Pancakes With Czajkowski
Illustration by Mitch HandsoneCzajkowski just returned from a second trip to Thailand. On the first trip, around Christmastime, he was in Bangkok, having a terrible time locating suitable prostitutes, owing to his fetish for vaginal sex with consenting adults. But hed managed, eventually, and it was while he was consummating the first in what hed hoped would be a series of such transactions that the earthquake and tsunami struck. So he zipped up and hopped a flight down to Phuket, where he spent the next month helping to piece together remaining bits of the world. Then he came back to the States. But once home he found it difficult adjusting to the dominant American oblivion. Americans seemed to think the disaster was over, because it was no longer the lead story on television news; Michael Jacksons penis had grown considerably more important. And so, unemployed but with some savings, Czajkowski returned to Phuket and looked up his old aid-worker friends in Patong Beach. They welcomed Czajkowski back with an official military title and matching job: running a makeshift morgue. It was the worst thing imaginable, Czajkowski tells me over plates of garlicky cow and potatoes and a bottle of red Argentine wine. Like a slaughterhouse, with people. Even now, weeks later, Czajkowski says hes having trouble readjusting to life in our fair and bovine land of robotic commerce, economic narcissism and compassion-deficit disorder. I finish my glass of wine and sigh. So does Czajkowski. We look somber and ridiculous. Its cold outside, by local standards, but only in the 40s; were indoors, bundled up in heavy overcoats for an arctic winter, Czajkowski topped with his sagely gray beard and long hair and I with my silly fedora. We look like Karl and Chico Marx dining in Copenhagen. Is everything all right? Its our waitress, wearing reasonable clothing, radiating warmth. She made some pleasantly disparaging comments about our ridiculous outerwear when we arrived, and her re-appearance momentarily clears the air of its Bush/tsunami gloom. Much better now, Czajkowski replies, sitting up and taking a much-needed deep breath. Do you need more wine? she asks. We certainly do not, I reply. One more bottle, please. After dinner, Czajkowski and I walk to the east, down Sunset Boulevard. Traffics light, but the cool night air soon fills with heinous odors: Its the dreaded Laugh Factory audience queue; citizens who, having been intentionally double-doused in every kind of department-store perfume imaginable, stand in clouds of expensive noxious gases along Sunset and up Laurel Avenue as they wait for the 10 oclock show. So we cross the street toward the all-night drugstore and head south on Fairfax, beyond reach of the fumes. Just downhill and past the bus stop, I notice something remarkable on the sidewalk. With the assistance of my wine, I exclaim, dramatically, in a high-pitched squeal, Hey! and point at the remarkable thing. Czajkowski stops, sees; says, What is that? Hey! I repeat, because I dont know what it is. Its remarkable, though. Something breadlike, flat and wide, with dark zits. Czajkowski says, Its a blueberry muffin, isnt it? Flattened? Nah, I say. Too wide. Hey! I notice and point at another piece of whatever it is, about six paces south. And (hey, hey) two more, on the curb and in the gutter nearby. Pancakes, thats what they are. Or used to be. Blueberry pancakes, torn into pieces resembling Atlantis, Mesopotamia, Florida and the like. And so excited are we two grown men to identify blueberry pancakes on the sidewalk that we jump up and down, pointing and shouting like simians at a 2001 monolith. Pancakes! Hey! Pancakes! The eight or 10 citizens waiting nearby for their bus to arrive do not join us but exchange glances with one another, hoping that were only ridiculous. This continues for about 20 seconds, until we get tired. Wine, cow and potatoes dont much care to jump. Pancakes, I summarize, nodding. Czajkowski says, How do you suppose they got there? Hm. I used to live around here; cant recall a restaurant in the area that serves breakfast. We search for clues with our eyes and feet. Theres a flattened paper cup, says Czajkowski, pointing at it. And a gum wrapper. And a broken bottle. And an envelope. Candy wrapper, I reply. Cigarette butts, cellophane, syringe, gumwad, diaperwad, ticket stub. Styrofoam, says Czajkowski. We look at each other as identical cartoon light bulbs appear above our heads. And we say, in unison, Hey! With one foot, Czajkowski nudges the Styrofoam takeout container out from beneath the bus bench; with his other foot, he flips it over. Its a small, white Styrofoam suitcase, built to last longer than a human being, but sold to transport leftovers for one night and then be retired as trash. Inside the box is nothing, nothing but a few dark smudges. We get down on all fours for a closer look. Hey, I no longer exclaim but recite. That looks like . . . . . . blueberry stains, says Czajkowski, triumphantly. Mystery solved. Someone ordered pancakes at a restaurant on the other side of town, couldnt finish, took his leftover pancakes on the No. 2 bus, got off at Fairfax, then either forgot about it while waiting for his next bus or decided to leave it on the bench for someone in greater need of pancakes. But then a dog came by, knocked the box to the ground and tore up the pancakes. But theres no bite marks or paw prints on anything. Oh, yeah, says Czajkowski. Hm. Were still on all fours, among the trash. Czajkowski looks lost. I look up at the citizens standing nearby, waiting for the No. 2 bus, trying not to look at us. And a memory kicks in: Theres a relatively new restaurant around the corner called the Griddle. Wasnt there when I lived here. I hear they serve a tasty pancake. But I dont say anything. Czajkowskis been through enough. Czajkowski says, You know, this is probably it. This is the first and last time either of us will ever see blueberry pancakes on any sidewalk, ever. It just doesnt happen more than once in a lifetime. A familiar figure suddenly appears from out of the shadows to the north. It points at Czajkowski and me. Hey! exclaims our waitress, recognizing the two ridiculously dressed drunken carnivores mingling with trash on the sidewalk. Is everything all right? I hope Czajkowski tipped well.
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