Before this comes The proper names of the angels
We thread our way past throngs of children, hand-held by parents trying to keep them from tossing themselves or sundry items into the pits and moats that surround the concrete islands where wild animals live.
Do not feed the animals.
Nolan says, “I can’t love or hate a place as much as this.” Behind him a rhinoceros nuzzles the grass and snuffles. “It reminds me that we’re just another link in the food chain. Sure, we think we’re at the top.”
“And you don’t think so,” I say, my nose filling with enough of the pine and burning tires odor of okapi dung to hold me until the next time I have to bring down big game with my incisors for survival.
“The guy at the top of the food chain can’t be locked up in one of our zoos,” Nolan says. “We carry him inside us all the time. It’s the damned bug. Viruses. We just haven’t pieced together that he’s the egregor of RNA."
“The what of what?” remembering this is the way Nolan works. He lets the half-baked hallucinations of his story lines leak out his mouth as if they're truth and we're all supposed to realize it. Then, “Look, I don’t want you to think I’m not enjoying this outing, because I think I’ve had more fun with you today than I have since I left Cercom. Charybdis and Scylla not withstanding."
Nolan stops at an ice cream cart. Buys one for him, offers me another. I accept. What the hell. Nothing else to do today except be fired and wander the Bronx Zoo with an old friend who's recently put a contract on my life.
He says, “I have to take advantage of your paranoia to make you sensible.”
"They're literary people, you jackass."
"Troiles and Cresseda?"
"Now that we've drunk the contents of your cultural spring --"
"Mr. Rock and Mr. Hard Place? Romeo and Psyche?"
"Not even the same genre. Stop. Raphael is an Assistant Professor of Literature at Columbia and Mike is currently enjoying a scholarship at The Actor's Studio. Between them there's as much violence as a slice of unbuttered toast."
"So this whole deal about the carpet and the river..."
"It's from my second book, which I'm sure you never read even though there was a lot of killing and fucking. Playboy published excerpts between pictures of naked women touching themselves."
"Shows what you know," I tell him. I stop at the polar bear exhibit. "Hi I'm Susie, Miss July, and my turn offs are poor people and world hunger and my turns ons are little league games and daddies with dicks the size of seasoned kielbasas." He stops along side me. Finishes his ice cream. Chucks the wrapper. I say, "What makes human beings think this animal is happy here just because it's not sobbing or eating toddlers? This thing comes from where its never above freezing. It must be totally miserable."
"It's surrounded in abundance. Doesn't have to kill to eat. Nobody's going to eat him. Shelter from the bad weather. So it's a little warm. Sounds like a reasonable trade off to me. You gonna start sounding like her, now?"
"Nah," I say. I chuck my wrapper in the same trash bin. "What is it about an ice cream cone that captures your mind and keeps you from focusing from painful things? It's better than valium. If all those heroin pushers hired on with Ben and Jerry's, what a beautiful world it would be."
"You're make me sick with this whole Mr. Relaxation, riff," Nolan says. "Reminds me why I decided not to talk to you for fifteen years."
"That was me not talking to you, bro," I remind him.
He says, "I called the station manager at at McMurdo in Antarctica. They actually have a phone number. There's nowhere you can't contact with a cell, except maybe the Manhattan DMV."
"Think she's dodging polar bears?" I say. A kid no taller than a golden retriever drops a hot dog next to my shoe. She picks it up and shoves it her mouth, munching happily while I smile. A couple seconds later the mother comes and smacks the bliss off the child's face, yanks the dirty food from the kid's hand and tosses it in the trash barrel, then clamps her fist around the child's wrist and drags her off screaming.
"That's the way the real world works, kid," I mutter. "Better to be a polar bear in New York."
"Are you hearing me?" Nolan says, and I told him I hadn't.
He said, "Pine Island Bay. Global warming. The glacier is falling off the continent. If it comes off, the world becomes one big Irwin Allen movie. That's where she's headed."
"That's nuts. How come nobody's hearing anything about it?"
Nolan says, “May 28th, 1993. Eleven-oh-three AM the Aum Shinrikyo detonates the first ever home-made nuclear device in the Australian outback. Place called Banjawarn Station. Boom. This really happened, Mitch. They thought it was a frigging meteor until the satellite photos showed no cratering. And they know the bastards were mining uranium.
“And what did people do about it? Zip. Niente. No followup. Everybody forgot about it. Banjawarn Station is so much nowhere that there wasn’t even anyone around except for a few truckers on the highway who saw the flash and the mushroom cloud. And then two years later the fuckers release sarin gas in the Tokyo subways and that’s all you hear about them—but not one thing about the nuclear blast.
“You wanna know why?"
"Because it's urban legend," I tell him. We start walking. I step on a big wad of pink bubble gum. Now my right foot makes a clicking sound when it touches the pavement.
