I swept the items into my pockets.
While I signed the necessary forms, Roger read from his clipboard. "Says here you were brought in for possession."
"Accessory," I said. "Came in with the band." My definition of accessory was scoring some mescaline in exchange for an interview, but that was between me and my work-appointed attorney.
"Anybody I ever heard of?"
"Doubt it," I replied.
"The Jane Plains."
"Never heard of them," he admitted. "What's their genre?"
Roger winced. "That doesn't even make sense."
"I know," I told him, "but they actually sounded pretty good."
"Wonders never cease."
I shrugged and headed for the door. "Until next time, Roger."
"See you later, Max."
In the men's room of a nearby coffee bar, I checked the date on my phone while brushing my teeth. It was the twenty-fifth, so I still had about a week to find a new apartment That comforted me just a little, until I remembered it was February.
I rinsed, spit, and muttered, "I should probably do something about that."
Even though the night before had come and gone without any real substance abuse on my part, it still took a few minutes for my brain to rev up properly and remind me of the flyer in my pocket. I held my breath and called the number.
"Hello?" muttered the man's voice on the other side of the phone.
"Is this Cameron?" I asked.
"Cammy!" the voice yelled. "Phone!"
From somewhere in the distance, Cameron yelled back, "Jesus! Stop shouting so loud!"
"Can I ask what this is about?" whispered the first voice.
"I met Cameron at the Jane Plains show last night, and he said he was looking for someone to help out with the rent."
"We are!" the voice said. "Do you want to schedule an appointment to swing by and take a look at the place?"
Cameron yelled, "Jesus! Stop talking so loud!"
I read the flyer. "Your address in Inwood, which is a little over two hundred blocks from here." I read my cheap-looking watch. "Also, it's eight thirty, and I'm expected to be in the office by nine. I can come over right now if you like."
"I don't know. Cammy drank a little too much at the concert. It might not be the right time."
"On the contrary," I told him, "it's the perfect time. Hell, I just spent the night in a holding cell ..." Shit. I probably should have kept that to myself. I pushed on, though, just in case. "If we can get along in this condition, then maybe we're made for each other."
After a long pause, he said, "I like the way you think."
A little over two hundred blocks later, I knocked on a door on the fourth floor of a five-story walkup in the northernmost neighborhood in Manhattan. It was not Cameron who answered. Where Cameron's shape was tall and slightly rounded, this guy's was short and sharp. Where Cameron's skin was the shade of cappuccino, this guy's was more like hot cocoa. Where Cameron's forehead was expansive and crowned by a tight, salt-and-pepper fade, this guy's was hidden by a threadbare golf cap. And where Cameron wore cargo pants, this guy opted for snug cotton briefs.
I could have stood there in silence, averting my eyes for all eternity, but Cameron rescued me by yelling from somewhere within, "Jesus! Stop opening the door so loud!"
"I'm Mitchell," said the guy. "Come on in. I'll get some pants."
"Thank you for that." I froze immediately upon entering. When Mitchell returned, I asked with great awe, "What is this, nine hundred square feet?" After consulting the flyer, I asked with even more awe, "Two bedrooms? In Manhattan? At this price? Is this for real?"
"I know, right?"
In shock, I sank into a nearby easy chair, impossible flyer in hand.
Cameron yelled from the kitchen, "Jesus! Stop sitting so loud!"
"Long story short," Mitchell said, "Cammy got laid off in December, and there's not a lot of prospects out there."
I shrugged with genuine sympathy.
"It's a big place, and the other bedroom is empty anyway, so we figured could really use the help."
"What a coincidence," I replied. "I could really use the bedroom."
After we traded names and occupations, the important questions began. "What do you think about living with a couple?"
"I think domesticity is comforting." Truth be told, I was worried about relationship drama.
"Most people are worried about relationship drama." Imagine that. "You're not a party animal, are you?"
"Not at all." Not at home, anyway.
"Do you smoke?"
"Not for years." I was referring, of course, to cigarettes.
"Do you cook?"
Finally, something I could be completely honest about. "I love to, actually."
"I bet you make a mean enchilada."
"Excuse me?" I couldn't remember the last time someone had drawn attention to my ethnicity with that kind of recklessness, and I had no idea how I was supposed to react.
From the kitchen, Cameron yelled, "Jesus! Stop being tactless so loud!"
"What?" Mitchell was confused for second, and then he caught on. "Oh."
Had there been even the slightest bit of malice in his words, I would have walked away right then and there. We chose instead to ignore it.
He moved onto the next topic. "Have you ever seen a UFO?"
A wide-eyed Cameron appeared suddenly behind Mitchell, making quiet slashing motions across his throat--which is the universally recognized signal for "Stop what you're doing! Oh, for the love of God, stop!"
I recovered in the time it took me to blink. "I laugh because I was born and raised in New Mexico, and the UFOs practically live there."
"Wow," sighed Mitchell.
Cameron flashed me a grin and a thumbs-up before retreating back into the kitchen.
Mitchell cleared his throat. "And last, but not least, do you have a boyfriend?"
"I'm between relationships right now," my mouth said before the rest of me had a chance to comprehend what my ears had just heard. And it was a good thing too, because my eyes now discovered a detail on the flyer I'd missed before: "F or GM only."
And so the question before me wasn't whether or not I was willing to lie about my sexuality in order to win their approval; I had no problem with that. The question was, how long did I really think I could get away with it?
Oh, what the hell. Nothing ventured, et cetera et cetera. "I just haven't met the right guy yet."