Date:         Thu, 29 Jun 1995 23:10:43 -0500
From: Marty Rosen 
Subject:      Taste of Chicago
To: Multiple recipients of list WORDS-L 


Karlson, he was smooth.  Not slick-smooth, like some 708 fop, but deep,
midwestern smooth, like a tuna hot dish made with real Wisconsin cheese,
or an orange jello mold--no pineapples, just white grapes.  It wasn't his
clothes, so much.  Hell, anybody can sport a yellow silk tie with a
delicately embroidered profile of Adam Smith stuck in just the
right spot.  No, it wasn't the clothes.  He'd have looked smooth even in
a monogrammed polo shirt.  He was just smooth.  You could tell he had the
eye of an architect, and when he saw a building, you just knew that
building had been_seen_, you know?  He wasn't about to walk into its
walls by accident, and he'd never forget where it was, either.  And he
had a heart as big as a hot dog vendor's steamtable. You just knew that if
he said "Once I built a railroad, made it run, made it race against
time," that he meant it, and that he had built that railroad.  And you
knew when you looked at him that if you asked him if he could spare a
dime you'd damn sure get more than "No!" for an answer, and the answer
would be as deep as his deep pockets and as smooth as that tie.  And you
could tell that if you tried to give him the dog, he'd know a hot one
from a fake, and he'd know its pedigree, and which side of the
slaugherhouse it had come from.  Yep.  Karlson was smooth.  He could cut
the mustard, and being from Wisconsin, it was a pretty sure bet he could
cut the cheese too, but not so's you'd know it.

Then there was Emily.  I admit it.  I don't remember what she was
wearing, but heck, when you go to the Louvre, you don't remember the
frames, either, do ya?  She was a California girl, Emily, but no
airhead.  I mean, educated?  Whoo.  Solid stuff up there, a head on her
shoulders, and she'd been places and paid attention, too.  She was my
type.  New Times Roman, you know?  Kind of standoffish, in a way, but the
kind of face that just makes you want to read between the lines, and keep
reading the same sentence over and over again till you have it
memorized.  And when she leaned forward to look deep into Karlson's eyes,
for me it was like looking at a line of italics that burnt a hole in the
page of my mind.

And that was the big hurt.  Every time she leaned forward to look at
Karlson, I got this pain in my chest like a hiatal hernia that wouldn't
go away and no surgery was going to fix.  That's the way it was.  She had
the eye for him and him alone.  It was clear that he was the relish on
the bratwurst of her life, and I think the first time she saw him her
buns turned green and squishy.  Well, that's okay.  I can handle being
second best.  It was enough to just be there and if she was happy, what
more could I want?  I had it bad, and that ain't good.

Tushar, though, he wasn't giving up easy.  He's different, you know?
These third-worldies have a different way of operating--disrespectful of
our ways and hypocivilized.  Oh, he was clever, sure.  In that kind of
inscrutable way they're all clever.  Talking admiringly about the white
man's burden, when all the time you just knew he could hardly wait to get
his hands on a little piece of that burden, especially the better half of
it.  I knew he wasn't going to act the gentleman and leave the two
lovebirds alone, and I knew that spelled trouble.

I wasn't surprised when he started talking about polynomials.  Hell you
don't need a class in sanskrit to know what that means.  Lots of names.
Alibis.  Variables.  It's shady stuff, and I think it's the part of math
I don't really trust.  Give me good old American math.  Addition,
Subtraction, Division. Multiplication.  Two plus two is four.  That's the
way it ought to be.  And who ever heard of adding and subtracting letters
anyway?  It's irrelevant, you know?  I mean, it ain't real. Go to the
grocery store and ask for L eggs and what'll you get?  Nylons probably,
and you can't have them for breakfast, can you, not with sausage and
toast, but maybe with the occasional ham.  Polynomials.  And I'd heard
reports, about Indians, too.  They often have as many as a thousand
names.  It's in their culture.  So when he started talking about
polynomials, I figured he was getting ready to make his move.  It started
as friendly banter; innocent stuff.  The two of them, just trading the
occasional name, and Karlson asking, "Well do you know this name?"  And
Tushar, giving out that phony smile, and saying "Sure, man."

Karlson did okay for a while.  I think if it hadn't been for the coke, he
might have made it, but coke was always Karlson's one concession to
American culture, and it's what did him in.  It's the sugar and the
water, and when he binges, he just gets out of control.  Meanwhile,
Tushar just got more and more calm and orderly.  He was whipping out
bigger and bigger names, some of them Karlson even had to ask him to
spell, that's how big they were.  And I could see the bloom was off the
rose for Emily.  She needed him to be perfect, you know?  And she
deserved it, too.  And he wasn't; he was just slightly short of perfect.
Finally, there came a name he just didn't get.  I think it was something
like Virupaksha-bopaksha-bonanavana-vopaksha or something like that (I
don't spell Indian too good).  I could tell Emily was done.  She ordered
a root beer.  You should have seen Karlson's face fall.  He was like a
statistician after a bad set.  Love-40.

Funny thing, she didn't go for Tushar, either.  I guess the blood on his
fangs wasn't all that attractive, or becoming.  Or maybe she realized it
was all a game for him, and she wanted somebody who took it more

I don't care one way or the other; I just want to keep turning those
pages, one after the other, and if I go slow enough I won't ever get to

The End