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February 13, 2015 Fiction

Craig and Crystal

Fortunato Salazar

Craig and Crystal photo

“Steamfitter” was a word that obsessed me for a few months, a time I spent learning the upholstery trade from a former physics professor. The former professor went on and on about Steven Hawking, and yes, I know how everyone beats up on Steven Hawking, that he doesn’t do his thinking for himself, he had one good idea and that was that, but the ranting I endured about Steven Hawking was enough to completely turn me off to the allure that upholstering held for me, held for me ever since I knew I wanted to work in the industry, that the industry would definitely be my life.

*

So the professor killed upholstering for me. And then I was lost, I mean so torn up with anguished disappointment that I didn’t know who I was, where I was going, what was my calling. I spent a lot of time sitting on the steps leading up to my apartment, watching the snails crawl up the opposite wall. I drank glass after glass of tomato juice.

*

I wandered around my neighborhood, in such a haze that I mistook suite addresses for Health Department eatery ratings; I stayed away from a certain suite address thinking that it had been frowned upon by the Health Department, and consequently my appearance suffered, and I took a step backward that easily could have been prevented merely by paying a visit to that suite.

*

Upholstering…I fell in love with upholstering before I was old enough to truly understand the concept of a soulmate, or rather the concept that a profession can be a soulmate, or at least a deep and unanalyzable calling, a calling that defies your ability to comprehend why it chose you. I did understand that it probably chose me in part because my granddad had been an upholsterer way back in his youth in Oaxaca.

*

I fell in love with upholstering even before that vivid afternoon when I looked down at the jacaranda leaves and understood that I loved the color of the jacaranda leaves because something bestowed upon me a very long time ago compelled me to love the color of the jacaranda leaves.

*

Then I met Craig and Crystal. I went for coffee one morning and I sat next to a table where Craig and Crystal were having a conversation about disdain. Something something disdainful attitude something. Something something disdain. I was spending a lot of time over my coffee in that lonely stretch of my life. Sweat ran down the back of my neck, and soon I was talking to Craig and Crystal about sweat.

*

Craig and Crystal, so I learned, lived in the building that sat atop the coffee place—they had just moved in. White, as everyone knows, is the color that you wear to reflect heat, to stay cool. Not everyone knows that there is white and then there is white, and that in choosing fabric for a patio umbrella, this distinction is of the utmost importance. People make choices thinking they know what they’re doing, and then other people suffer the consequences. So we said.

*

Crystal thought I could drum up business for them, and we talked about drumming up business. Friends who know me well know that I have a gregarious side, that I can be quite persuasive. I took right away to Crystal. I felt that my gregarious side was making a good impression on the two of the them, but that Crystal and I were making an immediate connection.

*

They brought me upstairs to show me their collection of New Balance prototypes that they were customizing innovatively. Not as innovatively as they thought, but I held my tongue. Crystal talked about all the bellends at New Balance and what a cutthroat environment it was right now, in customizing, how hard it was to do the creative work and also deal with the marketing gridlock, all the bellends in all the little pop-up boutiques and all their ridiculous ploys, their time-wasting ineptness.

*

And their agonizingly slow voicemail messages, and a basic shortage of common sense. We talked about a customizer I knew and they knew who had recently died, a magisterial craftsman, and the sadness that lingered was a sweet sadness, not anything like the toxic sadness that I awakened to each morning on my foam pad.

*

I went and talked to people. I touched base with Crystal over coffee once a day, I shifted into my gregarious mode. I swept crumbs from the table in a gesture that felt relaxed and optimistic. The sun beat down on us even though we were in the shade of the corridor that led from the patio into Craig and Crystal’s building. I talked to Crystal about Brownian motion and insomnia, topics I had examined in depth back when I was in love with upholstering.

*

One afternoon on my way home from drumming up business, I noticed an orange cone in front of my building, a safety cone. Something or someone had caved in the steel plate that gave access in the sidewalk to the wiring beneath, the wiring that feeds the streetlights. Two thick cables had been exposed. The cables must once have been red, their insulation red, but the plain red had been weathered by the soil to a hue that gave me pause—the hue spoke to something in me.

*

I broke out my sketchpad from my shoulder bag and I made some sketches. They were New Balance sketches, and I knew they were good, and I started imagining how I would show them to Crystal, and Craig would come along and admire them over her shoulder, and we would all bask for a while in sincere enthusiasm, pleased with ourselves.

*

I went with my sketches to get some coffee and to sketch some more, but I was turned away. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sun was beating down as it always does. And as always, the sun was nowhere to be seen, which was a happy accident that brought in revenue and possibly had been the deciding factor that sold Craig and Crystal.

image: Robert Paniconi


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