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Flap and Bugs Go Dancing

My eyeglasses keep getting out of line and I go back to the shop where the man bends them and fidgets with the nose pads and they’re fine for a while, until they go out again. I said (helpfully), “I’m sure you know this—we’re different on each side—my nose is lot fatter on the left. Could that be the problem?”

“We’re all children of Picasso,” said the eyeglass man.

“There is no F train in Mexico,” the kid sang. He was sitting a stroller. They do this in my neighborhood—these gray-haired parents, with their super jobs—they spend weekends pushing large children around in strollers, children with long legs and scuffed sneakers. Some look large enough to push their parents.

The old woman lit a cigarette and swayed. The smoke wasn’t grey, but blue as the Adriatic.

She was in Trieste. Bob and I were in Trieste and the Adriatic is right beside it. Trieste is the city of citizen cat. The whole town is full of ferals, well fed, contented, nominally friendly. They filled the sunny side of the Roman theatre the morning we were there. Maybe sixty of them. Five or six prowled up to us with proprietary inquisitiveness, no stress. Accepted a head scratch, moved on. The others lolled in the mild winter sunshine, neither disturbed by nor interested in our presence.

All over town there were dishes set out for them: milk, last night’s pasta, chicken trimmings. And there were cat apartments made of stacked cardboard boxes, most lined with scraps of old blanket or quilt. Like the food dishes, the boxes were clean, well ordered, odorless.

Citizen cats on the free prowl since this port city was a Paleolithic fishing village? Since cats became our symbiots? Did it, perhaps, happen here? And spread across the connected world?

Beyond the Roman theatre is the huge Trieste police station and beyond it the Adriatic as blue as smoke.

Uncle Tom, Cousin Tom, and Brother Tom are all dead. “You outlive your world unless you die really young,” my old uncle who was not Tom said.

Flap and Bugs went dancing and haven’t returned.

We’re all wondering what they found.

Flap is heavyset, florid, boyish, with a shock of sandy gray hair forever falling across his eyes. Flap is his name and his game: he talks without ceasing, and with enormous intent. “Hello,” is “Hell OOH!” and he grabs your hand. He asks about your life, your day, your monetary situation. He asks for an exact estimate of your present level of intoxication.

“What, nothing?”

A brief expression of incredulity.

Followed by a river of talk with no breaks for any answers you might have wanted to supply. It’s his day, his money, his mood.

Many people are tired of Flap, but others immediately fill the spaces around him that the tired ones vacate. Flap has a wide range of interests, a repertory of people and their tales, and a breathtaking habit of leaning into your face. “YESS,” he’ll say, “you DIG!” And then, soon, “LISsen to this! I really want you to know!”

But Flap took up with Bugs, not the other way around; Flap chased him, and everybody said this was doomed.

Of course it’s doomed: Bugs isn’t nicknamed for a bunny rabbit. You could think his craziness was charming and you’d be very wrong. Bugs looks okay. He’s just the kind of ordinary okay about whom neighbors later say, “I can’t believe this. Such a quiet guy, always real nice.” And the TV reporter shows the image: his blank ordinary face, his empty eyes, his almost-smile.

I was always on guard when Bugs was around. I always figured he would look completely normal both before and after the whatever. His voice was never raw, never overcooked. Flap seesawed perennially between the two.

So why did they take up?

They danced together like crazy. They made a sensational pair. Long skinny Bugs, elbows out, moving like a rock star. Flap trying to talk his right leg into acting different from his left. Up it went instead of down. Flap disbelieved all kinesthetic messages and the messengers too. Talking, talking, and bumping up and down was his way of dancing.

Bugs partnered expertly, steering him away from columns, from other couples, from the vulnerable tables on the dance floor edge. The charge and countercharge between them was sensational.

Were they lovers?

I didn’t think so but what do I know. I know Bugs was too whacko for romance. If he ever lost control, it wouldn’t be orgasm that happened.

Flap went dancing for the sheer hell of it—and Bugs had Flap in thrall by simply listening to his rants. Bugs will be steering Flap. Flap will lean back, his eyes will actually roll and close. The thing is Flap was actually rather prudish. Guess what, he had a wife at home. He wasn’t home very much, but she was. She might have strayed; he didn’t need to.

But now Flap has gone dancing with Bugs and they haven’t returned.


Martha King


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2007

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