It was high summer in my hometown -- a seaside village that was no longer the sleepy outlier. If it was ever a bedroom community, a sanctuary from the city, was questionable, because the place was now, unquestionably, a luxury garage town, where New Leather Smells hit you like the cologne on a cheap pizzeria maitre d'.
I was in town for just a few days -- to say hello to some old friends and then I would be on my way. I was planning a different kind of summer vacation this year. I would venture north, alone, to Boston, to look into some records regarding my Irish grandfather; to investigate his possible relation to a corrupt politician with the same name, and then I planned to go even further north, to Vermont to meet a friend about a round of goat cheese and a possible trip to Morocco. As a kid, Vermont meant only one thing to me -- skiing -- a thing I never did, but friends and their families seemed to be constantly packing up their Saabs and Volvos and heading to Vermont to ski and return home occasionally with broken knees. How long I intended to stay in Vermont depended entirely on my host and how inclined she would be to go to Morocco with me . . . would we leave immediately for Morocco? Perhaps. I was prepared for any eventuality.
But I never got to Vermont . . .
On the afternoon of my first day in my seaside hometown, I texted an old friend, a fellow writer, who had completed his second novel, and like his first novel, the thing was making no waves with takers -- the players in the publishing industry were immune to my friend, and to me as well. We agreed to meet over a slice of pizza and a coke and commiserate. We had both aged considerably in the year we had not seen eachother -- yes, it had only been a year, but something about turning 46 had weighed heavily on our brows and our temples and well, suddenly Over the Hill was something we knew personally, it wasn't a thing our parents were uttering downstairs by the fire, while we sat on the top step in the dark hallway late at night eavesdropping; hoping for some intimate scoop from the world of the adults. Now it was us.
We sat at the table near the window in the pizzeria where nothing had changed for forty years. We ordered the same pizza on the same paper plates with the same paper cups of Coca-Cola with the almost melted ice in them and we shook the little decanter of red pepper flakes on the pizza and the light came in the window and I looked up at the ridiculous ceramic Pizza Man that had been in the window since I was a child, "J. do you see him? The Eternal Pizza Man with his beautiful white apron and his handlebar mustache and his round belly and his chef's hat and his joyful left arm upheld with a silver tray laden with pizza?"
"Yes! He's always been here . . ."
"Always . . ." And the young pizzeria girl with the straight dark hair and the terrific tits stopped by the table to ask us if everything was okay? And we told her yes, and J. did his best not to stare as she retreated back behind the counter and toward the pizza ovens and I watched two boys spin on the red leather stools and I wondered who they would go to the prom with this year, because you see, I never went to a prom.
And then, just as J. and I were leaning into our second slice of pizza, a rabbit walked by the window, a great white rabbit with a placard. But we couldn't read the placard because it was facing out to the street, and I watched the rabbit carefully and wondered who was inside the rabbit. I saw J's eyes follow the rabbit up the street towards the delicatessen. "I hate that." I said to J.
"Hate what?" J. was folding his pizza slice, and going in for the kill.
"That having to wear a costume as a job . . ."
"Oh, you mean the rabbit?"
"Yeah -- I seem to see it more and more. I'll be sitting at a light and a bear will appear with a sign telling me that I can get a fabulous deal on a set of tires. Or there's that poor bastard dressed up as Big Boy offering you a 99 cent hamburger. And last year I saw an alligator walking up and down highway 51 advertising a septic tank cleaning service, and I thought to myself, what the hell does an alligator have to do with cleaning out a septic tank? And then of course I thought of all those baby alligators that people used to buy as souvenirs while on vacation in Florida and they took them home to their apartments in the City, and when the buggers got too big, they flushed the poor things, and wham, now you've got giant alligators living in the sewer tunnels of New York -- right? So then the poor bastard in the alligator suit made sense to me. But . . ."
"Wait, stop, I have an idea . . ." J. put down his pizza and took a long drag of Coca-Cola from his straw, "What if?"
"What if what?"
"What if you?" J. looked out the window and the Rabbit walked by again, and this time the Rabbit was looking in the window at us.
"Oh no, not me . . ." I said.
