making a list, checking it twice

Making a List, Checking It Twice


Yesterday I wrote down dreams. The day before I made a shopping list. The day before that a wish list. I took the wish list into a bank and slid it across to the teller. I had a woman’s nylon stocking stretched over my head.

The teller smiled the way tellers smile at old people. “Oh, Mr. Whitman,” she said, using my real name, much to my alarm. “You silly,” she said, sliding the list back at me and craning her neck to look over my shoulder. “Next,” she said.

I stood outside the bank in the whale-gray light, people brushing by me in the swirling snow. I struggled to get the nylon stocking off my head. Once it was off, I folded it neatly and put it in my coat pocket, where I discovered the shopping list from the day before. I transfered the shopping list to the opposite coat pocket where I’d put the wish list after the teller shoved it back at me.

I kept my hands in my coat pockets as I walked. I didn’t have gloves. Gloves were on my shopping list. They were on my wish list, too, along with a request for love and understanding and all the money in the till. I didn’t want to leave fingerprints, that’s why I needed the gloves.

I took my left hand out of the pocket where the nylon stocking was. The nylon’s soft warmth was arousing me. People hadn’t paid any attention to the nylon when it was over my head, but you can bet I would have raised a few eyebrows if I’d gotten fully aroused. I stuck the hand in my pants pocket. It was a bitter cold day.

My fingers began examining the coins in my pocket. Was there enough for coffee? It wouldn’t do to sit at the counter at Ranchero’s drinking coffee without enough money to pay. The week before I went through six refills and couldn’t pay. The waitress looked at me like waitresses look at men they wouldn’t go to bed with to save their lives, even if they were drunk. She whisked the cup, napkin and spoon into the tray under the counter and wiped the counter top in front of me with a damp white towel, the way a sexually frustrated mother wipes at a smudge on a small child’s face.

I couldn’t chance coming up short. I took the coins from my pocket and sat down on a public bench that was bolted into the concrete. I lined the coins up in numerical order on the frayed wool of my trouser leg, quarters up high, pennies down around the knee. There was a hole in the knee, and a nub of shiny white flesh showed through. I had 97 cents.

I looked up from the coins. Across the street a Salvation Army man was ringing a tiny bell over a red bucket hanging from a hook on a pole stuck in a large circular metal base. I stood up abruptly, and the coins fell from my leg, puncturing the snow like bullets.

I sat down again and stared at the holes my coins had made in the snow. I took both lists from my coat pocket and smoothed them out. I put the shopping list on my left leg and the wish list on my right. I needed a pen. Or a pencil. Something to write with. Something to circle some items and cross others out. Something with which to make asterisks for cross references. At one time 97 cents would have bought a cup of coffee and a hamburger with change to spare.

It began to get dark. The streetlights came on. I pulled my feet up on the bench and hugged my knees.

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