Friday, April 10, 2015



By Roy L. Pickering Jr.

"You want some Parmesan cheese, man?"

These words welcome me back to the world of consciousness.  Each of my senses is being assailed.  Nerve endings from head to toe throb with pain.  A marching band strikes up a show tune, every member playing my ear drums.  The light of a thousand suns pries open my protesting eyes.  My saliva is at least eighty proof, my stomach doing somersaults.  And a horrific smell engulfs me - the divine intermingling of a backed up urinal, a gallon of sweat, stale beer, morning breath, and cheese.

A man hovers overhead, peering into my face, hand held out with the aforementioned cheese.  He is unwashed, unshaven, wearing tattered rags that would make the skin of a rhino crawl.

"Where am I?"

"You're in my alley.  You want this cheese?"

My eyes are growing accustomed to the light.  He wasn't lying. This is definitely an alley.  I put my brain on rewind to recall what turn of events placed me here.

I went out drinking last night.  Why didn't my friends see to it that I got home safely?  Because I was alone.  Why was I ...  Oh yeah, now I remember.  I'm in mourning.  My girlfriend dumped me.  Why would Nicki do that?  We had a great thing going.  We were ...  My memory is returning with a vengeance.  She found out that I slept with her best friend.  Or did she find out I slept with her sister?  No matter.  I got busted doing something with somebody.  Now I'm depressed all over again.

I try to stand but a wave of pain keeps me horizontal.  My ribs are sore.  My jaw isn't feeling so hot either.  Was I mugged?  No, that’s not it.  I was talking to a redhead, making pretty good progress.  One problem though.  She was the bouncer's girlfriend.  Suddenly I'm ricocheting off walls, the floor, the ceiling.  I got the feeling the redhead was amused.  She probably does this sort of thing regularly, the psycho.  Makes me glad to have someone like Nicki. Oh yeah, I forgot.

"You got the time?" I ask, nagged by suspicion that I'm supposed to be somewhere, though I cannot recall where or why at the moment.

"No.  I have Parmesan cheese.  You want any?"

"How about some tequila?"  That's what I was drinking last night.  Aspirin will be of little use.  No hangover this intense can be combated with non-prescription medication.  A hair of the dog is what I need.

"Poco loved Parmesan cheese."

My wedding!  I'm supposed to be at the church by twelve o'clock.  Nicki and I are getting married.  At least that was the plan before I screwed up. 

"Nobody loved Parmesan cheese like Poco." 

My folks are going to flip out.  My father may even cut me off financially.  He’s threatened to often enough, but I’ve always placated him by promising to get my act together.  That might not be good enough this time.  If not, I can say goodbye to my cushy job in the family business, my penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park, my Jaguar, my floor seats at the Garden where I cheer on the Knicks a few feet over from Spike Lee.

"He could eat a whole can of the stuff in ten seconds."

As if I don’t have enough problems, this rancid, raving lunatic is going on about how much someone named Poco loved Parmesan cheese.  Maybe I can get Nicki back.  I’m willing to grovel.  Women like her don't come around every day, a fact my father reminds me of constantly.

A filthy blanket is draped over me.  I push it off.  My beautiful cashmere coat has spent the night soaking in booze and vomit.  The dry cleaner won't be able to do anything with this.  How bad can things possibly ..."

My wallet!  I had over seven hundred dollars on me.  I spent the night lying comatose in this alley.  There's not a chance in ...  It’s still here.  But what about the money?  It's here too.  My credit cards as well.

"You can have it if you want.  Go ahead, take it."

The bum is offering me a can of Parmesan cheese.  Why didn't he rob me?  Maybe he's retarded or something.

"Is this your blanket?"

"Yes it is.  It was cold last night.  Those men threw you out here soaking wet and beaten up."

"So you loaned me your blanket?  You took care of me?"

"Sure.  You seem like a nice man.  I think Poco would have liked you."


"Poco was my dog.  He died last night."

Maybe there's still time to sweet talk Nicki.  I can smooth things over with jewelry, or perhaps extend our honeymoon another month.  As pissed as she was, I know how much she was looking forward to this day.  Barnum & Bailey couldn't have put together as big a show as our planned wedding, and she gets to be the star.  If I move quickly enough I can ...  This crazy man is crying.  He's crying over his dog Poco.

"He was a great dog.  He loved Parmesan cheese."

I used to have a dog when I was a kid.  Sparky was a great companion, and thanks to him I was never lonely growing up as an only child in a huge house.  My dad was always somewhere else doing whatever had to be done to get richer by the day.  My mother was either off shopping in ritzy boutiques, having lunch with friends, or doing charity work for obscure projects like saving endangered species of butterfly.  It was made clear that I was mostly a nuisance to them.  Nothing personal, but children demand a certain amount of selfless devotion, and that is what they felt nannies and maids were for.  They made certain I wore the finest clothes, played with the fanciest toys, and attended the best schools.  But they didn't have much attention to spare.  

