"Well, I met him on a Sunday
And I missed him on Monday
Well I found him on Tuesday
And I dated him Wednesday
And I kissed him on Thursday
And he didn't on Friday
When he showed up Saturday
I said bye-bye baby
Dis on dey ronde ronde ronde papa doo run
Dey ronde ronde ronde papa. . . "
I MET HIM ON A SUNDAY - The Shirelles
Everywhere David went he saw strikingly handsome black men with shaved heads and twinkling eyes, and every one of them was sneering at him.
He'd planned two days of his life around the telephone (why oh why hadn't he given the guy his cell phone number? At least then he could take a dump without leaving the bathroom door cracked open so he'd hear the phone ring).
By late Wednesday it seemed pretty clear that Mr. Strikingly Handsome Black Guy was not going to call, had never intended to call, and was merely playing that familiar game-of-life known as "this isn't a real cake, this is one of those fake styrofoam jobs with Plaster of Paris frosting, but GO AHEAD, DAVID, you gullible ass, take a bite anyway."
Styrofoam and the bitter fruit of indigestible frustration were becoming mighty familiar tastes in his mouth.
On Thursday and Friday David stopped pretending that he wasn't feeling well enough to leave the house, and resumed his normal course of errands. By the time he'd finished a week's worth of grocery shopping, vacuuming the hearse, having Mom's car serviced, schlepping Claire to the dentist so she wouldn't have to spend $25.00 on gas looking for a place to park within 5 miles of the downtown medical complex,dropping off Dad's dry cleaning before Mom got around to sniffing the suits for the stink of cigarettes, picking up boxes of vases that wouldn't have been quite such a good buy if they'd been delivered, and, finally, returning to the medical complex to have a mole on his back checked, David had seen no less than 10 strikingly handsome, bald black guys, all of whom sneered at him with half-cocked smiles that said: "Me with a guy like you? Are you kidding? I mean, LOOK at me. I'm beautiful and charming and sexy and you're....you."
It was no comfort that business was nil since the Devane funeral last Sunday. David needed to keep busy. On Saturday morning, after vainly trying to sleep in, he went into the funeral office and put away a stack of folders that had been unfiled for over a week. Finishing that, he went to the bookcase and sorted merchandise catalogs. Next, as he'd been intending to do for 5 days now, he pulled the LosAngeles Metropolitan Area white pages onto the desk and stared at it, hoping to divine some sure-fire ritual that would grant him a little luck just once in his life, not to mention the courage to pick up the phone and dial. He had no idea which would be worse: finding Keith Charles' phone number or not finding it. Either way, David reminded himself, life would not change one iota from what it was at that very moment.
He opened the phone book and hoped it was a good sign that he had randomly turned to the pages that began with Chang, Z., and ended with Charklitz, Joseph. David stared at the pages for a long time, wondering what kind of name Charklitz was. Polish, maybe? Russian? Did it start out as something ethnic and unpronounceable in the Old Country far from America - a name that might have had too many consonants and not enough vowels?
After contemplating this and other bits of American history, he finally turned the page, and there they were, 16 of them. One Charles after another, and not a Keith or a K in the bunch.
Relieved, David put the phone book away, and looked for another chore to do.
He was curious about the recent lack of dead bodies, and decided to check the phone log to see if people were at least calling to inquire about doing business with Fisher and Sons. There were so many after- death care facilities in the Los Angeles area to choose from, people who didn't already have a connection to a particular funeral home often went down the alphabetical listing in the yellow pages. Fisher and Sons got its fair share of inquiries, but there were always many more calls per actual funeral arrangement. David decided to check the log to see if there was an exact mathematical ratio. It was mid- summer,so it was easy to go back to the beginning of the year and count the number of calls, then compare them with those that had become paying customers. He was well into an hour's worth of information gathering, when he turned to the second to the last page of the log, dated that Tuesday, and saw Nana Eddie's name and a phone number written therein Mom's familiar handwriting.
He stared at it for quite some time, experiencing a wondrous mixture of terror, anger and joy. What was Mom thinking - didn't she know they couldn't afford to lose ANY potential customer, even one whom Fisher and Sons had already buried (if you wanted to get technical about it)? Why didn't she tell him about the phone call?