"But you don't know what I'm thinking . . . or do you?"
"I know exactly what you're thinking? You're thinking I should rent a Gorilla suit and walk up and down Madison Avenue carrying a sign that says, "if I can wear this gorilla suit for J, why can't you publish his book?" I picked up my slice of pizza and the cheese fell in such a way that it drooped over that place between your thumb and index finger and you eat it without any compunction whatsoever.
"That's not what I was thinking at all, and that in fact is world's better than anything I could have come up with!" J. was elated and I damned my big mouth.
"Well, I never did think like you and I have always had great ideas." I looked down at my remaining slice and it was cheeseless, but sweet with tomato sauce and I considered how sad I would be when it was gone, would I dare to order another slice from the 17 year old girl with the great tits? Probably not, because I didn't want to face her again.
"Wear a gorilla suit for you?"
"Yes! Please . . . " J. crumpled up his napkin and looked to the girl for our check.
"But I was going to leave for Vermont in the morning." I knew this was no out.
"What's one more day? For an old friend." Jay took the check from the girl and produced a crisp five dollar bill to cover the slices and Cokes. I looked out the window and the Rabbit was retreating up the street now as rain had begun to fall. A summer storm was suddenly upon us and the bill was paid, how could I refuse?
"Theees is theee finest goreela suit you weeell eveh seeee madmoiselle" The little costume man in the cramped costume store somewhere in the garment district draped the petite gorilla, yes, in fact, it was a petite gorilla suit, just my size, over his arm, like a lifeless poached ape, as though he were showing me the Hope diamond, as though J. was actually the Marquis de Sade buying me ermine. I reached out and touched it, "The seeeecret of theees goreela suit eees that it eees black llama. Soft? No?" It was indeed, very soft.
"We'll take it." J. took the suit from the man, "Give him your credit card." J. told me.
"Me? Why my credit card?"
"You know I don't have a credit card and you're practically independently wealthy with your recent magazine deal." J. poked at my napsack, urging me to get out my wallet.
"They only payed me fifty dollars for that story J."
"That's fifty dollars more than I have -- pay the man and put on the suit." J. was getting a bit greedy I thought, I mean, it was July, it was hot outside, I suddenly wondered if I might faint while traipsing up and down Madison Avenue carrying the placard; J. had constructed it the night before and we carried it into the city on the train much to the concern of the conductor and one annoying passenger who asked where the gorilla suit was? We told him to mind his own business and he was sufficiently intimidated, something J. and I got a kick out of. We were on a mission, a mission to get his novel published, and nosy commuters on the train were just going to have to wait to read about it in the Arts Section.
"The deeeposeeet is $500.00" said the little ugly costume man, and just when he said this, I looked over his shoulder to see a framed movie still of gorillas driving mini cars in a French plaza and I realized the still was from the famous gorilla car chase scene in The Pink Panther and I asked the man if he had been involved in some way with the movie, "Oui, Madame, oui! I am theee goreeeela in theee red car!" And somehow this amazing fact made me hand over my credit card; I no longer cared how much it would cost to wear the gorilla suit.
I signed the receipt and he showed me to the dressing room. J. sat outside waiting like a proud mother of the bride; would the wedding dress be suitable? Oh yes.
I pulled back the curtain and the bright summer city sun poured through the front window of the costume store and through the perfectly made gorilla eyes so that my retinas now felt like those of a great ape and not of me at all. I had neatly folded my clothes and now handed them to J.
"How does it feel?" J. asked.
"A bit warm, but the fit is eery, it's as though the gods tailored it for me."
"Ah yes Madmoiselle, theees suit, it has been waiting for you and you alone."
"Well, then, next stop Madison Avenue!" J. was triumphant and I considered a vow of silence, as long as I was in this suit, why should I feel obligated to speak?
J. left me on Madison Avenue with the placard and my pink napsack full of his manuscripts. I was to cover the avenue throughout the day, offering manuscripts only to those who would exchange a business card with me; a business card that proved they were in the publishing business. J. declared he was going to procure us some Italian Ice and I believed him. This would be the last I saw of him . . .