Sparky passed on while I was in college.  That was probably the most upset I’ve ever been in my life, including last night.  Sure, I did the traditional depressed guy routine after Nicki dumped me.  But I was mostly just mad at myself for blowing such a sweet deal.  Nicki has the looks of a runway model, speaks five languages, and her dad's almost as loaded as mine.  That's a pretty tough hand to beat.

"I hope they have plenty of Parmesan up in heaven."

It doesn't matter though.  I don't love Nicki any more than she loves me.  Love can be stumbled upon, disregarded, cherished, discarded, trumpeted or muted.  But it cannot be arranged.  Otherwise why would I be here instead of putting on a tux in preparation for wedded bliss with a woman who is all I'm supposed to want? 

Perhaps I did love once, and knew what I wanted, what real happiness is.  The time was brief, and such brevity is probably what keeps it imprinted on my brain.  Maybe if it had not ended so abruptly, and against my will, I would be able to accept the loss.  But my will was just an extension of what my parents chose it to be, and my one possibly true love did not have sufficient fortune or come from the right class of people.  My feelings for Paula, whatever name applies to them, were not frivolous enough to be tolerated.  So I was given an ultimatum.

Sabotaging the marriage my parents carefully set up will cause a firestorm. Technically our wedding was supposed to unite two people in love.  But in reality it was to be the merging of two empires.  My indiscriminate behavior will be seen as another act of unoriginal defiance.  The way I see it though, what I possibly want, who I may or may not love, has to count for something. 

"I think Poco would have liked you.  Anyway, you look like you can take care of yourself now, so I'll be going."

"Where to?"  Why did I ask him that?  What do I care?  He points to a garbage bag.  I don't need to ask what's in it.

"To the city dump.  Poco deserves to be buried proper.  I'll dig him a hole with my hands if I have to.  He would have done the same for me if I went first.  You want to come?"

Not bothering to wait for an answer, the bum slings the bag over his shoulder and walks away.  There is an inexplicable aura of dignity about him as I watch him exit his brief stay in my existence.  I manage to rise in spite of protests from various aching body parts and stagger out of the alley.  

 A couple walks by and I ask them what time it is.  The look in the man's eyes reminds me of a newly neutered pet.  Primeval urges to conquer and spread his seed have been domesticated out of him.  He is worn on his woman's arm like a fashionable purse.  It's only ten o'clock.  There's still time.  I know I can earn Nicki's forgiveness. 

Oh what the hell.  "Hey, wait up."  I suddenly have a craving for Parmesan cheese.

And now for some book reviews...

Ghana Must GoGhana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A virtuoso performance. Taiye Selasi is an author to reckon with. Her prose is a lullaby, taking its sweet time drawing us into the lives of the characters who populate Ghana Must Go. The narrative flits among members of a fractured family, each of them nursing their specific heartaches. What they share along with the ties of blood is abandonment, which leads to separate paths. A return to Africa to bid farewell to the man who left them is what brings them back together. Along the way we learn their secrets and sources of pain. Scattered moments throughout their lives fit together to form the image of a family, one that has been broken, but not irreparably. The arrival of death signals an ending, as well as the opportunity for new beginnings.


Labyrinth (Languedoc, #1)Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can never read too many grail quest yarns. This one doesn't have quite as infectious a pace as The Da Vinci Code. The style of prose ventures closer to literary than Dan Brown's strictly commercial blockbuster. Labyrinth also had me struggling to remember my high school and freshman year of college French lessons, for whatever that's worth. The narrative provides readers with two stories to follow (somewhat similar to Raymond Khoury's The Templar Salvation), one taking place in the present and the other in the distant past, the two racing to reach a point where they will merge. There are a good deal of characters to keep track of (perhaps a couple too many for my taste) with prime spots going to women. So I suppose this is the most feminist of the grail chase books I've read to date. It won't be the last, as I simply can't get enough of them. And I may return to the fiction of Kate Mosse someday, because even though this novel didn't quite wow me, it was crafted well enough to have me hooked to the end.

Fortunately, the MilkFortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hilariously absurd. Entertainingly original, in spite of the fact that this book basically has the same ending (spoiler alert) as one of my favorite movies - The Usual Suspects. Wacky illustrations perfectly match the zany tone of the prose which will have you and your little ones laughing out loud (very loud) throughout. Even the title is awesome.

The Pilot's WifeThe Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oprah was right. This is an exceptionally well written story. Some of it I saw coming. Some of it I didn't. All of it was masterfully executed.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Patches Of Grey by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Patches Of Grey

by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Giveaway ends May 20, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to Win

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