It would be just like her not to bother him with it, thinking that he was sick. Maybe she passed the message on to Dad and he called the number, figured it was a prank, and told Keith Charles/Nana Eddie to never call Fisher and Sons again.
This could be very bad for business, David decided. I am going to pick up the phone and make a business call, because that's what we do here. We return phone calls. We're professionals. We're not horny 13 year-olds. Pick up the phone. Pick it up, David. Please, goddamit, pick up the phone.
He picked it up. Dialed the number. Put the receiver down. Went to the kitchen for coffee. Took a shower and jerked off for 20 minutes without climaxing. Went outside and picked at some of the dead impatiens hanging from the planters on the porch. Then he went back inside, picked up the phone, and dialed.
"May I speak to Mr. Charles? Mr. Keith Charles?"
"This is Keith Charles. Who's this?"
"David Fisher. Of Fisher and Sons. We met last week, last Sunday, in Inglewood. It was really hot and I'd had an allergic reaction and I'd accidently fallen into some ivy and gotten spiderwebs all over my suit, which is not something I do customarily but because of the heat, and the perfume, and I was having this really bad migraine..."
"Nana Eddie's funeral," Keith interrupted, thinking: wow, he's still in the middle of a nervous breakdown. Maybe I should hang up. "You're Son of Fisher. Mr. Fisher from Nana Eddie's funeral."
"Yes, Nana Eddie. And how are you today Mr. Charles?"
"I'm fine Mr. Fisher. How are you? You know, I called two days ago and I was told you'd call me right back. But you didn't. What if I were dead? Would you really make me wait this long before calling me back?"
"Of course not, absolutely not, no, well there's just no excuse for such a lapse, and, you know, I can explain that. And I will. You see, I really haven't been feeling well lately...it won't happen again,Mr. Charles. I'm really sorry."
"Is it your allergies?"
"I think you should know, Mr. Fisher, that I don't wear cologne, or unnatural scents, of any kind."
Before David could think of a relevant rejoinder, Keith Charles finished his thought by saying, "I don't even use shaving cream, Mr. Fisher."
And because David is David, after all, and this wasn't a dream sequence but an actual phone conversation that he had been dreaming about for 5 days running, David said something very stupid. He said, "Mr. Charles, is there something specific I can assist you with?"
And Keith, not yet realizing that David was so far into the closet that when he masturbated he probably fantasized about Calista Flockhart because that was as close to a boy's body as he was ever going to let himself get, said:
"I was hoping we could talk about...let's see. Velvet linings. No, make that satin linings. Of course, unless I'm going to be buried naked, it may as well be burlap lining the casket, right? Or polyester. Let me ask you something, Mr. Fisher... what do you do if the body's really big. I mean, really, really big. Bigger than most."
This was something David could readily answer: "Fisher and Sons guarantees a completely custom-designed funeral. If a casket needs to be specially built to accommodate your taller, er...departed, or let's say obese, and by that I don't mean any disrespect..."
"No, I don't mean big like that," Keith said. "Let's say a guy's extra manly. On which side do you put it? Left? Right? Straight down the middle?"
"I guess it would depend on the departed's politics," David said, and laughed a choked, cottony laugh that sounded like he was strangling.
"Mr. Fisher - is there any way we could continue this conversation over dinner?"
"We could do dinner," David said in his most professional assistant funeral director voice. "Certainly."
"I get off work at 10 tomorrow. I could meet you around 11. That's not too late, is it?"
"Eleven pm at night?"
"Yeah. Either that or we wait until next week. But hey, shit happens. I could die tomorrow, and you'd lose a customer. How about China Seas, on North Highland off Hollywood Boulevard? Be there at 11pm. "
David was a consummate businessman, not to mention a fussbudget, and he firmly believed in accommodating the customer. So he agreed to continue the discussion about coffin linings at dinner the next night.
"Do you remember what I look like, Mr. Fisher?" Keith asked, before letting David go so he could finish having his nervous breakdown. "Or will I need to wear a red carnation in my lapel?"
Now that was the easiest question David had been asked in the last 20 years.
continue to part 4