"Tell that to the New York Times," he says. "Tell it to CNN. I did the research. No, the reason it's not everywhere is because nobody wants to think of anything that scary. So we purge it from our communal memory.
“And the second shooter on the grassy knoll. Kennedy in 1963. The commentators on live radio reports said they heard gunfire like machine guns. These reporters were on the ground and they said the bullets were coming from everywhere. I interviewed Cronkite. He never talks about it."
"Can he still talk?"
Nolan looks at me like he's trying to start me on fire. Says, “And TWA 800. Over a hundred eyewitnesses saw the rocket launched from sea level, ascend and blow the plane out of the sky. Over a hundred people saw this. CNN interviewed a few of them before any of the official—quote, unquote—reports. When people are afraid they rewrite history. Nobody wants to believe the president can be killed in broad daylight by organized crime, fanatics can make working nuclear devices, or the Navy can accidentally shoot down a commercial jetliner.”
“What does this have to do with anything?” I say. This is something else I remember about Nolan. He talks in newspaper articles. He speaks in short stories. Everything is a novel plot. It gets goddamned tiring and he never gets tired.
“One day I sat in the park with you and Anna. I closed my eyes one minute, and the next time I opened them we were in your living room. When I blinked, we were back in the park. In the middle, you read my mind and took me back to my childhood like I was Ebernezer Scrooge. I know it happened. There was some kind of supernatural energy being projected by of all people on the hairy limb of the minus two sigma of the bell curve--you. Why can’t you admit it?”
I gave him the same answer I’d been giving for the past 20 years. “You saw what you wanted.”
“No. I saw what you wanted. I have never forgotten it and I never will. It changed my life."
"If we hurry we can watch them feeding the lions," I tell him, and head toward the sign. He catches up to me.
“Don't think I don't know it. There’s a type of extra-sensory blah blah hoo hah between you. I’ve seen both of you do it and you act like it’s the way everybody does things. I watched you guys have conversations without opening your mouths. I watched you suck other people into this vortex of whatever you want to call it and make them see things."
"My friend, old age has turned your brain into gouda. We were in college. We were doing drugs, remember? Or are you in official 'I never inhaled,' mode for the Dr. Laura interviews?"
It really wasn’t what I wanted to be hearing from him. From anyone. I wanted to walk away. Get back in the Ferrari and drive home. Watch baseball. Think about getting a new job.
“She told me that’s why you divorced her. You were afraid.”
“We were incompatible,” I say without thinking.
“You were too similar.”
“Look. Just cut the psychic psychologist shit. You may have slept with her once or twice but I lived with her for years. You wanna know why I left? I left because she didn’t want to be part of the things that were important to me. I needed to work on my career. She wanted to do her Greenpeace tree-hugger shit. I was willing to make time for her. She wouldn’t meet me half way. It’s all or nothing with her.”
“Why can’t you just admit she freaked you out?”
“Because she didn't.” That last one I shout as I wade through the crowds of parents and kids. My heart begins to pound. My face feels hot. I don't understand these feelings so I don't want to think about them. Waste of energy. Like racking your brain to try to remember the moment of falling asleep every night, and all you've got is knowing you must have because you're waking up. Like the feeling of Anna that's coming back and I never realized it went away. It's the feeling the sky could fall or the ground could stop holding me up.
I get to a tree across from the giraffes and face him.
“Everyone wants to blame this on me but she’s the one who didn’t leave any room. There wasn’t any place for me.” I yell at him without thinking.
Nolan doesn't answer me. He lets my words sink to the concrete pavement to settle among the candy wrappers and flattened popcorn kernels.
“Why didn’t she stop? Why didn’t she give me a chance?” I say. I'm going to have my say, finally. Five years of separation. Ten of divorce. “Why did it have to be all or nothing? Why couldn’t I have my life, too? Did she ever tell you that while you were together?”
He shook his head silently while staring at me. “They’re not going to be able to find her. I talked to a guy, used to be search and rescue there. When she left the traverse team, she stopped being their problem. Nobody's going after her. That glacier is full of crevasses. She's not going to get far."
"Why the fuck is she pulling this stunt, then?" Classic Annie. Run into a burning building to save a parakeet and have to be rescued by two fire departments and a SWAT team. "What is she thinking? Where is she going?"
Nolan says, "She said you'd figure it out."
I felt the anger coming up from the pavement through my feet. "Ridiculous. What the hell am I supposed to do? Go down there hunting penguins with you and we just magically stumble into her at wherever the hell this falling glacier is? Jimminy Christmas, Nolan. What if the thing is falling off the world and then what? Is she going to throw her body in the path of Antarctica and stop it? Doesn't this all seem unusually theatrical?"
The Pulitzer Prize winning author shrugs. The man about to become the shortest person ever awarded the Nobel in literature purses his lips and runs his fingers through his thinning hair.
He says, "Why do we keep coming back to the fucking zoo?"
more later...this is a whole book so it takes a while